In the latter part of 2015, I read a book titled, “Falling Upward”, an exploration of spirituality in the second half of life. Richard Rohr suggests that at some point we move in spirituality from rules and structures and parent-child relationships to simpler and also more complex spiritualty in which individuals’ encounters with the divine become foremost. Engagement and relationship and personal responsibility for growth become paramount. The rules, creeds, structures of the first half are essential to Rohr – they are the foundations on which to grow more mature thinking. But they are not the all-encompassing end point and they may become substitutes for the real encounter.
It occurred to me that there is a parallel in the maturation of coaches, indeed of coaching. We must have the competencies, behaviors and skills which anchor coaching and allow us to do the job. But as our clients mature – which we hope happens as a result of coaching – so must we. There is a point in which, like an accomplished musician, when we move beyond the music, beyond the notes, beyond even the musical scales. We are at one with the music. We move, as coaches, beyond what we already know into a place of co-creation uniquely with each of our clients. In a very real sense, we move to a flow sate in which we are inventing as we go – we and our clients enter an unexpected place of clarity and insight.
This is second half coaching!
If we are always on familiar ground in our coaching, if we know what to expect or know just what tool to use, I think we are actually advising or mentoring rather than coaching. Both of these are very valuable, but I think it is time to draw clear distinctions between advice giving, mentorship and coaching. A coaching supervisee just said, “I am becoming an “unprofessional” professional. I am feeling so at home in my professional identity that there is no need to “play” any professional role.” Prior to this, he has slipped into using his knowledge about change and his coaching methods that he did not truly collaborate with his client. He let go of that false certainty; his clients are flourishing.
If we really believe each client is unique, our interactions must be fresh and unique as well. The problem is – if we are constantly inventing in the moments of coaching, we invite the risk of not knowing what to do. That requires the coach to accept his or her own vulnerability, his or her very normal humanity. Rohr suggests there is confusion, fear, clarity, discovery and wonder in this space that are not available in first half thinking.
How do we get there? Not by more tools and techniques! There is no guaranteed path – However, learning to observe and reflect on our work can open doors to this new and exciting territory. For Richard Rohr, and others working explicitly in spirituality, the use of a spiritual director is common-place. This person is not a mentor, but one who accompanies the spiritual journeyer, helping him or her to experience and see what is happening in and to them.
In the realm of coaching, the parallel is a coaching supervisor who helps the coach see more clearly what is happening and to assist in processing those experiences.
Maturing coaches (a never ending process) who are ready for second half coaching – might want to explore the benefits of disciplined reflection offered through coaching supervision.