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The role of expert and the faces of coaching.

When I started training as a coach it felt wonderful to be reassured that, once I was competency rich, I should trust the process and let the coaching principles enable clients to meet their goals. I heard that this was the only expertise I would need.

I believe for some contracts this is still true but, after nearly 15 years of coaching professionally, I am more aware of what other roles my work requires me to offer with expertise of different kinds. Some coaching clients expect and voice the request for my expertise when they are feeling under-resourced or have a learning need. In these moments I work hard to reconsider how they would like to receive the expertise and in what form. I have also learnt how to stay competency rich and judge how to deliver the expertise without advising and to hold my shares or observations lightly to add to the client’s resources at their own choosing. This is quite an art that takes time to work on and it’s only recently that I have become comfortable with ensuring the expert voice arrives and is used without changing the relationship and coaching progress.

When I reflect on the moments when I have to be more of an expert in my field, I recognize that I enjoy the role of teacher and sharing lessons learnt in life. I know therefore when I am being drawn into that role and carefully contract for what the client is really asking for and why. We, as coaches, like to be helpful and add value to time spent in coaching. To ensure that I am right to bring in the expert, I assess which face of coaching, to help them move forward, the client is expressing. Typically, it is one of the following faces:

Coach Counsellor – The client just wants to be listened to and be reassured in their solutions by saying them out loud to another human. This is good for their wellbeing and action orientation, but they don’t need me to offer any thoughts or alternative solutions - just my presence.

Coach Challenger – The client is seeking perspective and feedback, as they have limited occasions when they can be heard, practice and be given a chance to see their thinking from another viewpoint. They want to hear how their solutions land for another human being to stretch themselves.

Coach Elder – The client is looking for experience in the coach to add to their wisdom and wants to assess alternative thinking, tools or approaches as options or just receive empathy through shared experiences and storytelling. Offering what I see works for others is the opportunity.

Coach Supporter – The client is looking for someone, who can support their potential, offer a build to their confidence and enhance their thinking, which increases the likelihood of action. The cheerleading that they receive in a session increases their motivation to act.

Of course, all of these modes of expertise can be over-used and the trick is to judge the context, timing and rationale for use and accept that our competency language still needs to stay within the boundaries of coach rather than another helping profession. This is what takes time to master and the ‘dance in the moment’ nature of the expert must rely on our clear thinking to apply the right face and not use them as a default. This is where the ‘use of self’ and ‘being’ of a coach comes into play as we mature in the profession and why I point newly qualified coaches to the Professional Coach Certification markers to explore how to be more confident in their work and yet still deliver on the market’s expectations for coaching, which is more than being 100% non directive at all times.

What is your most used coaching expert face? What is the most overused? If you were a client what are you looking for to do your best work?


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