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.

How coaching can tend to the present and future


Now that we’ve reviewed some of the fundamentals of psychology—specifically how family systems work, our lopsided natures, and the impact of denial—it’s important to underscore the stance of the practitioner you want to engage, and why you want to engage them. Chemistry and philosophical alignment matters when it comes to making progress.

A therapist will diagnose your lopsidedness, and dwell with you in reviewing past experiences to heal or help reduce your emotional pain. They do this by reversing the suppression of memories and emotions; by talking with you and getting you to talk.

Coaching dips into the past and attempts to help you frame your experiences in a way that provides insights about your present and future. Specifically, coaching helps you gain awareness of yourself as an individual, how you influence and interact with teams, and how well you negotiate shifts in market forces.

It is here we come to a fork in the road and will focus exclusively on the practice and value of coaching.

Coaching is a tool; like all tools, it has been designed to help us overcome an innate weakness we came by naturally and to help us learn to nurture, augment and extend our capacities. A bucket is stronger and more secure than holding water in our hands. A knife is more helpful to us than tearing meat with our teeth. Both tools make up for innate deficits in our natural abilities and help us do more with our resources.

What is distinctive about coaching is what it is a tool for: at its core coaching is an invention us interweave results and relationships. It sounds like a simple concept, but it is not easy to pull off.

Coaches claim a wide spectrum of specialties—from coaching skills for management, to building block skills from scientific literature, to a billion dollar self-help industry helping you figure out “what to do when you grow up”—and this book doesn’t claim to cover such a broad range of topics.

Here, we take a flyover view of view of how executive coaches leverage principles from psychology and effectively model them with clients as the navigate their environment and finding those educatable moments when they will be able to link being, doing, and learning with attaining actionable results. In this way, clients leverage coaches as a true business partner helping them face distinct challenges in achieving results and gain clarity on what is hindering their progress.


Coaches find educatable moments by linking being, doing, and learning with attaining actionable results.


While coaching can initially be focused on a single individual, coaches take a bi-focal view of client within the context of their larger system. They look at the forces that shape and influence the client. Clients subconsciously react to the field in which they operate with their own emotional responses, which propel them forward or hold them back. Clients react within that field and this sets off a chain of reactivity around them. Coaches need to be able to see the how the system impacts their clients in order to see how their interventions succeed or fail. Without the systems perspective, coaches have limited impact.

Coaching has been devised to correct the otherwise substantial difficulties we face in understanding how we operate as individuals, our impact and influence on others, our ability to participate and lead high-performance teams. Done well, under pressure, in front of an audience—are all demonstrations of fully integrated skills such as self-love; radical candor; awareness of what motivates us and others; and, self-management. To perform well under stress requires us to trust ourselves first, then others, and communicate successfully, honor our potential, while feeling adequately calm, confident, authentic, direct and unashamed.

For many of us, that is a tall order.

For such an important invention, coaching is still low on overt signs of innovation. Much of the training and information on the market has been updated and repackaged.

However, there is new emphasis on neuroscience, brain development, creativity, and consciousness. There is increasing interest in making coaching more readily available to all members of the organization. Technically speaking, it requires only a quiet room free of interruptions, fifty minutes, possibly twice a month, and some thoughtful conversation where both people are fully present. The level of training a coach grounded in psychology needs to undertake requires a period of extensive education in the workings of the mind, which – in more responsible institutions – has a similar cost, rigor, intellectual ambition and periods of hands-on experience as getting a pilot’s license.

To deliver on its promises, coaching relies on distinct components. Here are four.

1.       Results Driven

The outcomes a client is there to achieve should be the sole focus of a client engagement. To lose site of that is to waste the client’s time, money, and energy. The organization needs the client to be as effective as possible on the goods or services that contribute to the organization’s success. Coaching support that drive for results.

2.       Partners on the journey

The coach stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the client in gaining personal and professional mastery. Together, they detangle and assess the issues, pressures, and problems they face. The coach observes, inquires, motivates and challenges the client to perform optimally.

3.       Engaged in the challenge

This process helps the client gain awareness and insights about what forces they might be succumbing to that take them off course, and what they avoid. In the confines of the coaching dynamic, the coach confronts and challenges the client on how they might be getting in their own way.

4.      Connects key concepts to gain insights

The coach makes the connection between behaviors to outcomes, keeping the leaders focused on outcomes but widening their lens on how to get there. This is an essential aspect of coaching where coaches help clients to understand which behaviors are linked to which business goals. It’s important for the client to understand that they are not an island, and that the responsibility remains central to the leader achieving results through their behaviors with the team.


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