Skip to Content

Coaching Mastery: A Path Best Traveled Together

The faculty of my coach-training program did live coaching demonstrations as part of the training. The directors of this program have been coaching for over 20 years. I watched with fascination, with 18 members of my soon to be learning community, as the co-director sat down with her client. Everything else in the room seemed to fade away and we witnessed a beautiful transformational coaching session. It looked so effortless. I naïvely thought to myself, “well, that didn’t look so hard.” Then I had to practice and I found myself feeling hopelessly awkward. I found my footing and started to coach after much feedback from this learning community.

What I had witnessed in that demonstration was the mastery of coaching. Now I ask myself, how do I master coaching? There are a multitude of factors that go into mastering something. Practice, feedback, instruction, hard work, diligence, focused intention to grow, reflection. A learning community is an integral part of the path to mastery that coaches can neglect.

The learning community that developed in my coach-training cohort was one of the key strengths of the program. It was a safe place to learn, fail, and try again. There was direct feedback, instruction, and support.

Now as I have settled into my coaching practice, how will I continue on the road to mastery? Will I settle for mere competence or will I strive for mastery?

I liken my journey of coaching to my love of running. Running is an individual sport. However, the community of runners I’ve found has kept me striving for mastery of running. They push, encourage, discuss, make me laugh and hold me accountable.

Like running, coaching can be an individual pursuit. If one should stay on the path to mastery, I would offer that being part of a community of learners is a must.

Here are a few of the benefits of being part of a learning community:

Encouragement

Yes, even coaches need encouragement. I locked in and coached even though I was nervous the first time I practiced coaching in front of my mentor.  Later that day she said, “You can coach.” This encouragement added to my fuel for learning how to coach. Now, as I have been practicing for some time, specific words from other coaches continue to push me on my path.

Shared Learning

When you are part of a group of people with the same goal of improving coaching skills, mutual and shared learning takes place. Through discussion and group reflection, learning is amplified for the individuals in the group.

Perspective

It is far too easy as a coach to get locked into the ways in which we practice. In a community of learners, there is an opportunity to hear how others do it. Not that you would copy another coach’s approach, but maybe a new perspective will shed light onto a situation that you have been wrestling with.

Accountability

“Did you work on that?” True accountability to learning and growing as a coach is found through relationship. It is easy to skip this step and fail to invite trusted others into our kitchen of coaching to poke around. Through time and allowing others to hold us accountable for our learning, we will receive that extra push when we need it.

Practice and Feedback

Jack Nicklaus, a world-renowned golfer, said once, “Don’t be too proud to take lessons. I’m not.” Go to a class, take a CCEU that challenges you, practice, receive feedback and improve. The importance of practice within a learning community is that we can receive feedback on the items that we need to adjust. Without a learning community to provide feedback, we may be practicing incorrectly. If you have a bad golf swing and you practice that bad swing thousands of times, you will have deeply reinforced bad habits. Practice and feedback within a learning community can provide a safe place for course correction.

Emotional Bolstering

Coaching can take an emotional toll on coaches. Your clients are dealing with heavy topics; systematic changes in organizations, thinking about leaving their jobs, how to have that difficult conversation with their boss and other serious issues. Coaches need to learn how to process through these issues. Having a community to celebrate the victories and mourn the losses help the coach process through these emotions. To have fellow coaches share in the ups and downs of coaching will add strength to a pursuit of mastery.

A learning community can keep you on the path to mastery by providing encouragement, shared learning, perspective, accountability, practice and feedback and emotional bolstering.

Ultimately, mastery is a path best traveled with a few trusted companions.

Do you have a learning community?

 

ICF Global Board of Directors Election

The ICF Global Board of Directors election begins today. Here is a short video regarding Micki’scandidacy.

Our Core Competencies – A Recipe for Humanity’s Future

world

I am running for the ICF Global Board of Directors. I am so proud of what our past leaders have done to make ICF the premier coaching organization in the world. As a member of your Board, I want to play a role in continuing that greatness, and forge new pathways for continued growth and excellence.

Part of our greatness lies within our ICF Core Competencies. All of us have read, studied, and embodied them – it is foundational to whatever credential each of us might have. But what’s fascinating about these is that their fundamental make-up is the recipe for a better future for all of humanity.

