The Voices Within

Photo by  Regular Man

Photo by Regular Man


Inside our minds is a judgment table, filled with people who have had an impact upon us—positive and negative. They observe what we do. They scrutinize how we perform. They see the effect we have on others. They rack our successes and failures. Then, eventually, they pass a judgment. These voices are simple to trace. They are the internalization of the voices of people who were once outside of us. When a parent judges a failure or values a win, we hear it. When a favorite coach or teacher shows disappointment or approval, we register it. When an a colleague we respect seeks to shun or include us, we feel it. When a boss demonstrates annoyance or acceptance, we take note. We absorb the tones and moods of disdain and indifference or of assistance and warmth from across periods of our life when we were vulnerable—which is any time intense learning occurred (childhood, our first jobs, big changes in our career, etc.). Sometimes, a voice is positive and encouraging us to do the extra work to achieve a goal. More often, the inner voice is not kind at all. It is defeatist and negative, anxious and shaming. It does not represent anything like our best insights or most mature capabilities.

Part of what coaching offers us is a chance to improve how we both view and judge ourselves so that we can arrive at a fairer evaluation. This process helps us temper the voices we hear within. It can involve learning—in a conscious, deliberate way—to speak to ourselves in a way the coach spoke to us over many sessions. In the face of challenges, we can ask ourselves, ‘And what would they say now?’ After we have heard the coach’s curious, constructive, and supportive voice enough—in the midst of stressful times—such an approach to better performance will (with practice and mindfulness) come to feel like a more natural response. What is learned can, with practice, become second nature. Eventually, our thoughts will start to shift.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Coaching Behaviors: Partnership

Photo by  Tom Crew

Photo by Tom Crew


The ongoing contact we have with a coach, the sessions that may last one month, or continue less sporadically over years, contribute to the creation of a partnership. Our coach is a partner in our success and personal and professional mastery of being able to: create, make progress toward, and maintain reasonable goals; manage ourselves amidst our own discomfort and that of others; increase our tolerance for reactivity; and be candid with our experiences. Because these skills are hard for everyone, mastery takes a lifetime. A coach is there for part of that journey.

We are almost certain to have some to see a coach in the first place because, in some way, partnering has become fraught with challenges. We sense the issues, but don’t quite understand the root of the problem. Maybe we try to please too many people. We gain our sense of security from their admiration, but then feel inauthentic or inwardly numb and pull back.  Perhaps we connect strongly at first with a direct, boss, or stakeholder, but then always discover a major flaw that turns us off and baits us to sabotage the relationship by avoiding contact or withholding information that will make them successful, establishing an unproductive cycle.

The relationship with our coach may have little in common with the sort of partnership we elsewhere in our life. Because therapists spend so much time in a client’s past, they remove all potential for collegial rapport. Because coaches focus so much on the present, and partner on strategies for gaining results in the present—this relationship has a bit of latitude.  Some coaches do socialize with their clients; others draw a bright line. Coaches experience a conflict when a private or personal interest appears to influence the objective of his or her official duties as a coach and a professional. When that happens, they openly disclose any such conflict and offer to remove themselves when a conflict arises.

Regardless, unavoidably and conveniently, we bring to our coaching partnership the very tendencies that emerge in our relationships with other people across our web. Here too we may be too quick to bond thinking we have found the safety of a “tribe”, only to cool, or we are too prone to idealization placing the coach upon a pedestal, then gripped by an impulse to flee.

Except that now, when we are with our coach, our tendencies will have a chance to be witnessed, slowed down, discussed, sympathetically explored and—in their more sabotaging displays— overcome. The relationship with the coach becomes a barometer of one’s behavior with people more generally and thereby allows us, on the basis of greater self-awareness, to modify and improve how we relate to ourselves, our teams and stakeholders, and the world at large.


The coaching partnership acts as a microcosm of our general ability to collaborate.


In the context of a coaching session, our biases, idiosyncrasies, beliefs, and habits are observed and can be commented on. We are not criticized, but we are held accountable. The coach notices important information about our character that we deserve to become aware of. The coach will (kindly) point out that we’re reacting as if we had been attacked, when they only asked a question. The coach might focus our attention to how we seem to want to tell them impressive things about our accomplishments for the week (yet they like us anyway). The coach might notice how we seem to rush to agree with them when they’re only exploring an idea to see if it fits our situation and one in which they themselves are not very sure. They see where we adopt attitudes or outlooks that we don’t actually have. They see how committed we seem to be in the idea that they are disappointed in us for our lack of progress or inability to perform under pressure as we might have liked. They will point out our habit of casting people in the present in roles that must derive from the past and will search with us for the origins of these attributions, which are liable to mimic what we felt towards influential caregivers and now shape what we expect from everyone.

