A Coaching Power Tool Created by Terre Short
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
It is interesting how the perspectives of being curious and being omniscient change over time. Much has been written about when and why we lose our capacity to be truly curious. Most of us have experienced the unrelenting curiosity of children, oftentimes framed by a persistent asking of “why?” It is equally as likely that we have all experienced the omniscient position of a friend, family member, colleague or boss. Some kids trade their curiosity straight up for omniscience in their teen years. Some bosses believe with all their heart that being omniscient is required for them to lead and for their business to thrive. This power tool offers a look at these two perspectives and how they might be exhibited by both the client and the coach.
Curiosity is “a strong desire to know or learn something” and omniscient is “having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight; possessed of universal or complete knowledge.” (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2010). In short, an omniscient person “knows everything” and a curious person desires to “know.” At first glance, it may seem that it is ideal for a client and a coach to be curious. While this is beneficial to both individuals, as well as their relationship, omniscience on the part of either needs to be addressed and kept in check. It may be the very thing that is holding a client back, just as it may be the key to unlocking the coach’s greater potential as a coach.
There are challenges to having a client who is omniscient, as well as one that is curious. There are even greater challenges when a coach is more omniscient than curious. It is important to explore these challenges. Considering whether a client is coming from a place of omniscience or curiosity will help frame effective questions, and thereby help connect the client to their perspective. An exploration of the curious and omniscient client and coach follows. Some questions are offered, but only scratch the surface of what can be explored when such dynamics are present.
Omniscient Client: In the case of the executive leader (client), the days of them being ego-centric are long gone. Today’s complex business environment requires an eco-centric approach that is founded on the gathering of diverse input. A recent study of 69 businesses found that the highest performing CEOs “make optimal use of the strength of their team: the judgement and knowledge of their co-directors. Indirectly, that has a positive effect on the company’s performance.”(Stobbeleir, 2017). If a client presents themselves as to all-knowing, the coach must help them explore the foundation of this “knowing” and why holding this as truth is important to the client. Some leaders/parents/spouses believe they must know everything about certain things in order to bring value to a relationship or as part of their role. Holding onto some beliefs or some certainty may hinder the client’s ability to see all sides of a situation and ultimately to grow. They will likely benefit from having more curiosity about the situation or what they held as true. Some good questions for the client may be:
- Help me understand how you came to this knowledge.
- What is important to you in knowing this?
- What challenges this knowledge/belief?
- What would happen if you did not know this with absolute certainty?
- How are these beliefs/truths serving you?
Curious Client: The curious client is likely to open to the exploration of new ideas or ways of thinking of things that are important to them. The challenge may be helping them leverage their curiosity to get to a goal and a solid plan. Excessive curiosity can slow, if not stifle, reaching an intended goal. “Former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, described curiosity as ‘the most useful gift.’”(Bergland, 2016) However, as Bergland’s article explains, there can be a dark side to curiosity if consequences are not explored prior to decision making and commitment. In order to keep this in check, the coach may include the following in a session:
- What risks might this new approach present?
- What might your commitment to next steps be?
- I commend how you have leveraged your curiosity; what downside might exist to what you have discovered/decided?
- What incremental goals might benefit your journey in this new direction?
Omniscient Coach: Just as the client is not expected to operate in a vacuum, the coach requires a partnership in order to create success. The coach is only as good as their inquiry and ability to bring out the potential of their client. In certain niches, the coach may be expected to have some level of experience or subject matter expertise. The coach will only be successful in elevating the skills of their client if they share their knowledge by partnering on the client’s exploration. This requires much more curiosity than complete knowledge. The coach’s ability to positively impact the client is much more about “why” and “how” than the “what” (they know). A coach who is the subject matter expert may use these prompts in conversation with a client (the “_____” indicates the subject matter/expertise to be filled in):
- What do you already know about ________?
- How does knowledge about (or skills in) ________ impact you? (explores “why” and “how”)
- What value does ________ have to you? (explores “why”)
- What will be improved when you are better at ______? or improve upon _______? (explores “why”)
- Tell me about your commitment to improving _______. (explores “how”)
Curious Coach: This is the ideal coach! One who is open in every session to what the client may bring to the discussion, where they may take the conversation, and where they may need to go in order to grow. The curious coach learns from each client and continually improves their practice when they are open and inquisitive. Those who coach in a niche that requires a blended approach will need to offer their knowledge in a way that invokes curiosity from the client. Inviting the exploration of ideas will lead to the coach bringing exactly what the client needs to the conversation. A curious coach might use these prompts in a session:
- I’m curious, what is most important to you about this topic/solution/issue…?
- What have you learned?
- How can you use what you have learned in the future?
- Of all that we have discussed today, what are you more curious about?
I have experienced the extremes of both curious and omniscient individuals. Each has the potential to be limiting. In personal relationships, coaching skills help navigate conversations where omniscience is overpowering. Learning to be perpetually curious, though not in a bothersome way, is a powerful skill. Honing this skill as a coach, and helping others open to their curiosity, brings a level of knowledge that is freeing and continually evolving.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (2010). Merriam Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Bergland, C. (2016). Curiosity: The Good, the Bad, and the Double-Edged Sword. Psychology Today.
Stobbeleir, K. D. (2017). FAREWELL, OMNISCIENT LEADER – FROM EGOCENTRIC TO ECOCENTRIC. Management Scope.