Within the coaching community, we often hear the term ‘lifelong learner’ as being something that we, as practitioners of coaching, are encouraged, and even expected, to embrace.
From an International Coaching Federation (ICF) perspective, this idea of lifelong learning is marked and highlighted in several ways:
- We have the credentials of Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and Master Certified Coach (MCC) as a way of noting various stages on that journey.
- We have a credentialing system that requires us to renew our credential every three years, with Continuing Professional Development (CPD) being part of that renewal process.
- We have ‘Embodies a Coaching Mindset’ as one of the ICF Core Competencies, which includes positioning that the coach:
- Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach.
- Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching.
- Uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients.
- Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions.
Already, there are several patterns or themes emerging: renew, continuing, ongoing learning, development, self-awareness, intuition, develops and maintains…
There is a clear message that becoming a coach is not limited to a one-off training programme which then provides us with everything needed to coach ad infinitum from that point onwards with no further self-development and learning.
For those of you who know me, you will also be aware of my discomfort with the word ‘mastery’ in coaching. For me, the word mastery conjures up a sense of things such as: expertise, dominance, superiority, arrival, control of or over, seniority, superiority, better, best, command… and to me, none of these words feel in any way appropriate for what coaching is, or for us as practitioners of this work.
I much prefer the term maturity, because, just like a good wine (or even a good cheese!), which matures over time, I propose that our development as practitioners is a continuous process, not a destination and we are all, regardless of our qualifications, credentials, or experience, on a development journey. At least for me, I know this to be the case and there is so much more that I can learn, and keep learning, to be the most effective coach I can be, as time goes by.
This concept of coaching maturity is not new and one of the models that I really like is an adaptation from the work of David Clutterbuck and David Megginson:
(Source: adapted from Clutterbuck and Megginson, undated)
Perhaps there is even a further level that transcends any form of model or structural ‘anchor’ and which simply invites the deepest presence and intuitive responsiveness from the coach. A level at which the focus on doing, behaviour, skills and competence are replaced by (or at least coupled with) the being, the essence, the presence, the oneness that is created when two people are together in an ultimately safe and nourishing environment. More on that later…
This takes me to another body of work that I draw upon frequently… Michael Grinder created a Model of Professional Development which I think perfectly describes a transition from and between the ‘doing and the being’ in coaching.
The most commonly used term in language is to say: ‘The Art and Science of…something”, however Michael challenges this and proposes that it is the Science that comes first!
Whenever we learn something new, such as coaching, we first need to get to grips with the basics, the tools, techniques, what to do, what not to do etc. To help us ground ourselves in that new skill, we are given guidelines or ‘rules’ to help us learn and make progress. For example: ‘always ask questions, never give suggestions’.
At this earlier stage in our development, we are very focussed on understanding, knowing, and learning what to say or do and how to say or do it. Michael defines this ‘science’ stage as being able to know our content (skills, competencies, behaviours etc) and the process through which we most effectively demonstrate that content.
As we continue to develop, we then feel more confident with the science and we begin to consider some more nuanced aspects of the work, such as developing our perceptivity to know when to intervene and the receptivity of our client to what we might say or do, thereby gauging if we should do anything at all. This is where we start to become more artistic in our work, drawing upon our own intuition to help guide us as we engage with our clients. Moving towards artistry, does not mean that we leave the science behind, or that we now know all there is to know from that perspective. Quite the opposite, we continue to enhance, augment, build and refine our ‘scientific’ understanding of our craft and we use that deepening platform from which to bring our own artistry.
I draw comparison between the Clutterbuck and Megginson approach with Grinder’s model by noticing how the levels of model, techniques and tools focus might naturally sit within the science stage and the philosophy and integrated-eclectic focus might be in the art stage.
In our coaching education and development programmes at Coach Advancement, I have developed a metaphor to describe this pathway of maturity and it is embedded within our programmes and our model of coaching:
(source: Coach Advancement: Model of Coaching)
Science and Art of Coaching
Our Level 1 programme is called Science and Art of Coaching and it provides an in-depth exploration of the ‘science’ of coaching: working with inputs such as the ICF Core Competencies, coaching psychology, neuroscience, leadership and psychological models and theories. It is an opportunity to embark upon the maturity pathway with a deep grounding and understanding of what coaching is, how it works, what a coach says/does and how to say/do it. We learn many useful things and we regularly practice them in the ‘coaching laboratory’, experimenting in a safe environment to try and test our growing skillset.
