Professional coaching is a passion. When I immerse myself in the process of accompanying my client, then I feel much closer to my very best than in many other situations. And some of my deepest learning related to coaching has come about by instructing others in the practice.
Back in 2005 I trained a group of high school girls to become peer coaches in their school community. I designed the course and wrote all the handouts. This was during the early stages of my formal training. Re-reading the materials I developed for them at the time, I am struck now by the clarity of my belief in the power of the coaching alliance. In preparing them to conduct full coaching conversations I wrote the following:
You are the most important resource in coaching others: your precious attention, presence, and personal style. When you turn your attention and focus it intently and generously on your conversation partner, you are already doing your partner and the world a great service. Every time you open your ears and heart to not only hear what your partner is saying but also to feel and understand what he or she is experiencing and offering, you become a source of energy rather than a drain. You create space rather than close it off. You welcome and accept the other rather than dismiss him or her. This is the role of the coach and each of us possesses the wonderful potential to serve those around us in this way.
When you step into the role of the coach, bear these things in mind. Your presence and capacity to listen are to be given the highest priority. As long as these two channels are completely open and free, your competency in the coaching role will grow and become increasingly natural. You won’t need to grope for the next right question. The questions will come on their own, because you are there where your client needs you to be. Finding the best questions for the situation, person and intended direction require time and practice but above all, begin with your willingness to truly accompany and be with your conversation partner.
Be patient with yourself. Free yourself from feeling that you need to provide your partner with answers or advice. The attention you shower on your client and the first rate listening you offer are already huge gifts that can make a substantial difference to someone.
Thank you for your willingness to make the world around you a better place. (Peer Coaching, 2005)
While it has been nearly a decade since I wrote those words, they are a great help to me today. I know well that professional training takes plenty of time, money and a strong commitment to work, above all, on oneself. Professional coaching programs abound and are expanding around the world. Be that as it may, learning to listen fully, deeply, and without judgement need not cost large sums. Cultivating a form of conversation which empowers, uplifts and sustains others should not require certification. We can all learn these skills and be purposeful in how we apply them in the varied situations we face. These are the inroads to building trust and modeling empathy. As Tony Sinanis argues in a recent post, we need both trust and empathy to build successful schools, and I would argue that this holds true for human organizations, in general. The way of the coach provides valuable guidance on this path.
Let us take heart, be brave and risk being as present as we possibly can with our fellow travelers. Or, how else shall we set about making that proverbial difference?