What does coaching mean to you?


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During the past 8 years I’ve been thinking about what I want to do a lot. The only constant thing has been coaching. Coach is also one of the few labels I’m comfortable putting on myself. I am a coach. This is also why the inflated use of the words coach and coaching also bother me as quite often the same words are used to describe activities that I would file under consulting, training or plain (expert) advice.

When I talk about coaching I refer to the activity of helping someone clarify their own thinking, finding goals for themselves and supporting them on their learning journey towards those goals. As a coach I create space for reflection, encourage and help people take small steps that help them reach big goals.

Many coaches use labels in front of them such as “Business”, “Life”, “Executive”, “Career”. And I understand the usefulness in clarifying the context. I don’t do that. I do use the labels “personal” and “team” coaching just to clarify how many people are involved, content is always whatever is relevant to the client(s).

Humans are complex psychosocial entities and I believe limiting coaching discussions to a specific context before even starting the discussion limits the potential gains. In a longer process choosing goals that are from different areas of life or perhaps in the uncharted areas between help you grow and move in the direction you want as a whole.

This does not mean that all coaching sessions with me include everything. On the contrary, there is usually a very specific focus chosen by the client.

How do you coach?

The first time I really grasped the magic of coaching was a simple exercise in my coaching training where I had a list of questions on a card that I read out loud to my pair who was instructed to think of an issue they would like help with without telling what it is. And after mechanically reading through that question list without any other discussion my pair genuinely thanked me for helping clarify his thinking. I realized that I don’t need to know anything about a problem to be able to help solve it.

This insight is deeply ingrained into my coaching habits. And on a practical level the exercise itself is something I apply in coaching sessions. I have an array of questions I can fall back to if I don’t know what to say next in a session. The list has changed over the years, but still contains many of the original questions. I also have a fallback meta question “What should I ask next?” that surprisingly often helps nudge clients forward.

I do bring up my expertise in software engineering, natural sciences, organizational development, mindfulness, parenting and learning in coaching discussions, but only with permission if the client wants my advice.

In practice I mainly do longer 12 session coaching processes with individual clients. Coaching can help to clarify things quickly, but lasting change takes repetition and building habits. Coaching is much more than just asking questions and having a clear process. The two pillars holding up the whole structure for me are presence and faith.

Presence in the moment

A prerequisite for being able to coach anyone is listening to what they say. The key to good coaching is hearing what is not said. This is something that took years for me to learn. And it’s not just about being there for the client but also noticing what’s going on in myself and letting that noise be when it is not helpful in taking the discussion forward.

In addition to practicing coaching itself, my regular mindfulness practice helps me be there for my clients better. As I’m finalizing the edits on this, I have a 1126 day streak on Insight Timer app with a 30 min daily average (this includes a total of 17 days on retreats pushing that average up). I have a few pretty solid habits for keeping the practice going that I’m planning to publish a separate post about soon.

Faith in humanity

By faith I don’t mean the belief in something without proof, but rather the complete trust and confidence in something. It is no coincidence that humans have conquered most of this planet. Our ability to learn and overcome any obstacles are where the strength of coaching comes from too. Not as individuals but together. Having someone who believes that you can do something even if you don’t yet is a powerful force for change and growth.

Tiny humans holding hands on a path

Why do you coach?

I never had any plans to become a coach. I started programming as a hobby when I was 5 and I’ve known I’d be an engineer longer than I can remember. My choice of university studies was a matter of choosing which program at Helsinki University of Technology would go to. In retrospect my path from a software engineer to a coach is easy to see as a natural progression, but it was far from that coming from the other direction. And transition itself was quite bumpy as I’ve told before.

Despite everything that happened around the time I started training to be a coach, I immediately felt a pull to that role. The more I practiced, the more right it felt. Helping people clarify their thinking felt so much better than building software ever had. And helping teams build shared understanding was therapeutic. I got to help people work on issues I had had myself, but lacked the tools to effectively solve before. And the best part was that I didn’t even need to know the solutions myself. It turns out that people know how to solve their own problems most of the time, they need someone to create space for thinking.

Today as a coach I get to help people be better versions of themselves and change the world for the better. If you are interested, contact me on LinkedIn, Facebook or book a starting session for personal coaching directly at: https://interbeing.fi/start

Originally published 20190122 at https://medium.com/@jussiholtta/what-does-coaching-mean-to-you-5b491eaa01a

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