Here are some of the key words – Agreement, Trust, Presence, Questions, Listening, Direct Communication, Creating Awareness, Managing Progress and Accountability! So much power is embedded within these words.

Can you imagine a world where the norm is to listen? Really listen? Forge trust, directly but respectfully communicate? What about asking a compassionate but deep question? The behaviors, qualities and characteristics in our competencies are really beautiful.

And we get to model these in every conversation!

Keeping professional coaching valuable and relevant is key to not only us as ICF members, but for supporting a more healthy and peaceful world. I want to help lead us into our next generation.

-Micki

What’s service got to do with it?

 

rockclimbers

It is my distinct privilege to be nominated to the ICF Global Board of Directors. With the election beginning October 27, I want to serve ICF in this role. In these next few days, I’d like to share what’s at my deepest core of why our coaching profession is crucial.

The coaching profession has transformed my life – first as a client, later as a coach, coach teacher, chapter volunteer, MCC and PCC assessor, etc. Through all of these touchstones, I’ve met some amazing coaches. What these coaches all have in common is a profound yearning to bring out the best in others.

Imagine the power of a community of people whose primary focus is to reveal the best in another? Worldwide, we are over 20,000 credential holders. Do the math – 20,000 people having at least 100 coaching conversations per year = 2 million conversations that mattered. And these 2 million conversations have an exponential quality that boggles the mind.

What better way to serve the world than to help one individual at a time become his or her best? Surely it is an antidote to the chaos, cruelty, and violence that permeates the daily news.

Indeed, it is a privilege to be a coach. And if I’m elected to the ICF Global Board, it will be an honor to advance our profession to keep these essential conversations going.

-Micki

A Third Way through Coaching

two-ways

Many times coaching clients offer either/or solutions to a problem. For example, a client who thinks he either has to be the nice guy or the guy who holds the line.

This case illuminates that scenario. Georgia has recently been promoted to nurse manager after working in the same department for five years. She and a peer applied for the role, and Georgia was selected.   Georgia is now concerned about how she will lead. She has always built solid relationships and been well liked. She is worried that now that she is the boss, she will have to change. Furthermore, she fears that she will no longer be liked by those who were once her peers.

Georgia tells her coach that she knows how to be friends with co-workers and she knows how to lay down the law. In her mind, the only options are to be a friend or lay down the law.

The coach asks, “What do you get from being friendly with your co-workers?” “Well, I am able to show that I care about those with whom I work. Honestly, I really do want them to see that I’m still Georgia, and becoming their boss didn’t change me as a person.”

Then the coach asks, “What are you afraid will happen if you are friendly with those you lead?” She says, “I’m afraid that when I need to enforce a policy, they will not take me seriously.”

Her coach asks, “Give me an example of somebody in your life who was a strong boss and deeply cared about you?” Georgia describes a boss she had when she started working at the clinic. Georgia highly respected her and also felt deeply cared for.

The coach asks, “Is there anything you can learn from this former boss that applies to you? It seems as if that boss could be friendly and lay down the law. Is that right?”

Georgia considers this and says “Perhaps. I can see that my either/or thinking is keeping me from having the courage to lead well. Can you help me to find ways to tap into the courage it takes to lay down the law?”

This breakthrough created new and more important options for Georgia to explore.

An important part of coaching is to uncover viable choices from which the client can consider. And either/or thinking is limited to 2 options. As a wise elder once said, “when given two equally bad choices, pick another.”

From “either/or” thinking to “yes/and” presents a “third way.”

The third way asks the coach to notice the client’s patterns. Is it their behavior, a way of thinking, or some pre-conceived notion? This observation guides the coach towards what kinds of questions would best serve the client. Some examples of questions might be:

Can you be an approachable boss while holding people firmly to the commitments they make?

What is more important to you – being liked or being respected?

If you thought about managing to the results while preserving good relationships, does that offer you any other options?

Can you imagine a world where you can be a strong leader and friendly with your co-workers at the same time?

I’m noticing that you present this issue with two oppositional ways of being, is there a way that these ‘opposites’ can exist together?

If you had no limitations and could make up another way of being, what would that be?

