Coaching Principle 2: Partnership

2 November

I continue with the series of posts on the coaching principles. You can read the first post here.

Today I’d like to write about the partnership in coaching. It is explicitly mentioned in the definition of coaching by the International Coach Federation: “Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Check this scene from the King’s Speech movie.

Prince Albert is telling his speech therapist Lionel Logue to refer to him as ‘his Royal Highness.’ But Lionel doesn’t accept that, he responds: ‘In here, it’s better if we are equals.’ That’s one of the aspects of partnership — taking an active part in defining the role you play, not just accepting the role that your client may envision for you.

Why is it important for a coach to partner with a client? The reason is the relationship they have is extremely important. It is going to be the foundation for the changes that happen in coaching. And in this relationship, the coach can not take a higher stand because that will suppress the client’s creativity. Nor may the coach play a subservient role — it will mean that he won’t be able to provoke and challenge the client.

It’s hard to break down partnership to specific actions. It’s more like a stance that the coach takes. It affects the coach’s decision-making process and non-verbal part of communication with the client. When I conduct basic coaching skills training, it’s easy to notice how beginners are not creating an equal partnership. Sometimes they charge ahead, not even allowing clients to describe the details of their situation. Or they might meekly observe as the client goes off on tangents, as a result, the client gets nowhere.

So how then does partnership manifest in good coaching?

A coach may, especially later in the coaching engagement, ask a client how he would like him to participate in the process. It is important to let them choose how they want to proceed in the session. Sometimes, they just want a coach to be present with them while they vent. Sometimes, they might want a coach to help them brainstorm on options to resolve some issue. And other times, they might want a coach to help identify what kind of limiting belief is holding them back. Inviting clients to make this choice is the correct way to form a partnership.

Coaches regularly share their observations and intuitions with a client. The coach who partners with the client will ask what the client thinks about them. And he will do that without an attachment to being right about such an observation. This is needed to demonstrate to the client that the coach is not an expert who knows objectively what’s happening but only provides ideas to spur the client’s thinking process.

Another thing is that the coach asks for the client’s feedback about the progress. The coach continuously tracks whether the client is moving in the right direction. And he needs to make sure the client is aware of the progress and focused on the goal.

I can also share the way partnership affects my practice. The majority of people coming to me are bringing the topic of career choice. They can start by explaining that they want to decide whether they want to develop further as a technical specialist or move to management. When this happens, my aim is to demonstrate to them the opportunity to dig deeper. The dilemma they are facing is rarely an end goal. It is a means to get somewhere in their life. And I know that the biggest value I can deliver to them is by helping them understand what is the most important question that they can address in their lives. For instance, how can the person be aligned with their values and aspirations so that such a career choice becomes not at all relevant.

Maintaining partnership means balancing between following the client’s interests and confronting the client when it can serve them. We are not allowed to impose our interpretation of the client’s situation. Yet at certain moments, we are obliged to call out the stories our clients tell themselves.

Balancing between being humble and provocative, that’s the challenge of the coaching partnership. And that’s one of the clues I advise to look for while selecting a coach. Look for someone who is capable of maintaining that balance.

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