Where do you draw the line?
Many coaches struggle to reconcile which of the complementary ways they could interact with their clients, such as training and mentoring, are compatible with their primary role as coach. In our coach training we are taught what coaching is and what makes it unique. We spend a great deal of time and effort mastering the core competencies of what makes up the modern set of coaching skills. Our instructors go out of their way to stamp out any vestige of “advice giving”, in service of breaking us of this all too common and disempowering habit. As a result coaches graduate from their training with a high level of competency in their coaching skills, and yet are scared stiff of straying into any complementary modality of work with clients. This can be a disservice to our clients and a commercial liability for our practices.
Coaching is a relatively new vocation. The great benefits of coaching are not fully appreciated by the entire market. Few potential clients really understand what a coach can help them achieve and how valuable the experience will be. This presents a significant marketing challenge to many coaches who go out into the world with only one service to sell – this new generic service called “coaching”- which is something only a small percentage of potential clients are actually looking for. In reality the majority of potential clients think in terms of the specific problems they have, or the outcomes they are seeking. To achieve greater commercial success for far more coaches, I believe we all benefit from considering the additional ways this powerful solution we have (called coaching), can be augmented and adapted to meet more of the existing needs in our markets and communities.
For example, whether you are looking at life, business or executive coaching, clients come to coaches for a multitude of reasons. Not yet fully understanding the nuances of coaching levels of experience and credentials, many clients choose a coach based on their expertise in non-coaching areas. Many clients want their coaches to share any experience or knowledge that could minimize mistakes and accelerate learning and overall progress. If a coach cannot find an effective way to share their experience to the benefit of the client, they could find themselves struggling to attract clients in the marketplace.
So just how do you share your experience and knowledge in a way that honors the underlying ethics and principals of coaching and benefits the client? I believe there are many practical approaches that thousands of successful coaches have already adapted for use in their practices. While I don’t pretend to offer any universal definitions here, in service of exploring what activities are most compatible with coaching, let me offer the following distinctions.
Pure Coaching – I think we all know what this looks like. The client is held as creative, resourceful and whole and fully capable of determining the best path forward. In its simplest form, the coach assists the client to clarify the agenda, identify options, choose a path, create a plan and stick with it. If they are any good at what they do, the coach will also help the client raise their awareness, connect with their underlying values and strengths, make far more conscious choices, find out what truly inspires them, and achieve extraordinarily meaningful outcomes.
Even if we use different words, I think we all understand what pure coaching is and how it works. Quite simply it is a unique and extraordinarily powerful approach to supporting clients. However I believe coaching is much more than a specific set of skills which can only be applied within a very narrow criterion. Coaching is also a revolutionary approach to human development that embodies a philosophy of empowerment with a process of ongoing support, and this approach can and should be applied in as many ways that assists the clients and helps expand the impact of coaching.
Unfortunately, due to the relative youth of our profession, for every person out there looking for a coach, I suspect there is another hundred people looking to solve a specific challenge or achieve a specific outcome. They just don’t know coaching is a much better solution than what they are turning to now. To the extent that we learn to market in the language of our client’s current needs, and contrast our great solution (the ongoing focus and individualized attention and empowerment of coaching) we will all have a much easier time filling our coaching practices.
Training/Educating – When you are training, it is acknowledged that you the coach have specific knowledge and skills the client(s) wants to acquire. You the coach determine the best way to transfer that knowledge, usually in a group setting (or teleclass), followed by several months of coaching to help reinforce the learning. Training can be done in a very “coach like” manner usually with high levels of interaction and self reflection which is in sharp contrast to some of the historic approaches to training and education, (large, passive, data dumps), many of us endured in our education. Our better coach training schools do a great job of training in a coach like manner.
Offering some training in areas you are knowledgeable, has many commercial advantages. Many business and corporate clients are used to receiving skills this way, and some good upfront training can set up some great follow-up coaching. (Note – the American Society of Training and Development has estimated that around the world over $200 Billion is spent on training each year – and the training industry itself has estimated that over 50% of all training is wasted due to mismatches, one-size-fits-all solutions, or lack of follow up. This is a huge market for our services.)
Training/Educating can also happen through books or recordings or other information products you might sell to a wider audience, offering additional ways and price points for potential clients to work with you.
On a cautionary note, too much training and not enough coaching can shift the energy in a coaching relationship to less than a fully empowered place.
Mentoring – In mentoring, in addition to being a coach, it is recognized you also have specific knowledge, skills and experience relevant to the client’s agenda, and you find way to weave this into the ongoing coaching, on an “as needed basis” without disempowering the client or fostering a dependency. In other words, any knowledge you might share is held lightly and shared without attachment so you do not devolve into “advice giving”. The client gets the information or facts they need to accelerate their progress and are left to make their own decision – perhaps with your good coaching – on the best path to take. At all times the client retains ownership of the issue and decides what if any of the mentoring to apply.
Mentoring can be a very powerful and natural addition for a coach who has found a niche or ideal client group and understand the common challenges they face. A coaching relationship that includes mentoring can be hugely valuable to clients. (For example, if you happen to be someone who has started a number of businesses, and know all the pitfalls and shortcuts, knows what works and what doesn’t, you could definitely save your client a lot of suffering.)
Consulting – I suspect consulting can be done in a “coach like” way. However this is where I draw the line in my practice. In consulting you show up first and foremost as “the expert” and many clients will assume you take ownership of diagnosing the problem and prescribing a solution. While there are many times in our life when we might benefit from a competent consultant, in my opinion this activity is not compatible with coaching, and should generally not be included in the range of activities a coach offers the market.
On a cautionary note, whenever you stray from pure coaching with a client it is important to clarify and discuss the role you propose to assume. This can be done as easily as asking, “It looks like your whole team might benefit from a workshop on listening skills. Is that something you would like to do?” or “Would you like some mentoring on this?” And when it is time to return to your primary role as coach, you can say, “I am putting my coaching hat back on now.” Confusion on when you are training, mentoring or coaching does not serve you or your client. Remember, a great many people have worked very hard establishing what sets coaching apart from many other ways of interacting with clients, and we all benefit from keeping this distinction.
I know talk of augmenting coaching will push a few buttons out there. So if you are only coaching, and love it, and have all the clients you need, congratulations. Keep doing what you want to do. However, there are many other coaches still struggling to fill their practices, and for every client who is looking for pure coaching, I believe there are many, many more that want, and would benefit from, some combination of coaching, mentoring or training. Expanding your services could make your marketing life much easier and give you a significant advantage in the marketplace.
Think of the small business owner choosing between two coaches. One is a great coach. The other is a great coach with a strong background in running profitable small businesses. Who do you think will get the business? How about the mother returning to work after kids? Amongst a sea of potential coaches, don’t you think the coach of equal competency who has also been a mom and created her own business and is willing to mentor in this area has a distinct advantage?
Simply put, my message is don’t hide your experience, knowledge and gifts. Try to find a group or niche you love to work with, who can benefit from all that you are. The more of your heart, soul and wisdom you can share with to your clients – in an empowering “coach like” way – the better off they are, and the more successful your business will be.
I believe the umbrella of coaching – under which we hold the client to be creative, resourceful and whole, and show up with the sole intention of helping them get more meaningful results faster than they could on their own – is big enough to accommodate well placed mentoring and training.
The more ways we can package our coaching skills to meet the real needs of clients and add great value, the better it is for everyone.
Steve Mitten CPCC, MCC, 2007 Canadian Coach Of The Year, 2005 International Coach Federation President. acoach4u.com