The Osmosis of Coaching

Like osmosis, coaching creates an atmosphere in which, through gradual and unconscious assimilation, a leader begins to model what they have experienced


When people experience the power of coaching, it changes how they lead! As a coach, I have to confess that this intangible benefit caught me by surprise. I knew that professional coaching was transformative and expected it to bring about personal growth. I also began to witness that those leaders who experience the power of coaching often begin to adopt a coaching approach in how they lead their people.

Like osmosis, coaching creates an atmosphere in which, through gradual and unconscious assimilation, a leader begins to model what they have experienced. An executive director that I coached monthly for several years shared, “Being coached on a regular basis has had a tremendous impact on my leadership”. She commented that the personal experience of having someone who was committed to her growth come alongside her, helped set the tone for her leadership.

Another team manager whom I had coached for some time asked, – “How can I have conversations with my staff the way we do in coaching? What is it that you do?” After being impacted by coaching, this woman wanted to replicate this experience with her team. As coaches, we believe we are helping people develop around whatever topic they bring to the conversation, and we are! But we are also helping them experience and assimilate the coaching skills for their overall development.

A coaching approach is based on the philosophy of facilitated learning, listening attentively, asking powerful questions and drawing out the other person’s thinking. These are not intuitive skills for many leaders who believe, perhaps subconsciously, that they are required to be the expert and to have all the answers. In the Asian context, a leader is expected to lead by giving advice and solutions. After all, they assume, “Isn’t that what I am paid for?” It may even be a sign of weakness to ask the opinion of a subordinate. Sadly, this thinking and expectation fails to draw out the team’s creative ideas and may miss vital information that those closer to the ground possess. It takes a very secure and self-aware leader who has experienced the transformational power of coaching to be willing to adopt a coaching approach.

How are the principles of coaching assimilated by leaders who have experienced coaching? What creates this paradigm shift in a person’s leadership? I believe it is three things: –

The art of active listening – When people feel listened to and heard, it builds trust. When someone creates space for us to talk and reflect aloud, burdens feel lighter, creativity flows, and solutions become more apparent. In her book ‘Time to Think’, Nancy Klein suggests that ‘The quality of a person’s attention determines the quality of the other people’s thinking.’ Ponder that for a moment! Could you really raise the quality of a person’s thinking by the quality of attention you give them?

Klein goes on to say that “perhaps the most important thing we could do with our life and with our leadership is to listen to people so expertly, to give them attention so respectfully they would begin to think for themselves, clearly and afresh.” Leaders who have been coached resonate with how important creating a listening space is and its value to their leadership. It communicates presence and care and provides space for reflection. They seek to replicate this level of active listening with those to whom they relate.

The benefits of active listening go beyond the workplace. Two leaders recently shared how choosing to listen has also changed their marriage – “My wife is very happy with the changes in me,” shared one doctor in hospital leadership. Active listening has the power to affect all our relationships.

The power of questions – When I was learning to coach, my mentor coach would often say, “The presenting issue is not usually the main issue.” When we fail to ask questions, we often miss the heart of the issue and give solutions to the wrong problem. Blockages are not identified, assumptions are not challenged, and creativity is not unleashed. Asking questions creates an environment where people think for themselves. Leaders who have experienced this testify to the impact of a simple question on their thinking. They then seek to develop a mindset of curiosity which asks questions before giving answers.

The goal of growth – “I became interested in the growth of each of my staff, not just growth in their skills and work capacity, but holistic growth in them as people – something my staff truly welcomed,” was the comment by one leader after experiencing coaching.

The focus of a coaching conversation is growth, learning and greater awareness. When leaders experience the power of this, their desire for development goes beyond self and moves to the team and organisation. Using a coaching approach to mine the insights from every situation; success and failure, project or proposal, creates a culture of continual learning. Making space for reflection and learning is foundational to coaching, which also reaps significant rewards in the workplace.

So don’t be surprised when those who are coached begin to assimilate coaching principles in their leadership. The power of coaching can have ripples well beyond what we often anticipate.

Experience coaching yourself today to understand how it can transform you!

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 50,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.

The author, Maree Scully is an experienced ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) based in India but originally from New Zealand. Her passion can be described as “helping people grow”. In addition to leadership coaching and mentoring, she facilitates practical management trainings, and flourishes working cross-culturally.

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