As the modules progress and we travel along the pathway, we build upon that strong foundation and the ‘scientist’ starts to consider the ‘art’ of coaching…drawing upon their own intuition, developing their own style or approach. They become unique…an artist…not a clone or a coaching ‘bot’, but a human being who brings their own personal way of coaching, adapting, flexing, and partnering with their client. Picasso, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Dali will all have had an understanding of the ‘science’ of creating art: colours, tones, hues, textures, pallets, materials, techniques, strokes, brushes etc., they knew what to do and how to do it. However, they all brought their work to the world in very different ways; ways that are unique to them. These artists became highly skilled at trusting their own intuition to know when to add more detail, colour or depth and even if it was time to put the brush down and pause or stop. In this way, the term “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” could apply to coaching, just as it does with art. It is very personal, and one coach may not be the coach of choice for everyone, hence the importance of chemistry and relationship. As we move towards developing greater artistry, we are still refining and underpinning the science with our ongoing learning and development. In this way, the creativity and artistry in our work is informed by even more depth of understanding and richness from which to draw.
Art and Alchemy of Coaching
Our Level 2 programme is called Art and Alchemy of Coaching and continues to evolve this metaphor. The scientist embraces this idea of ‘chemistry’, allowing for alchemy to emerge through the increasingly fluid blend of science and art. At this point on the pathway, we build upon ‘what, how, when and if ‘and we introduce the concept of who and why. Who is my client? Who am I, as I coach this person? Why is my client bringing this topic to our work together? Why is it important? Why now? Why do I do this work? By drawing upon a myriad of ingredients (skills, tools, models, techniques, approaches, experiences, intuition, knowledge) the alchemist partners with their client to transform, create, transmute, grow, change, evolve…. At this point on the pathway, we really begin to more deeply understand that coaching is not only about the development of skills that we apply when working with someone else. To really engage with the potency of alchemy, we must also develop ourselves, for we are an instrument of the work we do (who we are, is how we coach).
Alchemy and Magic of Coaching
To complete this model (or at least how I am seeing it as of today, because this in itself is still maturing) we then step into how the key elements of Science, Art and Alchemy come together… to create Magic! The magic is when the science, the art and the alchemy come together to produce our deepest presence and intuitive responsiveness with and for our client. Our Level 3 Alchemy and Magic of Coaching programme is currently bubbling away in our ‘laboratory’ being created, designed, and refined and we are very excited for when it will be ready to share!
This may all sound like a very simple or straightforward path to follow, however we all know that in fact it is not as simple as that! Pathways are very often not straight or linear. They twist and turn and sometimes loop around, even seemingly going backwards before going forwards again. The scientist sometimes scratches their head because they don’t know or understand, the artist sometimes looks at a painted canvas and thinks it is in no way their best work, the alchemist’s experiments sometimes fail and don’t always yield the desired outcomes. As with science, art and alchemy, magic doesn’t always work or happen either! The magic of coaching is a beautiful and wonderful thing when it happens, it is truly transformational (for the coach as well as their client) and it is also sometimes elusive. Great coaching, whilst it is built upon strong foundations of ‘science’ and lots of varied practice, experimentation, learning and experience, is not a formula, or a checklist (we have plenty of coaching ‘bots’ already in our world that can provide that aspect of coaching quite effectively now). We are therefore, as the amazing human beings that we are, the dedicated practitioners that we are, and the instruments of our work that we are, being called upon to bring more… more partnership, more relatedness, more mutuality, more empathy, more humanity.
Therefore, we keep learning, we keep practicing, we keep refining our craft and we mature…
Coach Advancement by Tracy Sinclair supports organisations to develop the potential of their people through coaching, coaching skills and coaching culture. Our Coaching with Conscience services specialise in offering coaching and coaching related services in support of positive social impact and social progress.