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


Polishing Your Internal Mirror

Reflection in Still Mountain Lake WP copy

When I was ten years old, I was given a three-inch reflecting telescope – the kind in which a concave mirror focuses light, bounces it into a series of mirrors and ultimately into the eyepiece. I could see the moon as if I was holding it in my hand.

Now a telescope is being constructed on Mauna Kea in Hawaii that will have a 30-metre mirror! Why spend huge amounts of money, intelligence and passion to build a bigger mirror? Just this: to see beyond what our everyday eyes can see.

Isn’t that a big part of what we do as coaches? We help our clients see what they have not seen about their environments, goals, lives, and possibilities.

A challenge in building giant telescopes is that earth’s gravitational pull distorts the huge mirrors enough to create inaccurate images. Care must be taken to continually adjust the mirrors, and to prevent the slightest dirt from damaging the reflection.

Reflective Practice Highlights Distortions in Coaching

Consider these instances:

  1. A coach became frustrated with his client’s progress toward agreed-upon objectives. The coach’s intense values about completing objectives had prevented him from recognizing that his client’s world had changed dramatically during the engagement. Distortion: substituting his values for his client’s.
  2. Another coach felt she and the client were swirling around, yet the client was pleased with the monthly conversations. Nothing changed. Distortion: a shared difficulty in prioritizing.
  3. Another coach was working with a young executive. After the executive received difficult feedback from her CEO, the coaching relationship deteriorated. Through supervision, the coach realized he was unconsciously caring for the executive as if he was her father. Distortion: blurring of personal/professional boundaries.

Challenging Theories in Action

Reflective practice opens ourselves to fresh information about what we see, feel, think, want and do. It calls us to see ourselves and our clients as accurately as possible before, during and after the coaching conversation. In short, it is a process of polishing and correcting our mirrors. Why is this important beyond initial coach training?

In ICF-approved programs, we learn 11 competencies and related skills and behaviors. Both Donald Schon, in “Educating the Reflective Practitioner”, and Grady McGonagill in “The Coach as Reflective Practitioner,” observe that this process provides us with “espoused theories” as distinct from “theories in action”. The latter are the theories, and by extension behaviors, which we actually apply in the moment of coaching. Schon and others observed that professional workers described their work one way and actually did it another way. Reflective practice helps bring espoused and in-action knowledge closer together over time and it is never complete because our mirrors, like those on Mauna Kea, are constantly shifting.

How can we develop a reflective practice? One approach is to work with a person trained in guiding reflective practice.  In the world of coaching, this person is referred to as a Coaching Supervisor, someone with substantial understanding of both coaching competencies and additional experience with coaching psychology, dynamics of relationships, and various tools for deep reflection. As a result of this work, an “internal supervisor” develops within us to observe our coaching in real time and keep the mirrors clean and aligned.

Reflective Exercises

Find a mirror, physical or in your mind. Take a moment and gaze into your reflection: What do you feel good about in your coaching?

What is unsettling in your coaching right now? A client session that didn’t go as planned? A client relationship that is suddenly not as comfortable as it was?

What distortions might be creeping into your mirrors? Fatigue? Fast pace? Surety rather than curiosity?

What boundaries are in need of attention? Might you be performing roles that are not yours to perform? Are you trying too hard to make your client happy?

What other questions are you sitting with and where could you go for answers?

Attending regularly to these questions will attune you to the benefits of reflective practice.

This article was written by Sam Magill, Sr. and published in the April/May 2012 issue of Coachlink magazine