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A Coach or Mentor - What Works?

Mentoring happens all the time. It looks like training, demonstrating, advising, sharing, helping to solve a problem.

But isn’t coaching solving a problem too?


Coaching is getting from point A to point B, but the route for getting there looks different than being told how to get there. It’s not based on the opinion or experience from another, it’s a route that’s tailored to what has meaning for the recipient.

Both mentoring and coaching work, but what makes coaching, Co-Active coaching for that matter, truly special is the distinction that coaches don’t give advice; instead they have the really awesome, cream-of-the-crop skill of knowing the right questions to drill down and light the way forward.

Some might think coaching is a breeze – just help people set and achieve their goals and provide encouragement along the way - but it's quite more expansive than that. Receiving coaching is about personal discovery; who you are becoming while you set out on your way, uncovering and burning through the blocks that are in your way, and leveraging capabilities within to get to where you want to go.

An experience of my own that depicts the exclusivity of coaching is a story from my coach training experience. Day one of training I went into it not fully knowing what I was getting myself into. I left that first day scared and intimidated. It was a huge learning curve. The self-talk that accompanied me was, “I’m not cut out for this, I don’t have what it takes, how will I ever learn.” All I wanted to do was solve the problem, or mentor the coaching recipient by saying things like, “have you thought about this [solution]? What about trying this [solution]?” That got me a slap on the wrist, but stemmed from me wanting to help and solve; plus ego wanted me to have my thoughts heard. Good quality coaching doesn’t work this way. Here’s why ..

It is essential that the recipient come to their own resonant choice on their own at their pace. It has to strike within them. It’s like good chemistry with their values, emotions, feelings, beliefs, desires – not anyone else’s - otherwise goals and intentions will struggle to be met, and won't feel personally satisfying. Advice sounds great, seems practical, and what’s most attractive is it’s quick. Lasting impact, however, comes from connection to your inner consciousness – values, purpose, spirit – a connection to self.

What makes good coaching good?

1. The right questions

2. Sitting with the hard stuff

1. Powerful questions are good questions that go deep to explore and allow the recipient to align with what’s important, clarify the way, paint the canvas, and uncover what’s in the way so the recipient can make empowered choices. These choices are independent from others’ opinion, bias, judgment, and instead are formulated based on what’s important to them. While offering up ideas or suggestions to take action on are helpful tools in coaching, they’re not helpful until there is alignment with the recipient’s own discovered awareness and connection within.

2. Sitting with the hard stuff. Typically humans are designed to make everything “ok” – comfortable, peaceful, pleasant. Unpleasant emotions are uncomfortable not just for the one experiencing them, but the one listening, or being with, and there is a tendency for the listener to rescue the other from the hard. This is human nature – especially for caring, considerate species.

I experience it myself with my kids – they’re hurt I want to make them better, they’re upset I want to bribe them to make it even again. It’s like this in the grown-up world too – throw more money at something, or say something to stop the pain. While it feels better to hear from another things like, “I’ve felt this way too, you are not alone, you are stronger than this, don’t worry this won’t last long,” the truth is sometimes the hard spot, or emotion that goes with it, is the biggest gift. It’s reality showing what needs to be processed so it stops showing up, or when it does show up you have the awareness and tools to move forward in a positive way.

The night that I finished my first day of coach training I wrote to my coach, “Wow, big learning curve .. not sure this is for me .. not good at this.” Turns out she felt the same way in her initial training which brought me comfort; but she also paired it with a question, “what will it be like if you don’t proceed, Katie?” Bingo. If I didn’t proceed it would be a disservice to my development and potential. With a little re-exploring of what stepping into my potential was, I knew that learning and failing was par for the course. As time progressed my coach, and fellow coaching peers, continued to let me sit in the seat of uncomfortable as I fell down, bared my imperfections, got back up, and progressed. This created the space for me to just sit and be with the discomfort of insecurity. I embraced the discomfort, pulled up my big girl learning pants and decided this was the opportunity to play, grow, and release my need for perfection. I know we grow stronger from a challenge.

Both coaching and mentorship work. Coaching simply allows you to choose based on your values-DNA. As you evolve, choose what feels good for you; and not just because a successful, uber-experienced person told you to do it. Their experience and knowledge is helpful, but think of it as clarity as you fact find and filter to move in a direction that lights you up. You are an adequate resource with a ton of innate advice within.



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