Practice, Presence and Trusting the Process – My Key Takeaways from an ICF Core Competencies Hot Seat Coaching Event

Author : Robert Stephenson

17th December 2019

I take part in a lot of coaching events, and always leave with some key takeaways. Whether around myself, the way that I coach, personal growth, or things that might improve Animas and the impact that we have as a coaching school, there are always things that I leave with. I have thought about one event a lot since my involvement, and in my reflections have picked out some of my key takeaways that I want to take the time to share with you.

Why? Well, because they feel really important when considering what great coaching looks like, and how we can be the best coaches that we can be for our coachees, all the time.

The Event

Back in October, I was invited to form part of a coaching hot seating event at the King’s Fund, Oxford Circus, alongside fellow experienced coaches Jenny Bird and Claire Palmer. The premise of this event, set up by Jenny, was to allow coaches to observe experienced  coaching in relation to the ICF core competencies, so that they might better understand the multiple ways they might exhibit these competencies.

If you’ve ever attended one of our live practicums, then you will be familiar with the set up of this event. Jenny, Claire and I each delivered a 30 minute coaching session observed by the 10 coaches that were in attendance. The group then discussed what they had seen in relationship to the competencies, and fed back to us or asked questions around our coaching demonstrations. We all stayed in one space for the day, and each coachee that we coached brought their real challenges to the space, so they were all really good examples of real coaching.

I couldn’t have been joined by two more experienced coaches. Both Jenny and Claire have been coaching for 20 years. Jenny has written The Art of Coaching, and How to Work with People… and Enjoy It!, Claire is an MCC coach and works for the ICF around their core competencies, and is part of the assessment and marking team for credentialing. These are two real heavyweights in terms of coaching, and the engagement around all of our coaching examples was brilliant across the board. Countless questions, smart observations but above all, some interesting feedback.

Interesting Feedback/What Participants Took from the Day

> How there were 3 coaches, all with different levels of experience, different styles of coaching, different training received as part of our coaching journeys, but in spite of this, the core competencies were very clean and clear within what we were all doing. – So this idea that once you’re really dialled into coaching and make a conscious effort to practice the core competencies, it becomes a natural part of your practice.

> How it was great to see the different styles of coaching, to see how we approached questions differently, how we held the coachees in different ways throughout the process, but at the same time how interesting it was that so much could happen in such a short space of time. It reminded them how much you can get done in 30 min, but also that these coaching examples weren’t rushed. – So that you could take your time, can be relaxed within the coaching but could still achieve great outcomes. 

> How the focus of the session, or the outcome or goal is fluid, always moving and changing, and how the coach follows that movement and change, whilst reminding the coachee what it is that we are focussing on. – So both the coachee and coach have real clarity on what it is they are looking at and that the coaches spent time at the beginning of the sessions, allowing coachee  to think about “where are we going with this? What is our outcome or our goal?” allowing the clarity to stay present throughout the session.

> That the questions weren’t just explorative questions, they were also challenging questions, but how even the challenging questions were framed in a way that allowed the coachees to still feel that they were being held, and still being supported when they were being challenged.

> How all of the coaches, were mirroring or echoing the coachee’s physicality, but also their language, so that the coachees’ felt heard and had ownership of the language.

> How still and silent the coaches were. How they allowed the quiet spaces and the silence to exist. And how at times the coaches themselves were very still in what was happening so they didnt jump into the action just allowed it to take place. – All 3 coaches were totally present with, and focussed on the coachees .

This feedback was important and useful on a few fronts:

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it meant that the event served its purpose of exhibiting great coaching in relation to the core competencies, and those in attendance took a lot from it. Ultimately, that was the whole point of the day and I really felt that everyone there left with a number of key takeaways that they could apply to their own coaching.

Secondly, I’d be kidding myself slightly if I said I wasn’t a little nervous alongside Jenny and Claire initially, but one thing that became clear when we started doing the work, and started getting the feedback was this realisation of “wait a minute, we are all coaches coaching and wanting the best for our coachees, and we are willing to create the space to enable this to happen, in our own ways…”

It became evident to me that although we all had completely different training, experience, backgrounds, and approaches to our coaching, the work that we were all doing still followed the core competencies. They had become learnt structures that came into the work, but not at the expense of any of our personalities.

Lastly, the feedback that came back throughout the day set into motion my own thoughts around what my key takeaways were, which was really interesting. Here’s what came up for me.

