In times of profound uncertainty, events that affect our clients are part of our agenda too. We must maintain a healthy relationship, separating our needs
by Lindsay Wittenberg
As our world and our system continue their path of inexorable change, impacted profoundly by the reverberations of Covid, it seems to me that our role and place as coaches are also changing.
Our own and our clients’ agendas seem to be coming into more obvious alignment, because we’re all impacted by the uncertainty, the unpredictability, and the complexity of a situation that’s unfathomable.
Directly related to that, I’m becoming increasingly curious about how we may be running a greater risk of becoming entangled in our clients’ agendas because we identify with them more: it can be seductive to see ourselves in their anxiety, patterns (perhaps working too hard or too intensely), their sense of urgency to gain a sense of stability or predictability or a feeling of delivering value.
This may be driven by our own need to have more of a sense of control by being reassured, affirmed or validated that we’re of use, because we can genuinely share with clients that our responses to the situation may be similar to theirs. In turn, this may boost our own sense of meaning when we may be struggling to find new meaning while trying to keep safe.
Equally, I’m noticing some coaches becoming more openly opinionated, whether on Covid and its management, climate change, Brexit, politics….. I confess there are times when I fall into that pattern myself. Is this simply the human condition – the coach condition – and/or might this be another attempt to create clarity, boundaries and certainty in a world with less of all of these? Whichever it is, it seems that the approach advocated by Sir John Whitmore – that it’s the coach’s role to advocate for particular issues, values and behaviours – is becoming more and more legitimised and practised.
In a perverse way, this very connection may get in the way of what I’ve called elsewhere ‘connected separateness’: that quality of presence and connection that nevertheless stays separate and detached enough to see things from an objective distance.
A healthy connection with the client means that we separate their need from ours. It means that – odd as it may seem – we detach from their achieving their goals (as satisfying as that may be for our egos) and we more willingly step into a place of experimentation and multiple perspectives. We see the big picture, the system in which the client moves.
And we engage (and vertical development helps us here) with enquiry and multiple perspectives rather than try to define or categorise. We relish challenge and complexity more than we seek solutions – and we take the client on that journey.
And yet, it seems we aren’t entirely neutral, we do make judgements and we do have opinions on current issues that influence how we approach the coaching encounter. Perhaps this is our own – perfectly understandable – attempt to make sense of a world that seems to make less sense than ever.
I feel I need to constantly revisit my place and my role as coach, so I can – in any given coaching encounter – be more aware of who I am and where I am today. It may be different from yesterday, and different from tomorrow, in this world that is shifting and changing faster than ever.
- Lindsay Wittenberg is director of Lindsay Wittenberg Ltd. She is an executive coach who specialises in authentic leadership, career development and cross-cultural coaching