 

Back to the Georgia and her coach.

Her Coach asks, “Have you had to access your courage to make other tough decisions?”

She says that she has to do it all the time with her teenagers. Her coach explores this, and they find parallel behaviors between how she handles her kids and how she might handle a situation at work that requires her to lay down the law. They role-play a few scenarios, and Georgia commits to practicing with her mentor.

Through this process, Georgia found not only more options for this particular situation, but she grew as a leader and a boss by thinking about her challenges in a different way.

Either/or is a great way of thinking when there is an urgent decision. But the most strategic and effective decisions emerge when new options are discovered – a ‘third way.’

 

NEW-100% Virtual Transformational Coaching Program

 

This program was truly a transformation for me. Before, I rarely spoke up in important meetings. The Transformational Coaching Program created a self-awareness, confidence, and support to allow me to speak up with greater confidence and competence. My life was enriched spiritually, mentally, & physically throughout this program. These changes helped me become a better person, which makes me a better coach.

Toni Green, ACC- Vice President Diversity & Inclusion


This quote sums up why we love teaching the Transformational Coaching Program (TCP). Through the process of becoming a professional coach, individuals experience their own meaningful transformations and in turn, become powerful coaches.

We believe passionately that transformational coaching brings positive change to the world.

 

To expand our reach and make the TCP available for those who could not attend an in-person training, we have launched a 100% virtual program beginning October 11, 2016. Blue Mesa Group frequently receives interest in our TCP from individuals, but because many are in full-time jobs, attending an Accredited Coach Training Program can be challenging. We believe that this new offering is more convenient while we maintain the close learning community that is a hallmark of the TCP.

Our 100% virtual program has 4 online modules where participants learn the art and science of coaching. Because we limit attendance to 20 people, we enjoy conversation and discussion that is relevant to that particular community. As such, the TCP is customized to fit the needs of the participants, while following the important structures that coaching requires.


What I encountered (in the TCP) in Micki McMillan and in Pat Barlow were two brilliant Master coaches with years of experience in both private coaching and working inside organizations. They’re the real deal and it was moving to have the opportunity to learn from them, and I truly mean learn directly from them every step of the way. I cannot imagine a better coaching program. Joining TCP is one of the best decisions I ever made.

-Jan Sugar, Ed.M.-Leadership Communications Coach


 

Some of the important structures included in the TCP are Mentor Coaching, Observed Coaching and weekly learning labs with Blue Mesa Group faculty. Weekly, participants practice coaching, engage with a study partner and complete related homework assignments.


Transformational Coaching Program Differentiators:

Cohort size limited to 20.

Direct and unlimited access to program faculty.

Two MCC (Master Certified Coaches) as senior faculty.

Faculty has proven global business experience, so we understand the challenges and pitfalls of organizational coaching.

Business Coaching is coupled with Mindfulness and Emotional/Social Intelligence to provide a well-rounded coach education experience.

Ecology of Coaching model – a powerful thinking tool to help coaches gain profound insights into their clients’ challenges.


Blue Mesa Group Transformational Coaching Program (TCP) provides rigor and support. Although the goal is to help clients achieve their desires, the methodology goes beyond goal attainment. The TCP is about what people achieve AND who they become. It is life-changing. As a coach this approach has improved my coaching skills and my clients have benefited greatly.

Karen Pinkney, Ph.D., PCC –Organizational Development Consultant


 

The 100% virtual TCP starts October 11, 2016. Please consider joining us on this quest and invest in yourself to become a life changing coach.

Contact us here. 

 

 

Do your kids know what you do for work?

 

Recently I was at the dinner table with my wife, 2-year old daughter, and 5-year old (almost 6) son Jack. My wife asked Jack what daddy did for his job. He said, “He is a coach.” My wife asked, “What does a coach do?” As I waited for his response I wondered what was going through his sports-loving mind. Would he say that I help basketball players learn to shoot a jump shot or baseball players swing a bat? Instead, he beautifully stated,

“You help people learn.”

Sometimes I struggle to describe what coaching is to people because I’m not sure where to start. It is a conversation that has the power to change somebody’s future, a place where I listen deeply, and a conversation where I partner with my client to bring out their best.