My Key Takeaways

1. Practice creates effortlessness in the space

Quite a lot of the feedback was around how not just the demonstration of the core competencies, but the coaching as a whole seemed very effortless. What do we mean by effortless though?

Often this effortlessness that people see in other coaches, comes from a continued practice. So it’s like watching a painter, a sportsperson, or any other professional, it can seem effortless because the practice that’s gone into it that you don’t see. It’s not effortless from Day 1, it takes time to get there.

Taking the ICF competencies as but one example, one of the fundamentals is that you bring learnt structures and processes into the space, without bringing the rigidity of those structures. So you’ve done your learning and understand what these structures mean and how they work, and then you bring yourself to it, and those structures are part of your guiding principles, but you are in no way governed by them. They become natural. Effortless.

So practice is the key, practicing your art, allows it to become art. 

2. How the trust isn’t just about the coachee trusting you, it is also about you trusting the coachee, and trusting the process.

Another big takeaway for me was that the work is happening in the coaching relationship itself. The relationship that’s created enables the work to happen. The rapport, the connection, the trust that you have with coachee, creates the relationship that enables everything else to happen, so without that, that doesnt take place.

So there was one point during the day where I said that the coachee does all of the work. To which one of the attendees responded “so if that is the case, what is it you’re doing when you’re coaching?” “I hold the space. I listen deeply and ask questions that relate to the work that the coachee and I are doing.” I told him. And it plays into this whole notion of how over time and with experience you can trust the process, trust yourself, and most importantly trust the coachee.

There’s really something about the trust. The trust that exists between the self, the coachee and the process, this three-way triangle of trust is pivotal. Truly trusting the coachee to do the work, to make it happen, truly trusting yourself to be present to what is happening, and truly trusting in the processes that you understand coaching to be to exist within that space.

When you trust the coachee, you allow them to do the work. When you don’t trust the coachee, you do some of the work,  Often if we find ourselves working really hard as coaches, perhaps we don’t trust the coachee to do the work, or to get the work done. 

3. How curiosity is key to the coaching environment 

Shouldn’t we all be curious as coaches? Is curiosity not a big part of what coaching is? A part of the reason that the coaching dynamic can enable such brilliantly profound changes?

Of course there are levels to curiosity, but as coaches we should be really curious about our coachees, about what is happening in the relationship between us and our coachees. It is key to the coaching environment.

How do we ask the questions that allow our coachee to find the next step, or find their own answers without being innately curious? As coaches we are curious creatures. Or at least we should be. Not for our own sense of wanting to know, but a curiosity about our coachees. What is it they want? How might they get here? Where do they want to get to? And how might they do that?

4. Our complete presence and attention allows the coachee to feel witnessed

Talk around the stillness of us as coaches, and our awareness of what was happening for the coachee led me to think about the importance of presence in the coaching space.

Our presence allows us to notice what is happening in the space, creates an awareness of what is happening for our coachee because we are so attentive to them. This allows them to feel witnessed in their experience of the coaching and of the way that they are developing and changing throughout the coaching process.

This awareness is really important  because through the generation of awareness of the coachee’s own challenge, and the complexities, the parts, components, that form the challenge, change can be created. So whether that’s about values or belief or self-doubt, the awareness of that allows the change to happen, or for the recognition of what might need to happen for the change to take place.

5. As a training school, our transformational coach training fits in with the ICF core competencies, and as such, if you follow our training and continue to practice, you can be a really great coach! 

One thing that really struck me at this event was that I was part of this great coaching demonstration, with two fantastic, experienced coaches, but in listening to the positive feedback that came back around the ICF core competencies, I could really hear the Animas in it.

What I mean by this is that, the way that we train our coaches-in-training, what we teach them, the ongoing support that we offer fits in with these core competencies. Whether around holding the space and being completely present, mirroring and echoing the coachee, stillness, or powerful questioning, these are all things that form part of our transformational coach training. If people follow our training, and continue to practice then they’re also going to exhibit these competencies and that’s a great feeling.

And even looking past Animas, as coaches that follow the ICF core competencies, ultimately, when you allow those competencies to exist, without them governing what you do, they just become a beautiful framework to house your coaching within, then you allow yourself to drift away from those competencies and your personality comes in, but not so far away that you’re no longer coaching.

If you’d like to find out more about ICF credentials, and core competencies you can do so here.

Categories: Working as a coach  

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