The word “coach” is a common word in the English language and there is much confusion about exactly what coaching is when applied to personal growth, relationships, etc. Adding to that confusion is that there are also differing models of coaching among coach training programs and professional associations.
In my opinion, the role of empowerment is the most important distinction between professional coaching as it has evolved in the early 90’s from the personal growth movement (and other sources) by pioneers such as Thomas Leonard (and others) and any other helping profession (counseling, therapy, consulting, teaching/education, etc).
Empowerment assumes the client is functional, completely capable of achieving their goals as they are, are the best judge of what they need to be successful, and that the coach’s role is to be the wind beneath their wings in supporting their success, not teaching or telling them how to fly. More about that below.
Let’s apply empowerment to professional coaching by contrasting sports coaching with the empowerment model of coaching.
Sports Coach Model: This is the coaching model that most people are familiar with. The sports coach is an expert in a sport and teaches or trains their client to achieve their potential in that sport. They are the leader and in charge. The coach provides instruction and strategies and direction to achieve the goal that the coach defines. If a weight loss coach was using this model, the coach as the weight loss expert would design the weight loss plan using their expertise, teach the client how to lose weight, direct the client to do specific things to lose weight, and hold the client accountable to the weight loss plan created by the coach. The client defines the goal, but as an expert the coach defines how the goal is achieved. I also call this the “consultant” or “guru” model, which assumes the client doesn’t know enough to be successful and needs direction.
Empowerment Coach Model: The client is seen as the “expert” on their life and while the coach may have a transformational program that they use, the client is in charge of deciding what will work for them to reach their goal. To do weight loss coaching using this model, you might help the client explore their options for losing weight and support them to select the strategies and plan that they choose to follow and believe would work best for them. The client is in control, not the coach. The client decides the “what” and “how,” not the coach. The coach may be an expert in what they’re coaching, but they assume the client knows best what works for them and is not attached to any particular strategy.
The Empowerment Coach Model is based on the premise that when you impose your point of view as an expert and are attached to what the client should do, think, and believe, you are dis-empowering them, which in the end, doesn’t work because, while the client may agree and go along, they are less inclined to take responsibility and unconsciously resist being dis-empowered.
If we are supporting what’s inside the client we are empowering them, if we impose our strongly held beliefs on them, we are dis-empowering them no matter what scientific research, good intentions, logic, our experiences, books, or other experts say. Just because something is true or proven to work (which is highly debatable for just about anything), doesn’t mean it will work for that client, especially if we’re pushing it on them.
The client’s problem isn’t that they don’t know how or they don’t have enough information or the right solutions. The real problem is that change is hard, scary, feels risky, and big goals bring big challenges.
As an example of empowerment, during our training we challenge trainees to remove the word “I” from their vocabulary when coaching. Our reasons are here. After their training (or outside of their training if they have an existing practice) they can coach how they want.
Your Coaching Superpower: Another example of empowerment is that in our training we discourage “teaching,” “telling,” “explaining,” “directing,” “advising,” “recommending,” or giving your “professional opinion” about anything. We advocate using your “Coaching Superpower,” defined as what and where you choose to focus your client with your coaching questions, to empower your clients success. More information about the Coaching Superpower here
Here at RCI we have lots of relationship coaching tools, strategies and paradigms, and we train you how to use them from the empowerment model instead of imposing them as the directive expert.
The Art and Science of Professional Coaching: is empowering your client to achieve their goals from the inside out and support them to overcome their challenges and obstacles along the way. You are the wind beneath their wings and they are in charge every step of the way, and being in charge they are more inclined to take responsibility for their outcomes and more likely to be successful. If they look to the coach for answers, solutions, advice, and direction, they are not taking responsibility and are less likely to be successful.
The Dirty Secret of the Coaching Profession: Like consulting, the coaching profession is not regulated or licensed by any government entity, so anyone could call themselves a “coach” and sell their services to the public, no training or licensing required. Most untrained coaches follow the sports model of coaching and believe they have the answers to their client’s problems and goals. It feels good and feeds our ego to give advice and be directive, but can be dangerous in untrained, unskilled hands.
Because the word “coach” is common in the English language, it’s unfortunate that our profession doesn’t have a different label, as it causes confusion and makes it difficult for the public to understand and know what to expect when hiring a coach. For this reason I encourage RCI trainees and graduates to focus on the results they provide, to “sell programs, not sessions,” and to avoid trying to explain and educate potential clients about “coaching.” If you deliver results and help your clients achieve their most important goals, it doesn’t matter what you call your service. Clients care about results, not the methodology.
Final Note: As a coach I only care about what works. If it worked to take the expert role by being directive, I would do it. In 1985 was licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist to help couples and families have successful relationships, and became a coach in 1997 after realizing how dis-empowering therapy can be, even with the best training, practices, and good intentions.
Empowerment works. It’s simple, but not easy, and doesn’t feed our ego as much as being in the expert role. Transformation comes from within, and it is the best job in the world to bring that out in our clients and make the world a better place as a result.
To quote myself from one of my books From Therapist to Coach (Wiley, 2011): “You don’t need to be an expert to coach, you just need to apply your coaching skills expertly.”