However, I find power in my son’s simple definition. This is powerful because at a baseline level, coaching is about learning.

Here is the ICF’s definition of Coaching:

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.

Learning is embedded in this definition as clients maximize their potential through coaching. They are learning new ways of being or thinking.

A definition that Blue Mesa Group uses in our coach training program is:

“The capacity to do something in the Future that cannot be done Now.”

This is exciting. We believe that adults have the capacity to do something in the future, which they cannot do now. This is learning. Not just a cognitive function of learning but an actual act of doing. As I have embarked on a coaching career I have been amazed at how my clients have courageously embraced learning.

Here are some of the things my clients have learned:

Finding a voice in a boardroom

In coaching a leader who was strong but not confident in speaking in front of others. She found her voice through coaching and overcame hurdles in expressing herself in the boardroom.

Managing emotions

I had a client who was unaware that she was getting angry in the midst of a difficult situation. Through coaching, she discovered how to recognize her emotions in the moment and make a decision to manage them.

Being able to delegate

Through coaching, another client came to the self-awareness that she was a perfectionist and ended up taking on the tasks of those on her team. She learned to let go and trust others with tasks.

Learning to learn

I worked with a client who is a seasoned leader. During coaching, she gave herself permission to learn again. She rediscovered that learning was energizing.

 

Coaching is a complex and beautiful process. And my 5-year old got to the heart of it when he said his dad “helps people learn.”

True learning is a transformative life-changing process!

What have your clients learned through coaching?

Don’t be used by the Coaching Tool

tool-384740_1920

Many times I hear coaches talk about wanting more ‘tools.’ What do they mean when they say coaching ‘tool?’ Do they mean some diagram, method, process, word picture, or framework that will help the client move forward? If you Google ‘coaching tools,’ you will find a plethora of free downloads.

When I was in my coach training, my instructor said that “coaching is 20% tools and 80% tool user.” This has stuck with me as I have practiced coaching. It is the coach that makes the tool not the tool that makes the coach.

So, what is a coaching tool anyway?

My definition of the best coaching tool is:

A coaching tool is a question. The most basic, profound and contextual ability that a coach possesses is to ask a question.

 

Yes, I know there are plenty of diagnostic worksheets and assessments that can help a client. However, if you have some coaching experience, you know that the most powerful moments in coaching come from asking the right question at the right time. Many times these questions are basic yet profound because of their contextual timing.

As the coach is listening deeply to the client, trusting her intuition, and stepping out in trust…the right question usually emerges.

Questions like:

Who is like that in your life?

Is there a third way?

If you didn’t choose, what would happen?

These questions are simple as I write them here. But their power comes in the moment of the coaching session as the coach practices deep listening.

The right tool at the wrong time is the wrong tool

 

I also can remember how energized I was when I learned a tool to coach to emotions. The questions were simple yet opened up so many possibilities with emotions. In my zealousness to use this tool, I noticed that many of my coaching sessions ended up being about the client’s emotions. Interesting, I thought. Maybe all my clients are emotional right now? Or could it be that I was pushing this tool? It is like the red truck phenomenon. If you are thinking about a red truck, you will start to see many red trucks on the road.

As a coach I can become so energized by a single tool that I can force it when it is not the client’s agenda. The experienced coach will know several routes/tools to use in the conversation. This experienced coach will listen and ask questions to discern the path of the most effective inquiry. The experienced coach will use the tool and not be used by it.

Don’t let coaching tools master you, rather become masterful with the coaching tools. The very best tools are created in the moment – between you the coach and your client.

 

What to do When a Coaching Client is Stuck

I recently had a conversation with a group of coaches about how to help clients get unstuck. An example of a stuck client is somebody who continually fails to follow through with commitments. Or it could be a client who struggles with coming up with actions.

Recently I was coaching someone who was reasonably self-aware and motivated to lean into learning. However, after two sessions he reported to me that he had accomplished everything in his learning (coaching) plan in two weeks. Now, I had this thought in the back of my head, “he is absolutely amazing or completely lying to me.” Of course, I thought that with no judgment! Instead of asking or reflecting this back to him I decided to simply state, “Well that seemed easy.” As soon as this left my mouth I wondered if I offend him.

