Is Being a Coach’s Coach a Path for You?
by Janet M. Harvey, MCC| August 25, 2017
Most coaches I meet share a common value of service; service to others, service to community, service to our profession, service to the cause of social progress and societal well-being. I applaud and feel gratitude for this element in our field and, I also recognize that implementing that value in each of the contexts requires more clarity to be consistently successful. I engage with coach-clients as both a mentor coach and as a coaching supervisor and find both modalities to be reciprocally enriching. In hindsight, I cannot imagine serving colleagues without having invested in my own professional development for each of these practices.
Essential Qualities of a Coach's Coach
I will confess to thinking early on that by being an effective ICF Master Certified Coach I was prepared to be an effective mentor coach and supervisor. I quickly realized that this is the path of development. Until we can self-observe that we don’t know what we think we do, new learning is challenging if not impossible to embrace and integrate. Coaches around the world often ask me, “what is the experience of working as a coach’s coach and how will I know I am serving in a useful way?” There is great wisdom in this question for the coach’s coach partnership is rewarding and also demands a high degree to self-regulation and self-mastery to consistently serve another’s path of development.
After twelve years as a coach educator and certified mentor coach and four years as a coaching supervisor, I’ve discovered some very specific qualities and traits for being effective. These are foundational and, consistent excellence arrives when this trait and quality development is combined with acquiring the skills and behaviors for the ‘doing’ of mentor coaching and coaching supervision.
While I began my own development journey to be a coach’s coach with some of these qualities and traits in my tool kit, I now see that the expansion of both is only limited by my courage to stretch beyond knowing into a state of being borderless in my service to clients.
Qualities of an Effective Coach's Coach
- Self-awareness - The capacity to discern when a personal bias, belief, attitude, or personal level of expertise may be potentially affecting effectiveness and/or objectivity.
- Be open, honest and immediately communicate with your Coach-Client whenever you become aware that your objectivity may be compromised, e.g., from a preferred coach-training model or your own worldview, etc.;
- Create and/or invoke self-management skills and practices so that you can re-engage as an objective observer of the Coach-Client’s demonstrations of competency;
- Recognize when a Coach-Client’s developmental needs go beyond the current scope of your Mentor Coach expertise; name that fact ASAP and provide the opportunity for discussion so that the Coach-Client can make an informed choice about it.
- Discipline – Commitment to giving focused attention to your partnership with a Coach-Client.
- Identify and implement procedures that support your work with a Coach-Client and to manage your time efficiently, e.g.,
- Listen to only one Coach-Client session at a time
- Listen more than once to fully grasp the overall session dynamics, etc.
- Set aside protected time for reviewing the Coach-Client’s submitted session
- Engage in feedback sessions from a personally centered, open-minded and clear state, ready to engage in a mutually exploratory dialog with a Coach-Client.
- Respectful honesty - Ability to directly express what is observed in a Coach-Client’s skill set while respecting the unique expression of that Coach-Client, especially as it relates to areas for continued professional development as well as acknowledging and celebrating what is being demonstrated well.
- Disclose whenever your judgment, worldview, coach training background and/or learning style are in the way of perceiving the Coach-Client as whole, capable and resourceful and/or objectively witnessing the Coach-Client’s work
- Advocacy of the ICF Core Coaching Competencies (CCCs) as a focal point of professional development as a coach
- Without a solid understanding of and alignment with the ICF CCCs skills and behaviors as a paradigm and process for professional coaching, it may be ethically challenging to support the professional development of these skills in a Coach-Client
Traits of an Effective Coach's Coach
- Empathy – The ability to ‘inhabit the Coach-Client’s skin’ while simultaneously serving as their objective witness in service to accessing broader perspectives and possibilities for exploration with her/him.
- Succinctly articulate your perceptions and explore with a Coach-Client what you observed about his/her presence and energy at various points in a submitted coaching conversation with their client.
- Intuition - The ability to access your ‘hunches’ or ‘gut reactions’, and offer them without attachment, inviting a Coach-Client to explore if/how these may serve as a springboard to different perspectives and/or options in their professional development.
