Your leadership or your life?

“It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction” - Pablo Picasso


Are you a Leadership Coach or a Life Coach? A tantalising question, no doubt. How would you answer? The response could be a simple yet challenging one: What is the difference?

To illustrate, I was recently approached by a large firm’s human resource department about a leadership coaching assignment for their executives. During the short but intense discussion, my interviewer and I stumbled into an apparent block. They, at HR, understood the need for leadership coaching, but could not see life coaching as a part of it. They were, in fact, vehemently and flat out against it. One can easily bring this question to semantics, so the first step is to explore the meaning. Often, ‘leadership’ is seen as a professional version of self, while ‘life’ is a more personal part of the ‘self’. There may be other definitions, I am just providing one example for our purpose here. Asking a client to bring their own definition/s to the session will also allow for opening a space on new perspectives.

In this particular case, it turned out that HR thought of ‘life coaching’ as therapy!

From there comes a possible lead to how one separates the ‘leader’ from the ‘person’.

The core question is not ‘WHAT do we coach?’ but ‘WHO do we coach?’ Circumstances, places, or things are not coachable; they often cannot be changed or controlled.

We coach a person, we coach the WHOLE person, the full identity of an individual, be it a leader or any form that such identity takes.

One of the goals of a coaching conversation is to bring our client to a certain emotion or emotions that will lead to increased awareness.

As we follow the core competencies, we cannot help but be brought to such awareness by our client themselves.

Imagine a scenario where a client comes to the session asking to be “more strategic during the pandemic crisis”. It seems, at first glance, like a leadership issue with all its language traps — strategy + crisis. How does a coach navigate this?

Let us turn to the core competencies for practical steps

Creating trust and safety

Encourage the client to fully express themselves in a safe space, and explore all meaning brought to the call. Reflect back on what is said. The use of the ‘client’ word does provide a safe space. The Coach’s presence in ‘a no-judgement zone’ does as well. The coach’s comprehension of the client’s language is paramount to ensure both trust and safety. What is the essence here? What is most important to the client about this topic?

Active listening

Explore who is the client in this situation, their use of language, their associated energies and emotions in the present context. What does ‘strategy’ mean? What is the impact of this ‘crisis’ on their business? On them?

Powerful Questioning

Challenge the client and allow them to reflect on what they are saying, thinking, feeling and perhaps bring in different perspectives. What makes this particularly challenging for you today? What stands in your way?

Direct communication

Share your observations of where the client is at in the session and in their body, mind and soul, taking all into account. When you say the word ‘crisis’, I notice you cringe. What would help you? What do you need? When you say this out loud, how does it land for you?

Create awareness

See if anything has shifted, and identify possible areas of learning about the client. So, given what you just shared, what comes to mind?

In checking with the client about the original agreement to where they are as we come close to the end of the session, it is not unusual to see the shift in the client’s approach of the topic and a new vision emerging. From the starting point of strategy in crisis, we may now have moved to fear about the unknown, a desire to control, a lack of reference points or past track records creating a sense of loss, to a renewed commitment to growth, understanding, compassion, possibly to revisiting attainable goals, or new expressions of support, of mattering or belonging. The directions are endless and no size fits all, actually.

So what was this session about? Strategy? Crisis? Leadership or Life?

Your leadership or your life is not the question: YOU, the person, are the question! Given the choice, I will always choose YOU.

What do YOU think?

Reflect on your objectives for the coaching engagement. Being clear on your goals will enable you to find the coach best suited to help you reach them

If you need support on your organisation’s and/or leader’s coaching journey, do contact us at ICF and our team of volunteers in India will be happy to help.

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 40,000-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, organizations, 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 Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.

The author, Valérie Del-Sol is a Master Certified Coach by the ICF (MCC), an active member of the ICF New York Chapter and a Hogan Assessment Certified Coach. In the past two decades, Valérie has supported high to mid-level executives at US and international major firms, both in the private and the non-profit sectors. Her main focus is on leadership, culture, branding, communication and management skills in cross-cultural environments. She brings a holistic approach to her partnership with clients. Valérie holds two BA from the Sorbonne University in Paris. She studied coaching at Coach U with late Thomas Leonard, and is fluent in English, French and Italian.

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