The coaching relationship acts as a microcosm of our relationships in general. It makes a unique vehicle for learning about our less noticeable emotional and behavioral tendencies. By re-experiencing relational problems with another person who will not respond as ordinary people will, who will not shout at us, fire us, complain, say nothing or run away, we can be helped to understand what we are up to and given a chance to let new patterns of relating emerge which help us achieve the results we are after.

The partnership with the coach becomes a template for how we might collaborate with others going forward, freed from the maneuvers and background assumptions that we carried within us from childhood, and that can impede us so grievously in the present.

The coaching partnership may be for us the first properly healthy collaboration we have had. We learn to hold off from imposing our assumptions on the other and trust them enough to let them see the larger, more complex reality of who we are—we allow ourselves to be vulnerable as we learn as we manage anxiety, frustration or embarrassment. It becomes a model—earned in a highly unusual situation—that we start to apply in the more mundane aspects of our lives, with our colleagues, bosses, stakeholders, and further aspects of our web.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Coaching Behaviors: Interruption

Photo by  David Becker

Photo by David Becker


Coaches actively listen, but they also interrupt—strategically. They seek to understand—for their own sake—following their curiosity about decisions, behaviors, assumptions we are making. These decisions, behaviors, assumptions may or may not be informed by our past, but our reactivity about them most certainly is.  

We come to coaching with certain goals. We are seeking answers. There is a presenting problem that hints at, but does not fully capture, the full picture. Why, for instance, do we repeatedly hire people who do not perform? Why do we seek out bosses that do not support us? Why is it so hard for us to work through others? How can we be both so convinced we need to leave a role and yet have remained completely unable to find something more fulfilling? Why do we sabotage our potential?

By their questions and their attention, the coach tries—harder than anyone we’ve spoken to yet—to discover how our presenting problem connects to something larger. In particular, they help us navigate “the web”: ourselves and our team(s); our wider ecosystem of departments, vendors, customers, and strategic stakeholders or partners; and, how we interpret “the outside” market, the economy, the natural environment, and political shifts (as appropriate). Remember, the coach’s goal is to help us increase effectiveness by interweaving relationships with results, pinpointing key areas of growth.

Starting in the first session, we gather a succession of small discoveries with the coach to contribute to an emerging picture of the sources of our presenting problem, not just the symptoms.

When we view ourselves at the center of our web, we gain insights in the way in which our character has slowly evolved in response to early wounds. We learn how those wounds form into triggers, and how our reactivity to those triggers hampers our possibilities today.  


When we view ourselves at the center of our web, we gain insights in the way in which our character has slowly evolved in response to early wounds.


Reactivity narrows our focus. Responsiveness broadens our view. In the space between reactivity and response is where we find the seeds of our creativity.

When we view ourselves interacting with our teams and wider ecosystems, these triggers amplify. Do we trust others enough to delegate? Can we get past our initial judgments of peers enough to collaborate effectively rather than work around them? Can we learn to engage rather than avoid difficult personalities we encounter as managers, partners or stakeholders?

When we take in the even broader environments (social systems, market competition, etc.) we notice additional pressures in the system.

We may, for example, start to sense how a feeling of rivalry with another manager led us to take on more challenges to compete for a boss’s approval, as well as seeing, perhaps for the first time, that the logic of our self-sabotage no longer holds. Or we might perceive the way an attitude of negativity and pessimism, which restricts our personalities and our friendships, might have had its origins in a someone who let us down at a time when we could not contain our vulnerability, and thereby turned us into people who try at every juncture to disappoint themselves early and definitively rather than allowing the world to mock our emerging hopes at a time of its own choosing.

It is unhelpful to state any of this too frankly, to any client, as they are likely to resist. There is a dance to active listening—and not everyone is dancing to the same music. There are useful or counterproductive behaviors that we can have with our coach. Here are some examples (the first two are constructive, the second two are less effective):

  • we want advice, the coach fosters independent thinking.

  • we seek feedback, the coach gives it.

  • we vent about a colleague, coach soothes.

  • we are late for appointments or forget to reserve a room, the coach tolerates it.

Often, the dance pattern developing between you and your coach is an example of the system the client is in with their own team or organization. Systems have a way of extending themselves out to their furthest boundaries. In that way, they have a strong gravitational pull.

