I should explain that I’ve been doing executive coaching for 20 years. However, my understanding of what most people want from coaching transcends that experience. I, too, have been engaged as a client in a developmental relationship. Moreover, I have trained and supervised other psychologists in both organizational and clinical settings. And it’s the mix of my experiences, as client, as coach, as supervisor, and as researcher that shapes my point of view on this subject.
First, I believe we want to experience gains in competence and confidence. This almost always means coming to grips with our fears and “secret” doubts and insecurities. That, of course, is one of the more important paradoxes in what I will call transformative growth and development. Often, we’ve already claimed a role and are trying to live up to what we see as the expectations of that role. This can leave us feeling like a bit of pretender. So, it can feel awkward, even scary, to explore our needs for growth.
Second, is the corollary to the first really. That is, we want to feel authentic and unencumbered by our insecurities. After all, having genuine confidence means being competent in ways that draw upon our personal qualities, relational tendencies, and distinctive aptitudes. All three exist in various states of actuality and potentiality. None of us is great at everything, nor are we equally interested and adept in playing our role the same way others might. So, it’s finding the way that works best for us that’s key.
Third, is a quality of intimate and challenging engagement with our coach. It’s most manifest when we recognize that our coach is quick to understand our individual psychology, to relate it to our role and aspirations, and to see more that we can see about what might be getting in our way. In such relational knowing, we can trust the coach to offer hypotheses about how we get stuck, and to explore ways that we can get unstuck. This is how deep trust is born and how we become adept at “not knowing.”
Notice the Progression:
1) Competence and overt confidence are often the goals we, as clients, most readily focus on and desire as outcomes, even as we harbor fears or insecurities about being “found out.”
2) It’s only possible to make lasting gains in competence and build a genuine basis for confidence by doing the inside work, which usually requires a bit of “tough love” from the coach.
3) Learning how to drop our guard, get to the “real stuff,” and learning how to approach it rather than avoiding it, that’s what promotes our capacity for ongoing adaptive development.
The trick is that we usually don’t know all of what we don’t know about this experience at the outset. To read my conceptualization of the experience here and cognitively grasp its meaning is one thing. But we must feel this experience personally in the presence of someone who can empathically sense what we are feeling as our feelings arise. Our coach must then help us raise this implicit subjective experience to an explicit intersubjective level of consideration, thereby making it available to work on.
Through this kind of iterative interaction, the client become more able to notice her/his feelings sooner and to make them more accessible to explicit examination. Faulty or outdated beliefs and assumptions, and exaggerated and inhibiting feelings of fear begin to lose their constraining effects in the light of day. As we learn to do this with our coach, we acquire a greater readiness for doing this transformative work with those we lead, those we love (i.e., yes, it pays off at home), and those with whom we collaborate.