Research Paper By Kais Gannouni
(Leadership/Executive Coach, SAUDI ARABIA)
Coaching is a polymorph concept. The more it is explored, the more enlightening it germinates. It can be easier defined by what it is not than by what it is. It is not therapy, for it turns not to the past. It is not training for it doesn’t involve knowledge transfer. It is not mentoring for there is no guidance. (Hargrove, 2008; Starr, 2008)
According to Hargrove (2008, p2) coaching
is about inspiring, empowering, and enabling people to live deeply in the future, while acting boldly in the present.” Starr (2008, p2) refers to it as “a very rewarding thing to do. It is about enabling people to create change through learning. Coaching is also about people being more, doing more, achieving more and, above all, contributing more. In our constant quest for success, happiness and fulfillment, coaching provides a way by which one person can truly support the progress of another. (Starr, 2008, p2)
Referring to these definitions, I would say that
coaching is a self-discovery process that connects anyone to his inner wisdom allowing him to resurrect again strengthened, confident and determined to fulfill his mission, no matter what impediments he may face.
As important as coaching is in changing people’s lives, coaches are permanently challenged to bring up the best of themselves during the coaching process. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they learn. To reflect on that, this paper tackle one of the most pervasive but less visible pitfall coaches may face. It starts by exploring the essence of coaching, points out then that pitfall and highlights next the way to deal with it.
Coaching: tap into your inner wisdom
With layers after layers of affected manners people are putting on to get along with their surroundings, the inner voice of wisdom is gradually quietened (Murphy, 2010; Peck, 2003; Tolle, 2005). To revive it and bring it into life again is not easy; it is actually one of the most challenging tasks of a coach.
Inner wisdom: what do we talk about?
It is common for us as human beings to find ourselves in situations where we are torn between two alternatives, and where our logical thinking is ordering something but another whisper, we don’t know where it is coming from, is telling us not to do the opposite. Which one do we usually choose to follow? Well, it depends on many things. However, as we were conditioned, throughout our educational system, to think rationally and pick up the best decision based on a critical analysis, we are likely to trust our logical thinking (Murphy, 2010). When it turns out to be an inappropriate decision, we blame ourselves for not having paid more attention to that inner whisper. And, what is that whisper? It is exactly what is called inner wisdom. Some call it also intuition, gut feeling, guidance or subconscious mind (Murphy, 2010; Peck, 2003; Tolle, 2005).
The inner wisdom is something we were born with. Some people deliberately cultivate it and learn how to use it, others do not. It is basically because of the inner voice that babies walk, talk and take every possible risk to learn and grow. Even if they fall many times, hurting badly themselves, that inner voice exhorts them to keep going until they make it. It is also that same voice that keeps kids busy playing around joyfully for hours on things some adults may think are just trivialities. It is also that same voice that made people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates transcend their fears, doubts and limits and achieve the unbelievable. Therefore, to describe the inner wisdom: it can’t be but something positive, something that gives anyone the energy, drive and determination to lose oneself doing terrific things with passionate people. It alerts, warns and moves anyone away from boring things and boring people. It makes shape people’s uniqueness. It founds people’s happiness, as happiness can’t be found in shrinking within one’s comfort zone doing the same dull things. Happiness is rather found in stretching out it for riskier but more rewarding things in terms of personality growth and achievements (Murphy, 2010; Peck, 2003; Tolle, 2005).
We can’t be mistaken between the inner wisdom whispers and the negative inner talk, for the first imply enlightenment, enchantment and boldness and cause someone’s energy to flow infinitely while the second tie him to the ropes and shackles of the ordinary. That is said, it is not that we don’t hear our inner wisdom that causes us to flounder; it is instead that we do not trust it because of fear, doubt and learned helplessness we were conditioned to (Bartkowiak, 2014).
The safe space
Coaching is so powerful because it allows people to tap into their inner wisdom. It is not that easy to do by ourselves nowadays because of the many overwhelming noise, information, deadlines that stress us out and make us oblivious to what is going within us (Tolle, 2005).
Coaches, armed with their competencies, tools and techniques, work with their clients to create that space of awareness for their clients and allow them to forget for a while about what is going outside (judgments, comparisons, completion and complaints, etc.) and just listen to their hearts. They start by building that outer safe and trustful space for their clients to talk. They listen attentively, ask powerful questions allowing them to dig dipper into themselves and enter that safer inner space where no voice can be heard but theirs (Starr, 2008). That transition from the outer to the inner safe space is accompanied by a flow of emotion that pervades the entire body, a kind of birth gestation, an “Aha”, an enlightening and awakening moment. It can take a fraction of a second or linger for some time during which the client shifts perspective, gain more self-awareness and embrace the real issue and the best way to tackle it. What comes next is designing the action plan.
Traps and pitfalls
To achieve that enlightening moment and makes it possible, coaches use several tools and techniques in order to go beneath the surface and explore what was said and was not. In doing that, they are exposed to many traps and pitfalls. Just to mention few, the most common are being judgmental, not listening empathetically, and asking leading questions (Hargrove, 2008). These are well-known traps most coaches are aware of. However, there is another more noxious and harmful one but less perceivable, it can damage all the coaching process. What is it? Simply put, it is shifting the coaching perspective from being a means to becoming an objective.
As coaching became a standing alone discipline, people were eager to study and acquire the gest of it, get certified and then launch their business. In the middle of this process they became attentively focused and keen on picking every information, knowledge, tool and technique enabling them to master that calling. That might be a healthy process but up to a certain limit when coaching becomes an obsession, just a synonym of tools and techniques to be perfectly applied.
Some coaches’ reactions uncloak and reveal that obsessive behavior as for example, when they feel frustrated and disappointed because one of their coaching sessions did not go as they expected: they couldn’t find that powerful question, the client did not react positively to one technique, the session ended without any concrete solution and action plan, etc.
The focus of the whole coaching process shifts from the client to the coach. Here, it becomes more about the coach’s feelings of fear; doubt and willingness do to what is possible to support the client than allowing the client to take the lead and then follow. This all-pervasive presence of the coach hinders the coaching process. The client would feel the overwhelming presence of the coach. Questions, techniques, tools keep coming bombarding his mind that he is no longer allowed to enter that inner safe space alone, without being accompanied by anybody, without being distracted.
So to conclude, much coaching kills coaching. A coach needs therefore to balance his presence. He needs to know when it is indispensable for him to stop acting and just allow the space for his client to tap into his inner wisdom. What follows next is to wait serenely until the client comes back from that safe space loaded with his own answers, capitalize on that and resume the process.
Bartkowiak, J. (2014). Secrets of the NLP Masters. London: Hodder.
Hargrove, R. (2008). Masterful Coaching. Third Edition, Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint
Murphy, J. (2010). The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. NY: Teacher/Penguin.
Peck, M. S. (2003). The Road Less Travelled. London: RIDER.
Starr, J. (2008). The coaching manual: The definitive guide to the process, principles and skills of personal coaching, Second edition, Pearson Education Limited.
Tolle, E. (2005). The Power of Now. London: Hodder.