The coach resists this by reflecting to us the decisions we are making, or how we are reacting and behaving. Together, we replay those scenarios and discuss alternatives. For the process to work, the coach reflects of the structure of our troubles in a way we can best interpret it as our own observation and insight.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Coaching Behaviors: Listening

Photo credit:  NeONBRAND

Photo credit: NeONBRAND


One of the structural flaws of our minds is that it is hard for us to think deeply and coherently for any length of time. We keep losing the main thread the same way we lose our keys on the way out the door. Competing, irrelevant information has a habit of darting across the mental horizon and jumbling our shaky insights. Occasionally, consciousness mysteriously goes blank for a moment, like we’ve lost our streaming connection. These mental glitches distract our attention, chipping away at our potential for finding creative flow in our work, and reinforce doubt in the value of what we are trying to make sense of.

“Why am I doing this? Why did I embark on this effort in the first place?” we think.

When this kind of thinking happens, we can experience overpowering urges to check the news, social media, gossip, walk around the office to distract others or search out a snack. All unproductive behaviors. All behaviors with external focus. As a result, some of the topics we most need to examine—our inner state, our interpersonal relationships; our goals; our skill development; the triggers that bother us so much about the way our colleagues do or don’t do their work—sink into to the mental sands, at great mental cost.

What helps in our attempts to know our own minds is, surprisingly, having another mind present. For all the appeal of independent learning, thinking usually happens best in tandem. The curiosity of someone else gives use the confidence to remain curious about the things we are most intimidated to confront about ourselves, the dogs in the basements of our minds. It is the application of a light pressure from outside us that helps give structure and perspective to some of our jumbled impressions. That coaches require us to verbalize our thoughts mobilizes us toward greater discipline in our concentration.


What helps in our attempts to know our own minds is, surprisingly, having another mind present.


Occasionally a friend might be unusually attentive and ready to hear us out. But it isn’t enough for them  quietly sip their coffee or cocktail and hear us out. Listening means more than merely not interrupting. To really be hard means being the recipient of a strategy of ‘active listening’.

From the start, the coach will use a succession of very quiet but significant prompts to help us develop and stick to the points we are circling. These suggest that there is no hurry but that someone is there, following every word we say, sigh we take, and flinch of our voice and posture as they encourage us to “go on” and “say more.”

One flower, one gardener

When a coach listens actively, our ideas, memories and concerns don’t have to be well-formed. We are given a wide birth to stumble, backtrack, and get confused. But the active listener contains and gardens the emerging confusion. They can see the difference between a weed that will distract us and the seed that we need to learn to nurture. They help us plough old ground covered too quickly prompting us to address a relevant point that we might have skipped. They will help us chop away at a disturbing issue while continually reassuring us that what we are saying is valuable. All the while, they will note minor changes in our facial expressions, tone of voice, breathing, posture, and eye movements. They will be interested in what words we choose, and attentive not only to what we actually express but what we might have said instead.

They do not treat us like ineffective communicators; they are simply immensely alive to how difficult it is for anyone to piece together our blind spots.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.


Photo by  Neil Thomas

Photo by Neil Thomas


Finding direction for ourselves and/or leading others, at any level, isn’t easy. It’s an invitation into an uncomfortable place filled with doubt, constraints, difficulty, and struggle. When we accept that invitation, we find within ourselves truth, strength, and resilience.

Coaches enter into an ecosystem and understand our position in that system; they do not take on the stresses of our system. They do not prescribe what we should do. They share our concerns, convey empathy with our situation, and help us think creatively about our options. When we are stuck, or performing poorly, thinking creatively is where we are most challenged. Under pressure, we develop a myopic view of what is possible, making most options impossible.

Coaches help us identify our anxieties. They help us better understand mental processes that hold us back, keep us stuck, and inhibit our ability solve problems under pressure. Here, coaches model the behavior we are looking for: to remain independent thinkers while working interdependently to confront challenges constructively.


Coaches demand our willingness to enter into a maturing process that helps increase our resiliency and effectiveness.


As important as self-awareness is, coaches are not there simply for understanding and insights. They demand our willingness to enter into a maturing process that helps increase our resiliency and effectiveness. They require us to take action, learn from our experiences, and set new goals for action that lead to a stronger sense of our leadership presence. The stronger and more robust our presence is—our ability to sit with our own discomfort and the discomfort of others—the easier it will be to integrate practicing the ability to identify reasonable goals, manage ourselves amidst our own discomfort and that of others, increase our tolerance for reactivity, and be candid with our experiences. Mastery of these practices is a lifelong commitment.

