In my mentoring of coaches toward their MCC, PCC or ACC credential, I make the distinction about coaching the “Who” versus coaching the “What” of your client.
In a recent group mentoring session, I was again making this distinction when a common question was asked:
“How do you coach the Who of your client if they aren’t ready?” This question has perplexed me for awhile, as I don’t know any client of mine that isn’t ready to be coached on their “Who.”
What does coaching the “Who” of your client mean?
Firstly, let me take the jargon out of this and explain what the “Who” elements are of any person. In fact, PCC Marker 1 for the core competency of Powerful Questioning provides a good definition. The Who is when a coach asks questions about the client; his/her way of thinking, assumptions, beliefs, values, needs, wants, etc.
Let’s take an example of a common issue facing many people, that being having too much to do and not enough time to do it all, which often has a person feeling overwhelmed.
The What element is the actual list of things to-do and how to approach it from a logical or systematic point of view.
The Who element is the overwhelm, which is a self-descriptor based on how the person is feeling about the stuff they have to do.
When we feel overwhelmed, we may also feel any number of emotions (frustration, resentment, fear, stressed…). There may also be beliefs about what it means to be overwhelmed. Or assumptions we make about our capability to manage our time. If coaching someone in a business setting, it could even mean we are not good at delegating and instead keep the work for ourselves because we believe the time it takes to train someone else is not worth it. We think we can do a better job, or the person isn’t capable enough to do it as well as we do. So instead of learning the skills to effectively delegate, we stay in overwhelm doing it all ourselves.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? It does to me!
So everyday situations provide opportunities to coach the Who of your client. Because if you don’t address the underlying beliefs, assumptions, needs or wants, you’ll just make more lists, take on more, maybe get ahead of your to-dos from time to time, but still remain in a state of pending overwhelm at any time.
Once I explained this example to my mentor coaching group participants, there was a recognition of what coaching the Who of your client was. Going back to the question asked: “How do you coach the Who of your client if they aren’t ready?” They could understand how to coach the Who.
So what did they mean when asking if the client isn’t ready to be coached on their Who? Many of them thought that coaching the Who was about their Vision, or their Life Purpose.
Now I could hear what I couldn’t get before. Many coaches think that coaching the Who is about the ‘big Who’ which is their Vision and Life Purpose, the bigger stuff.
However, everyday we are dealing with ourselves in our situations, and how we approach them is all about what I now term the ‘little Who.’
Distinctions by Credential
For MCC skill level, you must be significantly coaching the Who of your client, more than the What.
At PCC skill level, you need to be addressing both Who and What.
At ACC skill level, there is often most attention on the What.
When your client becomes aware of how their thinking, values, beliefs, assumptions, etc. influence their actions, there is more awareness of the possibilities for different actions. It may take time (and effort) to shift their habitual way of thinking and acting, and that is where coaching is so valuable. Because coaching is an ongoing relationship for a period of time that provides the opportunity for non-judgmental support for experimenting with different thinking, and acting.
As a self-experiment, the next time you feel stressed about a situation, consider what beliefs, assumptions, emotions, etc. might be at play for you. Examine the ‘little Who’ elements that are contributing to the condition you’re experiencing called ‘stress.’ What might you believe, assume or do to reduce or eliminate the stress?
I often find that I can eliminate stress instantly by examining my ‘little Who’ because it’s most often what I’m telling myself about the situation that is causing my stress. Once I’m back to my center, where stress isn’t present because I’ve shifted my thinking/feeling, I can now examine the situation from a renewed perspective, and decide on the best course of action, if any.
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