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The core principles of challenging coaching pt2


Concluding part two of their ongoing series on challenging coaching, Ian Day and John Blakey continue the focus on the core principles of the profession.
Now we have challenged some of the core principles of traditional coaching, let's propose a creative alternative by building new columns which supports challenging coaching based on the FACTS coaching model (Feedback, Accountability, Courageous Goals, Tension and Systems Thinking). We propose the five pillars of passionate curiosity, trusting the potential of all, letting go of status, build the contract, honour the contract and speak your truth, face the FACTS.

Passionate curiosity

By this we mean intense curiosity in service of the coachee and sponsoring organisation. Passionate people care and curious people are interested and want to find out more and make a difference. A passionately curious coach will ask and listen to understand the immediate, short- and-long term organisational context and will represent the interest of wider stakeholders with the intention of enhancing the performance of the coachee and business as a whole.

Trust in the future potential of all

This is the belief in the coachee's greatness. In an organisational context most employees are professional, qualified, skilful, and want to make a positive contribution, if we did not hold this belief as a core principle, then why would we be in the business of developing people? The role of a coach is to see potential where no one else sees it, and to have more faith in the potential of others than they might even have in themselves.

Letting go of status, expertise and outcomes

The third column ensures that the coach is in service of the coachee and sponsoring organisation, not in service of their own ego. To serve in this way the coach must let go of power and status. The most effective coaches do not need to know the answer, and do not need to demonstrate their effectiveness through an impressive theatrical performance.
"The role of a coach is to see potential where no one else sees it, and to have more faith in the potential of others than they might even have in themselves."

Build the contract, honour the contract

We are all familiar with contracts; these can be in the form of a deal, an agreement, a promise, between a leader and a follower, a coach and a coachee, a parent and a child, a husband and a wife. Sometimes, agreements and contracts are entered into too easily or flippantly in order to please other people, or to get other people 'off your back', and so there is no basis for honouring this form of contract as there was no real commitment to them in the first place. We propose to move coaching contracting to a higher order of significance. This must include the basics of the number of sessions, duration, cancellation arrangements, ethical standards, confidentiality, boundaries, arrangements for ending the relationship and evaluation, etc.
But there is also a strong written and spoken psychological contract in place, which establishes expectations and surfaces assumptions. In religious settings the word 'covenant' is often heard meaning a solemn promise. This puts a whole new depth to the idea of an agreement and the psychological contract between two parties. Can we make our coaching agreements like covenants, rather than the easily broken written or spoken contracts? If you make an agreement, feel it, believe it, and honour it. This then becomes a covenant.

Speak your truth, face the facts

This is the most important pillar in challenging coaching. Many of us are familiar with the children's story of the Emperor's new clothes. The Emperor was so taken by the charm and skills of a tailor who promised him the finest suit of clothes made from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or 'just hopelessly stupid'. The Emperor could not see the cloth, but did not wish to appear stupid and so agreed that the suit should be made. He paraded through the streets wearing the invisible suit - the emperor was naked but the gathered crowd said nothing out of respect for the Emperor and not wishing to appear stupid.
Suddenly a little boy spoke up, uninhibited by cultural politeness, and spoke the truth, "the emperor is naked!" Once the truth was spoken, the collective denial was surfaced with the real horror and embarrassment of the situation. This Hans Christian Andersen story is over 150 years old, and still has relevance today. In coaching speaking our truth and facing the facts will represent a key enabler of the transformation of individuals and businesses. Transition follows from the acceptance of reality. Coaches can lead the way by being a role model, exemplifying this transformational behaviour, and giving the coachee permission to practice direct and honest communication.
By adopting these five new principles of challenging coaching we free ourselves from traditional limitations and restrictions. We become able to serve the coachee and sponsoring organisation in a different way, particularly in these tough economic times when difficult conversations can no longer be avoided or postponed. As you coach, next time you are asked that unnerving question 'What do you think?' by your coachee then you might still reply 'I am not able to tell you what I think, my job is to help you find your own answers' or you may experiment with offering your own opinion, even if that is an opinion which you know will upset your coachee's view of the world, creating an uncomfortable feeling in the moment but maybe naming the truth that many others have ignored or denied. It takes courage to play this role but if coaches are not prepared to step into this place then are we really fulfilling the highest potential of our privileged vocation?
Ian and John's book 'Challenging Coaching- Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS' published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing is available on Amazon. More resources can be accessed via This is the second of a monthly column on TrainingZone to explore the detail of challenging coaching

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