In perceiving and reacting to our performance, those around us may be sporadically annoyed, frustrated, jealous, bored, vindictive, keen to prove a point or distracted by their own set of concerns. Coaches bring a focused, generous attention to our situation. They create a safe, no-consequences conversational space, separate from day-to-day pressures. They are genuinely sorry if we have lost political capital on a project for which we bled. They understand that it must have been worrying to get a new boss right before they were promised a promotion, enraging to be overlooked after delivering a key project, or exciting to have acquired a new team. They know what it feels like to be stuck without a sense of direction. They recognize we didn’t do whatever it is we are there to discuss on purpose and assume some logic on our part if we did. They do not flatter us, but they do strive to enter into our experience, shoulder to shoulder, and help us make sense of our experience so that we can see a broader set of choices than the one we originally picked. They look at reality through our eyes so as to start offering an alternative point of view and become an effective sounding board for future decision making.

Such support allows us to exhale and breathe a sigh of relief. Day to day survival in corporate politics (and everywhere else) requires that we constantly weigh the impact of our words and actions on others. We have to consider their priorities, take a genuine interest in their lives, and make room for their concerns.

With a coach, there is little inquiry into their personal experience. The coach inquires what is top of mind for us, not the other way around. The relationship is as one-sided as the parent-advocate who doesn’t expect the child to worry about their sleep, but who provides ground rules to live by.


Leading others, at any level, isn’t easy. It’s an invitation into an uncomfortable place filled with doubt, constraints, difficulty, and struggle. When we accept that invitation we find within ourselves truth, strength, and resilience.


However, the coach does not sacrifice equality in the relationship. They’ll show us understanding while holding us accountable to our goals. They give us tough feedback so we can see reality with greater clarity. They are fully present to help us find what is best for us, understood on our terms.

Support is not just pleasant. Support is structured, and essential to us tapping into our own reserves. Knowing that we have someone in our corner is designed to lend us the courage to face up to experiences we normally avoid. In a sufficiently calm, reassuring and attentive environment, we can look at areas of vulnerability we otherwise lack the courage to tackle. We need to learn to confront our managers unproductive interventions that derail project priorities. We need to make key leadership decisions resulting in team restructuring and strategy shifts. We have to be able to deal with toxic team members in a way that doesn’t blow back on us. Above all, we must know where we are headed on our own life path, and why. With a supportive advocate in our corner, we can summon the vulnerability needed to reflect on our own decisions and behavior—that perhaps we were wrong correcting someone in front of the team, or that we made a hasty career decision that cost us, or that we have been angry with a peer for long enough, that it might be best to outgrow our justifications.

The support of another person gives us the emotional safety needed shine light in a constructive way at our crafty, mysterious, evasive minds.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Coaching Behaviors: Proximity

Photo by  Markus Spiske

Photo by Markus Spiske


Coaches know a lot about the unembellished truths of human nature and have a broader view of what it means to be normal. They have close-up experience, proximity, working with people who have experienced serious traumas—harassment, layoffs, discrimination—as well as the smaller pains and paradoxes: a grudge provoked by a side look at a person in a meeting that took up the better part of three years; an otherwise amiable person who punched a wall in frustration after a meeting; a smart, capable manager who is no longer performing well or feels stuck; a senior director in midlife at the same level for ten years and getting anxious about retirement; a general manager dealing with self-sabotage and severe reputational damage; a corporate vice president incapable to confrontation.

Because of their orientation, coaches grounded in psychology know that inside every adult there are feelings of confusion, anger, frustration, anxiety and longing to have their say and their reality recognized. Coaches appreciate that we need to know what we know and feel what we feel in order to really know ourselves again. They know we will want to be heard, perhaps through tears or the clenched jaw of frustration, which might be at odds with the surface maturity and self-management normally associated with executives and high performing managers.

Coaches understand what people are like, and how they operate. Therefore, they do not to need to censor or deliver judgments. This experience does not come from theory or books, but by being courageous about knowing their own nature. Coaches may not share our fantasies and anxieties exactly, but they accept that their own are as colorful and as complex as ours. They are just as well acquainted with the powerful and peculiar fears that hold us all hostage.


Coaches have a broader view of what it means to be normal.