I was attempting to provoke him to dream about what could be and not just these seemingly simple learning goals. In my view, he was stuck in his limited self-awareness and his status quo. My simple comment to him was my attempt to create awareness through direct communication.

The ICF Core Competency of Direct Communication is something that I’ve been working on the last six months. One of the behavioral markers states, “Coach shares observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts and feelings without any attachment to them being right.”

I took my initial thought and tried to offer it as direct as I could without attachment to it being right. Now the last part of that marker is the hard part. I like being right…don’t you? The reason for that second part of that marker is connected to the coaching foundation that the client is whole and capable of their own learning. If I offer it from a judging standpoint, he may agree, but then it becomes my agenda, not his.

After I made this direct comment I waited for him to respond.   There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then he stated, “Hmm, maybe I need to push myself more?” From there my inquiry delved deeper into what would his preferred future look like? It turned out that he had huge aspirations to grow his influence and live out his core values. By the end of the conversation, he had fleshed out a compelling desired result for his career. This gave us solid content to keep the coaching conversation going.

The use of direct communication in this instance proved to be a helpful method to support this accomplished client to get un-stuck. He moved that day from stuck to motivated to lean into his own learning.

What do you do when you sense your client is stuck?

A Necessary Impatience When Coaching

 

I’ve heard it said that patience is a virtue. For the most part I agree, except in coaching.  A savvy coach knows when it is time to practice impatience in service of the client.

I recently had a coaching session where a client who kept saying, “For example….” and went on and talked for five minutes. These stories that he told were very intriguing but after the third example I understood enough of the clients current reality to move on.

We only had an hour scheduled for our session.  As he continued in on his fourth example I could feel my back tense up.  I noticed that I was pacing in my office and I was getting irritated.

I was experiencing this deep level of impatience like waiting in line at the DMV. I had to do something to keep the focus on the desired results of my client instead of listening to multiple examples with the same theme..

I stopped pacing, sat down in my chair, took a deep breath and said, “thank you for these examples but I need to stop you for a minute and think.”

He stopped and there was silence for a few seconds. The silence was like a breath of fresh air to my brain.

As I allowed a deep breath to wash over me…I allowed a powerful question to the surface.

Before I asked it I had him change what he was doing physically before he answered.  After this shift in our conversation, the remainder of the session was spent discovering new ways that he could focus on his desired outcome.

The true motivation behind my interruption and impatience is that I love this client.

I want him to experience all the transformation that he is looking for. If I allow him to go on and on, he will stay in his current reality and never experience deep positive change.  Below are some components in expressing a necessary impatience.

Impatience in service of moving the client forward

Do I have enough information to move on?

Do you know the current situation, characters in the story, and the true pain points of your client to move forward?

If you do, then you do not need to hear multiple stories about the same issue.  Especially if this is a long-term client, you probably know enough history to not spend a ton of time listening to their current state.

The art of interrupting

Stopping a client who is going on and on can be clunky and awkward. As you practice you will learn that interrupting is an art and it can be done with grace, respect and clarity.

Remember, as the coach, you own the process and the client brings the agenda.

If you have listened well to their agenda…move on to what they want for their future.

Offer an observation about their verbosity

If this client consistently goes on and on you may need to ask your client if you can offer your observation of what you are noticing.

Chances are if they are verbose in your coaching sessions they are so in other settings in their life.

You could say, “When I asked you to give me two high-level sentences about your current state, you gave me three paragraphs.  Have you ever received that feedback?”

As you make this observation it may be quite startling to your client, but it could also create a new awareness of their lack of succinctness.

Be impatient for the sake of love

Last, I had the great honor of doing a coaching exercise with a coaching master, Peter Reding, MCC.  As he led me through a coaching situation about a client he asked me questions that revealed the deep love that I have for a client.  As I experienced that love for him at that moment, I instantly understood that I could be direct and interrupt him from the love that I have for him.

Another mentor in my life, Micki McMillan, has said, “fall in love with your clients.”

Yes, patience is a virtue and impatience in coaching can be a sign of deep love for your client.

Jason

Jason Veliquette, ACC, is the Director of Operations for Blue Mesa Group.