Just like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, curiosity has been my constant companion as I move deeper into the ‘wonderland’ of transformational coaching. Curiosity is a fundamental cornerstone of coaching others. More than a state of mind, it manifests as a behaviour demonstrated in our use of powerful questions — how we listen, respond, reframe and then listen again — all core elements of the ICF competency framework. It keeps us humble, allows us to explore and stay open to new possibilities, minimising the possibility of falling prey to assumptions. As Elizabeth Smith noted in her article on curiosity as a superpower, ‘When everything is interesting, nothing is limiting.’
Many of those I partner with work in the healthcare and the public sector and are experiencing a level of overwhelm in life that often prevents them from thinking clearly. It’s not uncommon for people feeling like this to arrive at the coaching relationship wanting answers and solutions! As a healthcare professional by background, it would have been easy for me to fall into a mentoring role or into a pattern of coaching that was largely transactional — offering tools and strategies to support someone’s move out of the fog and into some light. There has certainly been a place for some of that. I am always conscious of meeting the coachee where they are. However, through careful negotiation of the coaching relationship and the creation of a non-judgemental thinking space, the opportunity is there to move beyond the fog and explore the potential for change with a clearer head.
The commitment to staying curious has been key to this process, allowing me to support those I work with to explore challenging or unforeseen circumstances in more depth, reframing them as an opportunity to find stuff out! What are they noticing about what is happening? What patterns can they identify from previous behaviour or situations? What is working for them, what has worked before, and what might they need to let go of in order to move forward? If they ‘yes’ to something, what are they saying ‘no’ to? So many questions come from a place of curiosity that keep me from putting on my ‘expert’ or ‘mentor’ hat and allow people to focus on their own resources and solutions. Witnessing the transformation as they emerge through the coaching process feeling lighter (‘I still feel like me but with the light turned on’) is far more satisfying than if I had supplied them with some answers from my own perspective.
Curiosity about myself as a coach and a human being has brought me to where I am. As someone who left school with low expectations of what I could achieve, I always seemed to be doing things a decade after everyone else! I always felt I was catching up with something but never quite sure what that elusive ‘something’ was. But I stayed curious, asking myself ‘what if?’ and ‘what else?’
I eventually came to the profession of coaching via a winding road that, on reflection, was always leading me here. My previous professional incarnations as a registered mental health nurse, public health specialist and lecturer had all included a focus on supporting people to move forward and develop skills, knowledge and strategies to make the most of their potential using their unique strengths.
My experience of coaching, both as a coaching thinking partner and a coachee, continues to help me understand my strengths, the value I add and the role of a supportive coach in developing others. Choosing courage assisted by supportive coaching conversations has helped me find my way through the maze of life, and now it’s my turn to offer that same opportunity to people like me.
We are all experts in our own lives, but we are also all works in progress. So, in this complex and uncertain world, sometimes we all need support to release our inner resources to solve problems or see our goals clearly. Sometimes we just feel ‘stuck’ and are unsure how to move forward. Other times, we feel we are being held back in life or work but cannot see how to break down those barriers. Sometimes, as in my case, the person holding us back is ourselves!
In this International Coaching Week, I’m hugely grateful to be part of a network of coaches coaching coaches, all supporting each other and our clients to fulfil our own potential, whatever that means for each of us.