Coaches can start to help us because they have a much broader view of what is actually normal versus what we insist on pretending is normal. They have perspective at a time when we probably do not. They don’t require us to be any particular way to protect their fragile sense of self or of reality. Their only requirement is that we admit, without too much defensiveness, to some of what is going on inside us. They ask us to feel what we might have been avoiding or know what we might have been lying to ourselves about in the pursuit of greater self-awareness. Greater self-awareness leads to deeper insights. Deeper insights leads to clearer thinking. When we think more clearly, we can start to take meaningful action.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Coaching Behaviors: A Self-Differentiated Witness

Photo by  Dawn Kim

Photo by Dawn Kim


One of the most important skills a coach has, and they undergo significant training for this, is the ability to maintain their own experience in the presence of others’ anxiety. Self-differentiation sits squarely in the middle of taking a firm stand on our own point of view (our judgment, our decision, or a boundary we set), and remaining connected and attuned to those with whom we take a stand.


It’s sort of like a gyroscope, where all the parts tilt, move and roll, but the center remains firm. Applying this metaphor to our relationships, we maintain an interactional equilibrium: the ability to maintain yourself and your relationships in the face of forces like fear, conflict, judgment, and anxiety.

Coaching without a high degree of self-differentiation can lead to a high degree of reactivity where the coach and the client can lose their balance, responding in automatic, nonconstructive and ineffective ways.

The power of the witness

It’s easy to look at someone else’s decisions and pass judgement. Coaches with a grounding in psychology get trained not to judge and to remain separate yet connected as they intervene with a client on a challenge. Curiosity, genuine nonjudgmental interest, is a quality that needs to be constantly cultivated and practiced.

The witness sees the good, the bad, the terrible, and the mundane. Witnessing a family member, friend, partner or associate’s experience gives it meaning. How we witness one another’s experience makes that experience constructive and positive, or devastating and painful.

In our families and at our work, we hide most of who we really are. There is more than enough judgment to go around and we can almost feel our knuckles being rapped when we play outside the lines. We know how quickly we’d be kicked from the campfire if people could read a ticker-tape of our mind.

Much of our inner monologue might seem foolish: how we felt a strange impulse to burst into tears during a touching commercial of family re-connection; how often we wish we could travel back in time and correct the missed opportunities of our youth, or even just take back what we said to a colleague in our last meeting. Using a harsh lens, some of what is inside can be pretty pitiful: how worried we are about asking a stupid question; how needy we feel for the attention of someone in our group; how much we worry about our appearance. There is also a part of our mind designated for the illegal. This is where the death wishes hang out—our fantasies about a work colleague, or our very plain plans for what we would like to do to a bad boss. But some of what have to contend with is substantial, as we reckon with the vulnerability we feel in undertaking scope with which we have little experience or initial understanding, like leading a team, a division, or a whole company.

When we are under stress, our thinking becomes myopic. We return to what we know works and that knowledge turns into our most powerful hammer. The problem is, not every challenge requires a hammer and our coach can help us acquire a broader perspective so that we can see and learn to develop new tools for the problems that confront us.

Not everyone knows when they need a helping hand. When our world becomes small, we are often counseled to reach out to friends and colleagues (and sometimes coaches!). But we know, deep down, that the social contract in our relationships dictates that we do not burden them with more than a mere fraction of our insanity. There is only so much, we think, we should tell a friend, colleague, or boss before we appear weak, damaged, or put ourselves at risk for being sidelined. All this contributes to our sense of feeling like an imposter, a fraud, or generally undeserving of what we have genuinely earned.

As a safety measure, we filter ourselves. In every interaction, we ensure that there remains a wall between what we say to people and what is truly going on inside our minds.

An exception lies with coaching. Here, remarkably, we can say pretty much anything we want—and expect it to remain confidential. We don’t have to impress the coach or reassure them of our sanity in a particular situation or confirm the insanity in which we operate. We need to be up front, candid, and tell them what is going on. There is no need to stop them thinking we are not completely qualified to do what we do, not worthy of our roles, or just plain terrified. We can gingerly hint that we have some qualities we wish to work on, those shadows in the dark corners of our minds. And, we will find that the coach is not horrified, offended or surprised—only calmly curious. We will learn that we are not frauds, imposters, or undeserving of success. Eventually, we arrive at the opposite of isolation.

A good witness, someone grounded in a science of inquiry, is a model to us on how to become our own advocate.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Key Principles of Coaching

Photo Credit:  michael podger

Photo Credit: michael podger


Components of being results-driven, a good thought partner, engaged in the challenge, and a connector of insights are important for an effective coaching engagement. How that is delivered requires certain qualities.

