In my last blog I explored how, in order to be effective with clients, coaches need to focus on relationship at the same time as they guide their clients through a process. I concluded there was nothing wrong with having a process – what was important was how you applied it.
It set me thinking about the way experienced coaches relate to processes and how they seem to hold a kind of cognitive dissonance position towards structure in a coaching session. On the one hand they see them as valuable – for coaches in training or for specific roles – basically for less developed individuals but not for themselves! If you ask an experienced coach if they use a process they will usually smile condescendingly and say something like ‘Oh no – I grew out of that ages ago’ – as if to show they no longer need training wheels. ‘Now I simply stay present with a client and see what emerges’. In fact what has happened is that they have internalized the process and often use a mixtures of approaches.
If you probe you often find they still have elements of process. ‘Stay present with a client and see what emerges’ is in fact a process. It may not be as defined and clear as say GROW, but it is still a process. And if you ask further they have usually established some kind of goals for the client and have some inner beliefs like ‘the client can find their own answers if I ask the right questions’, which guides their process. But it becomes so unconscious that it does not seem like one. If there was no process or intention in a coaching session basically you are having a conversation and should hand back your fee, because anyone can do that.
When people are starting out as coaches they often need a more explicit process to follow. If you are ask the average middle manager to ‘just be present’ with a client you will probably be met with an uncomprehending stare. ‘I am here in the room of course I am present’. It takes a pretty high level of understanding and skill to understand what ‘be present’ means in this context.
A model like GROW allows them to understand facilitated problem solving while their skills are developing and they lack confidence. As they develop the process might change so they no longer have to think consciously about applying it. And at the same time they develop their relationship skills which create a container for the process to function in. That is all fine, it is a skill to hold presence and process at the same time. But there is a process still there.
I think there is another, more covert, reason why coaches dislike very formulaic coaching processes. It is often wrapped up in the dislike of process but the real answer is that they do not want to be held accountable. When we are training coaches using our software CoachMaster® we can give very focused feedback because the record of the session is there in black and white. As coaches get more experienced they can avoid this level of scrutiny which would tell, for example, have all the obstacles and options been explored? It is a lot harder to criticize a session that was not run on clear lines because any one can have their own view about it and no one can say who s right. Who can say if someone was present or followed their intuition correctly?
So let’s be done with this sniffy attitude towards processes. I am prepared to stand up tall and proud and say ‘I like coaching processes’ – and you might as well too because you have one whether you know it or not.