- Noticing what factors may be invisibly impacting a Coach-Client in their capability to be present, listen, question and directly communicate with their client
- Engaging the Coach-Client’s intuitive wisdom about their own process and state of being in a specific client conversation
- Feedback Communication Style – The manner in which a Mentor Coach consciously chooses and utilizes verbal and written communications in service to the professional development of a Coach-Client.
- Neutral, non-judgmental language;
- Non-attachment to being ‘right’;
- Focused feedback on the skills and behaviors of a Coach-Client relative to and using the language of the ICF Core Coaching Competencies;
- Delivered from a collegial, mutual learning approach that perceives the Coach-Client as whole, capable and resourceful; as well as,
- Preserves the Coach-Client’s dignity with respectful, tactful yet honest input
- Multi-Layered Listening and Perceiving - The ability to listen and perceive on multiple levels, (e.g., spoken and unspoken words, tones of voice, pacing of the conversation, opportunities for silence, etc.), when witnessing/observing a coaching conversation between a Coach-Client and their coaching client.
- Notice the Coach-Client’s way of being and pacing in relationship and/or partnership with her/his client;
- Pay attention to the overall flow of the conversation between coach and client;
- Highlight any energetic shifts within the conversation that could illuminate various choice points of exploration, questioning, etc.
- Sensitivity – Capacity for agile responsiveness to how a Coach-Client thinks, processes and learns, and the ability to relate human-to-human as well as colleague-to-colleague.
- Ability to acknowledge where a Coach-Client is in relationship to their desired developmental experience level; and,
- Intent to compassionately draw a Coach-Client forward from where they are in their professional development to their next level of expertise and artistry; and,
- Expansive capacity to be in and with any underlying emotions or situations with a willingness to check it out with the Coach-Client from a place of openness and objectivity.
- Curiosity – Ability to inquire from a true perspective of ‘not knowing’ and/or without making assumptions regarding the factors that may be impacting a Coach-Client’s application of skills and competencies.
- Consistently inquire and be open to discovering new knowledge and expertise together through mutual sharing and exploration
- Be willing to ask open-ended, non-leading questions that elicit first what is known or believed by the Coach-Client before offering your input
- Reciprocity – Willingness to intentionally engage with a Coach-Client as mutual contributors to each other’s skill set, knowledge base and professional artistry.
- Cultivate ‘beginner’s mind’ and apply it as a lens for mutual learning and curiosity.
- Clarify between you and your Coach-Client about each other’s needs and expectations relative to your engagement with one another, so that you can partner more successfully in a healthy and sustainable relationship.
- Transparency - Openly willing and able to admit when errors in judgment or process has occurred and then take appropriate steps to rectify it.
- Acknowledge and invite your Coach-Client to acknowledge that, as human beings, we can make mistakes - and it’s a normal occurrence that often those mistakes are catalysts for innovative thinking and approaches.
- Recognize that the extent to which you, as a Mentor Coach, can be transparent about your own mistakes – in past circumstances and in the current mentor coaching relationship – is the extent to which your Coach-Client will be willing and able to do the same.
- Be willing to risk making an observation or asking a question that may make you or the Coach-Client – or both - uncomfortable.
While I began my own development journey to be a coach’s coach with some of these qualities and traits in my tool kit, I now see that the expansion of both is only limited by my courage to stretch beyond knowing into a state of being borderless in my service to clients. It is a lifelong learning journey to strengthen these qualities and traits that richly rewards me with collegial relationships with coaches who achieve excellence and keep on striving, in service to others.
Experienced with individuals at the Board of Directors, “C” Chair, Executive and Senior Management levels, Janet assists executives in adopting effective habits of perception and behavior to lead and accelerate corporate strategies. Typical engagements address executive development in the following areas: articulate and inspire through clarity of vision, enable respectful challenge, debate and catalyze synergy for strategic business choices, risk/reward critical thinking about investments and shareholder value, plan leader succession and architect sustainable cultural/strategic change.
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