Second Half Coaching – beyond competencies and tools.

Falling Upward and Exploring Spirituality

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.

Parallels to Coaching and – Second Half Coaching

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 state 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.

For more information, contact Sam Magill at, and


Why all the fuss at ICF about coaching supervision?

Why all the fuss in ICF over coaching supervision?

The most succinct answer is maturation of the profession of coaching.

When enough learning has accumulated in a profession, there is the possibility that some experienced practitioners become “big beginners”. I heard a story once about petroglyphs created by a certain indigenous people that depict stages of human development. There were four stages: baby, adolescent, adult and wise learner or big beginner. As explained to me, the big beginner is one who has a great deal of life experience and who also has the openness and curiosity of the baby – that amazing wide-eyed curiosity and openness to learning.

Coaching is quite well defined, has increasingly precise competencies, has multiple well-grounded theories and methods and has emerging research. What comes next, I believe, is deep wisdom. The work here goes beyond technique into a space of gentle and profound inquiry about ourselves, our relationships and our clients. It cannot be learned through instruction; it can be acquired through observation and reflection in a never ending dance of knowing and not knowing.

That the International Coach Federation has embraced Coaching Supervision for all levels of experience marks an important new phase – those who enter the world of super-vision can anticipate discoveries only available to the big beginner. Want to explore supervision? Contact me!




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.

Small Group Supervision

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Small group supervision offers coaches and leaders the opportunity to reflect on specific clients and on who they are in the presence of those clients.

What is Coaching Supervision all about?

While Coaching Supervision is well known in Europe, it is just emerging in North America. Fundamentally, supervision for coaches provides increased self-awareness of the coach-in-practice. Three very practical aspects of coaching are addressed:

  • Continuing professional development through disciplined reflection and feedback.
  • Reinforcing professional standards and best practice through attention to ethics, boundaries, methods.
  • Restorative support by stepping into a safe space away from the stresses of coaching.

As part of the practice of coaching supervision, three key areas are emphasized.

Equilibrium: As a coach, you are in a helping profession and you must relate to your clients and build an environment of trust, openness, safety, and curiosity. At times, this can be challenging and, if you have a substantial client portfolio, tiring. Ever had a client with whom you struggled—where you anticipated some meetings with a hint of reluctance? My assessment? You are human. In supervision, we work together to help surface these issues so you can navigate through your feelings and distinguish them from those of your clients. How is your energy for coaching these days? Being in good personal equilibrium is essential for good coaching.

Ethics: Coaches often get caught between conflicting roles and expectations, especially when they work in organizational settings. Sometimes we over- or under-identify with clients; and sometimes the limits of your responsibilities as a coach are challenged. It is not unusual, for example, for a coach—even an experienced one—to slide into confusing her/his objectives and standards for the client’s. Are you aware of when that happens? Political situations and relationships impact the coach and the coaching relationship. How do you manage it all? Ethics is more than appropriate physical and financial boundaries; it has to do with on-going distinctions about our roles, our responsibilities, and our emotional boundaries.

Effectiveness: Are you succeeding as a coach? Are your clients getting the results they desire? There are many ways of assessing overall effectiveness; all of them depend on the quality and clarity of your contract. Another consideration is effectiveness in the moment. What do you do when something doesn’t go well? When you don’t know what to do? Supervision offers the opportunity to reflect on coaching sessions in a disciplined, learning-oriented way to address these and other issues. You might ask yourself who is working harder, you or your client? If it’s you, it might be time for a tune up.

Coaching supervision can look like:

  • Individual sessions by telephone or in person. Contracts are generally for six months, one session per month. After building a partnership, supervision-on-call can be arranged in which we address recent or upcoming coaching that presents a challenge.
  • Group supervision in person. Groups of up to eight coaches meet on a regular basis to review cases and explore coaching challenges. The supervisor guides the conversations, but, as the group develops, more and more support is obtained from colleagues.
  • In house supervision for organizations with internal coaches. Contracts for supervision can be arranged for scheduled work much like group supervision and on a retainer basis to support the overall coaching effort in the organization.

I love to help coaches achieve their own greatness in service of their clients. While I won’t promise to know what is best for you, I do promise to be your partner in helping you be the most effective coach you can be. My role is to help re-generate your own internal supervisor and your own self-reflection capability. Experienced coaches who undertake supervision tell me their understanding of self and of coaching is greatly increased.


Groups meet for 3 hours once per month for six months. The cost is $1500 each with a possible reduction if fees are entirely paid before the group begins.

Dates: Registration for the first session is open until December 20th. Please email me at to register or visit my website for additional details.