We coach because we want to do some good in the world: a bold assertion but I think essentially true. Whether our focus is the individual coachee sitting with us or, if we can hold the wider frame open too, the organisation or other system of which they are a part; our general goal is to achieve some sort of positive effect from which they can benefit.
I’ve been running some supervision sessions with newly trained coaches recently and this desire to do good appeared as a common and strong theme among them. They wanted their clients to be happier and more accomplished people. When the signs of this coming about seemed elusive, absent or very ambiguous, the coaches felt that to some degree or other they had failed their clients. They then looked about themselves for more techniques whose application would reduce the risk of such failure.
This showed a wonderful generosity of spirit in the coaches but it was leaving them anxious. They were trapped in their good intention, with their curiosity tied and bound. They had found the great paradox of coaching: how to pursue the noble desire to do good work, while leaving the responsibility for action and its outcomes with the client? It’s a paradox made deeper in that a part of a coach’s presence is the subtle expression of their hope for their client’s success. We are with them because, after all, we want to help them.
Interwoven with this desire to do good is our desire to understand; to find a pattern of connections between what we do as coaches and what we infer from our clients’ responses to us. I believe that we can escape the trap of our good intention when we decide not to change our clients through our attempts to understand them. Letting go of our urge to understand, however, means we then to forgive ourselves for our ignorance.
When we disentangle the need to understand from our desire to do good, the questions we give to our clients act as an invitation for them to pay a different kind of attention to themselves. The trap of our intention dissolves and curiosity, theirs and ours, is set free.