A few key principles fair better than long lists of models, worksheets, and tactics—no matter how road tested they are. We use the term guiding principles for a reason, because they literally guide us when we over overwhelmed by emotions that come up in stressful work situations, like anxiety, boredom, frustration, resentment, anger and disappointment. Guiding principles apply to when things are going well, too, like joy, euphoria, and happiness because they dictate what we do next. They guide us when we are under pressure and the stakes are high, like when our team doubles and our scope increases overnight and we are now responsible for teams in three geographic regions. Achieving personal and professional mastery at being, doing, and learning with attaining actionable results…in front of others, when our career is on the line—is hard work.

Coaches use the following principles:

  • Note their whole experience

  • Adopt a systems lens

  • Use their own experience and a systems lens in their coaching method


Note their whole experience

Often referred to as “signature presence”, “executive presence”, or one’s “whole self,” it is really about understanding what is it about that coach that we can’t get from any other.

Everyone has a unique presence that gives everyone else they come into contact with a particular experience they can’t get anywhere else. This isn’t to say that we can’t be replaced, but at the same time, we are unique beings and have unique perspectives to offer. A coach should not be performing techniques on clients. No one likes that experience, and it’s not helpful. A trainer, for example, who performs the same training in three cities is not a coach. They are giving a cookie-cutter experience to a high volume of people. I mentioned partnership as a key quality in coaching because it is a value I hold deeply. A coach is a sounding board, peer, and shoulder-to-shoulder collaborator presenting their unique perspectives on a client’s most intimidating challenges. This requires the coach to be candid, the ability to be truthful and authentic about oneself.

The coaching relationship is built on trust, the ability to provide candid feedback, and a genuine presence. The coach’s ability to be authentic helps elicit authenticity in the client. In this way, the coach helps the client bring their full self to their goals, challenges, and relationships crucial to their success.

Adopting a systems lens

Think of a system like a spider web, where the action of one person can impact the experience and potential reactions of everyone or thing else within that web. Coaches require a system lens to understand where their clients where their clients work. A systems view is by definition nonlinear. It enables the coach to spot patterns of interaction and interdependence within and across specific areas of the system.

A coach looks at the system both inside-out and outside-in. At the center of the web is the leader and their personal work. This is where the coach and the client reflect on the client’s values, motivations, goals, strengths, and core challenges. Next out is the client and their team(s), departments, vendors, customers, and strategic stakeholders or partners. The further area from the client is the market, the economy, the natural environment, and political shifts.

This last phase used to seem academic but is coming into the foreground now more than ever. When tariffs increase, whole revenue models need to be re-calibrated—as is the case with cars. When natural resources are recognized as finite, whole product lines and supply chains need to be reconsidered—as is the case with the paper coffee cup. When a company is questioned about their ethics and their impact on elections, how people approach launching their service requires more rigor in thinking through unintended consequences—as is the case with social media services. All of these external factors (and more) impact how we go about our day to day business and how we feel about our work. And, how we feel about work impacts how content we are ourselves and how we treat others.

When the coach focuses too narrowly on the client (their goals, challenges, and inner difficulties), the whole ecosystem in which they function is lost. And the client is influencing and being influenced by the interrelationships of that system (their team, departments, vendors and customers) all the time. Also important is the global area in which they operate.

Combining our experience and a systems lens with an approach to coaching

Combining the unique qualities the coach brings with a systems lens is what makes the application of the coaching method unique. Depending on how they’ve been trained and their professional experience, each coach will identify, emphasize and reflect something different from the systems in which we operate. This is one of the reasons we need to pay attention to what resonates with us when we choose a coach.

Coaching follows a predictable flow of contracting on what goals will be done, planning how to go about achieving those goals, determining how the coach intervene with the client and what interventions the client will then practice, and debriefing on what progress occurred and what next steps the client should take. This is an action research approach seeking business results while building client capabilities to identify, practice, and review their skill development across multiple contexts.

While these steps appear linear, human reactivity and responsiveness are not. A client might be on the verge of landing a vision and mission with their team or organization when they reach out for coaching. Another might be planning a big change initiative. Those projects will continue forward without the coach’s ability to influence it. The coach will instead focus on the heat and chaffing that arises in and between the individual, team, and larger ecosystem of the “web.”



By linking the coach’s whole experience with a systems perspective to the coaching approach, the coach brings ideas, particular filters and perspectives, and abilities to constructively challenge their clients. Coaches can take a strong stand in stating a position that might not be popular while remaining connected and engaged in the coaching dynamic, even when there is conflict.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.