In Coaching from the Inside, I present a set of guiding principles for internal coaching. Principle #4 is that coaches are agents of awareness, rather than agents of change. As Australian coach Alex Sloley explains in the book, “As the agent of awareness, you’re helping everybody around you become aware of what’s going on, and then helping them learn how to change it themselves.”
ICF’s core coaching competency #7 is that a coach evokes awareness. Some of the ways that is demonstrated are in competency 7.2 (challenges the client as a way to evoke awareness or insight), 7.3 (asks questions about the client, such as their way of thinking, values, needs, wants and beliefs), and 7.4 (asks questions that help the client explore beyond current thinking).
Think of the phoropter— the device that an eye doctor uses to determine an eyeglass prescription. In the same way that rotating to a different lens reveals different levels of sight, so can just the right coaching question reveal new levels of awareness.
We all have awareness, to some degree, about ourselves, our situation, and our desired outcome. Our role as coaches, then, is to learn the person and how they currently see those things, and then ask questions to help, encourage, and invite them to expand that.
The coach may ask to hear more about the person’s current context or reality. What else would be helpful for me to know? How have you dealt with this in the past? How are you dealing with it in the present? What are the unwritten rules? How else could you think about this?
We also ask questions about the future: What is your vision? What guides or determines that vision?
Typically, the people I coach gravitate towards having greater awareness either of their current situation or their vision. Since one is already pretty clear, I’ll go to the other. With leaders, they’ve often worked hard on developing a vision, but they may be out of touch with the current status.
Assessment tools such as Myers-Briggs, DiSC®, and Clifton StrengthsFinder (now known as CliftonStrengths) can also be helpful to understand how we view things.
One person I coached was wondering if coaching would help him. He described a pattern of finding something he was passionate about, but then stopping short of following it through. He felt like a failure.
When we talked further and I asked some clarifying questions, he was able to change his perspective and see that his hesitation could actually be a good thing. That his common sense, in at least one case, helped him from taking what would have been a devastating risk right before the world shut down for a global pandemic.
He thought he was a failure for not moving forward. Now he realizes that his tendency to slow down and consider things before taking action will be one of his greatest strengths as an entrepreneur.
Just imagine how that shift in perspective will change how he shows up for his next big idea!