Helicopter coaching views

I’m always searching for new and interesting ways to describe coaching skills to the coaches I’m mentoring toward their ICF credential.

This is one metaphor I’ve used for a while, so thought I’d share it here too. It involves a helicopter and the different views it offers us depending on our coaching skills stage of development; including from inside the cockpit as pilot, or co-pilot. To viewing the terrain above, around and below. As well as from the view of being the helicopter.

As coaches, we hold the unique and honored position of being in a ‘human being to human being’ conversation. We have the privilege of being a confidante to our coaching client, listening to their hopes and dreams, listening for the gap from where they are now to where they’d ideally like to be.

As we progress in confidence with our coaching skills, we are able to expand our viewpoints of the client. We can ask questions, or make observations, from these different perspectives.

Using the perspective of a helicopter, here are some distinctions from how a beginner, competent, and masterful coach might view their client, and themselves.

Beginner, or ACC skill level coach

When I train, or mentor beginning level coaches, their perspective could be metaphorically described as this:

I’m the pilot of this helicopter (coaching session). How do I fly this thing? What are all these controls for? Where is the manual? What are the basic maneuvers? What are the steps to get this thing off the ground? What would my instructor (coach, mentor coach, coach trainer) say to do? What if the client finds out I’m a new pilot; will they trust me? There’s so many things to know. Where’s that manual that gave all the flying techniques? If I just follow the manual, I’ll be fine. I just need to show the client I’m in charge and prove that I know what I’m doing.

Competent, or PCC skill level coach

I’m the pilot of this helicopter (coaching session). Yet am I? Maybe my client also knows how to fly this thing? What if I ask them? What do they know? What are their capabilities? How high do they like to fly? Or perhaps hug the coastline? Maybe I can trust them to fly this instead of me! If I need to give some direction (on how the coaching session process works), then I can temporarily fly this thing. Maybe it’s okay for me to be the passenger sitting next to the pilot (coaching client).

Mastery, or MCC skill level coach

What a magnificent helicopter! I’d love to fly this thing. Yet even more joyful is when I get to ride alongside the pilot (my coaching client) in this amazing machine! Or what if I consider the view from being the helicopter? What does the pilot see that’s different than I see? How do they approach flying that might be different than I do? What can I learn from them? What do they need from me in order to fly this thing to their best ability? What emotions do they feel as they fly? What is the terrain below they are paying attention to most? Or maybe in front of them? What could cause them to feel overwhelmed? How do they handle unexpected situations?

Coaching Presence

I hope you get a picture of the difference between beginner, competent and masterful coaching skills. You might have more distinctions you can think of.

Mostly though, it’s Coaching Presence; how does the coach approach their coaching client. What level of trust does the coach have in themselves, the coaching process and in their client.

Each perspective is valid

In fact, there’s a ‘transcend and include’ element. Learn how to pilot a helicopter, then practice until you are competent. Then continue on to mastering all elements of piloting a helicopter, to the point where you can be the passenger and relax. Or be the helicopter! Maybe take charge of the cyclic if you momentarily need to. You know your (coaching client) is knowledgeable about themselves, and that your job is to find out what they know, what excites them, how they approach challenges, what helps them to navigate the scary aspects of moving from something known, to a new unknown.

In Closing….

There are always multiple perspectives the coach can take when coaching a client. Perhaps experiment with being the helicopter. What is that like? How is that different than being the pilot or the passenger? What are you aware of about yourself? What more might there be to learn?


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