What’s your potential?

Coaching helps clients be the best they can be – but to do what? And in what ways does it manifest itself in clients, organisations and in us, the coaches?

By Alister Scott and Neil Scotton


The International Coach Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.”

It’s a definition that has served us well. Many of us have no doubt used similar words when describing our coaching, and the benefits that people and organisations can get.

But… There’s a question arising from the definition that does not seem to want to go away: Potential to do what?

Thinking of individual potential, there is no shortage of thoughts, writings, courses, advertisements and philosophies about what a full, successful and meaningful life means. Most people seem to notice, at some stage of life that ‘there must be something more’, and they do various things to scratch that itch. Coaching certainly seems to be powerful in such a place.

Organisationally, how do we measure potential? Profit? Market share? Size? Is that enough? Are they indeed right? People are seeking and expecting more from the businesses they work in and buy from.

Issues such as reputation, responsibility and engagement are changing the thinking. Practices that maximise short-term gain can damage reputation and consequently longer-term results, for example. Moreover, how do the familiar measures address the true potential for a business?

For government, and all its spin-off organisational forms, the narrative was ‘serve the people’. Now it feels muddier, with lots of pressure to demonstrate value, and fundamental questions around what a government should provide and what should be left to the private sector. Deep politics.

The net result is that everyone seems to be running, but no one seems to know where we are going.

There’s an old joke about being lost. Someone asks for directions. The response is: “Hmmm, if I was you, I wouldn’t start from here.” Perhaps that wisdom is enlightening. In thinking of our individual and collective potential, let’s start from somewhere else…

Imagine holding a newborn child. If you were to give it a wish or blessing what would it be? That it could achieve status? Own lots of things? Have power over people? Be praised and revered? Or would you wish it health, peace, love, joy and happiness and a life well-lived and full of experiences. And is it about maximising potential? Or realising the potential? Loving both ways that word leads us: to recognise and to make real.

Organisationally, our work on Legacy Thinking has shown the massive steps forward when the dialogue moves from the usual: ‘What do we want?’ to ‘How will we be remembered?’

The ‘potential’ for the organisation is seen in a very different light. For example, its ability to create, change, lead, stand for, improve things, as well as scale and profit considerations. Organisational potential has many dimensions.

And what of our profession? What is its potential? Are we realising it? Should we ask ‘What do we want?’ or ‘How will we be remembered?’

These are turbulent times; the challenges immense. The good news is that, like the proverbial teabag, it’s only when we’re in hot water we find out what we’re made of. In so many ways, the temperature is rising. Now we find out what we are capable of, and which of the many manifestations of our potential we and our clients choose to realise.


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