Essay on an Emerging Shadow in Coaching, Part Three

Waiter holding empty silver tray over gray background

What about the coaching profession’s shadow? My concern is that sometimes we coaches – as a profession – over promise. We all make implied or direct promises – it’s called marketing. But at some point, the promises become bigger than the reality. Some that come to mind are:

“Get new clients this week, or even right now today if you put these 3 tools into action immediately.”

“Provide the finest in life coaching and business coaching through the use of our easy to learn, yet highly effective system of results-driven coaching…in 16 hours.”

“7 steps to ……happiness, success, wealth, better relationships…”

Marketing requires us to make bold statements to differentiate ourselves from each other. Yes, we compete with each other! How do we stay honest about what we can do for our clients? This crucial ethical consideration needs a great deal more attention in our profession.

Another concern for the profession is when our work is reduced to a set of fixed steps, techniques and tools. The problem is that tools are implements used to shape or change objects and the one holding the tool has unequal and greater power. When, through choice of words, attitudes, beliefs or actions, we subtly create a power differential between coach and client, or objectify the client, we have violated the very definition of the profession.

Research reported by Ahn and Wampold (2001) and applied to coaching by Eric de Haan in Relational Coaching (2008) concludes that the most important factors in successful helping relationships are 1) the relationship between coach and client, 2) the character, personality, or person of the coach and 3) the coach having considerable study and knowledge of an approach. Professional associations do a good job on the third point, but less attention is given to the other two. Our relationship and our own character are more important than our tools; coaching is highly dependent on who we are and how we work with our clients.

Enter the shadow, again.

Join me for the conclusion next week.

Essay on an Emerging Shadow in Coaching, Part Two

reflection, coaching

Another personal shadow we must deal with is ego. We work hard to become qualified. We work hard to develop expertise. We work hard to develop a signature presence in the market place of coaching. I don’t know about you, but I’m proud of who and what I have become. Sometimes, however, I slip subtly into knowing what is best for my clients or enjoying my oh-so-clever questions a bit too much. Likewise, when I unconsciously take a position of wise or over-nurturing parent, I am working from a shadowy place.

Of course, this is personal stuff. Human relationships are always ripe for missteps. We like some clients more than we like others. Some clients challenge us or seduce us into their games. “…Coaches, like everyone else, never evolve to the point of being immune to these forces.”, Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart (Mary Beth O’Neill, 2007). Similarly, Scharmer and Senge state in Presence: “The success of an intervention depends on the inner condition of the intervener.” And Edna Murdoch, founder of the Coaching Supervision Academy reminds us, “Who we are is how we coach.”

When we forget to track this inner condition, this effect clients have on us, this beingness of ourselves, we allow ourselves to operate unconsciously – and that is where the shadow dwells.

I’ll explore possible shadows of the coaching profession next.

Essay on an Emerging Shadow in Coaching, Part One

A rural Adelaide Hills landscape

As the bright light of coaching grows, it, like all other things under the sun, will inevitably cast a shadow which undermines quality. That wouldn’t matter if we offered just ad hoc skills, but we have defined ourselves as a profession. It is up to us to maintain standards and, as John Schuster has said, “We must make ourselves worthy of our clients. “Fortunately, the shadow is not something to repress; it is a source of depth and power when properly engaged.

What is a shadow? In the Jungian sense, it is the part of ourselves kept hidden from others and from ourselves and it strikes me that shadows exist for both individual coaches and the profession itself.

One of the more common coach shadows I have encountered in myself and in good coaches whom I supervise is vulnerability. Here I am, a Master Certified Coach, and yet there are moments when I simply don’t know what to do! When I hide that uncertainty, it becomes a shadow. And when I don’t know that the shadow exists, my chances of serving my clients well goes down.

I’m amazed at how many times my coaching supervisees say the most useful thing about a session is when I admit I don’t know what to do! They say that when my vulnerability shows up, they are invited to show up completely as well. Then real learning begins.

I’ll continue exploring this in my blog next week.