What is your “Coaching Superpower?” It’s simply what you choose to focus on with your client with your next coaching question; using your coaching skills to empower your client by shining the light on something with the questions that you ask.
When you think about it, your client has all the control and power. You have no control over what your client does in their life and whether they’re successful or not. Your best information, advice, opinion, or suggestion will not make a difference at all, which is why they are not considered “coaching skills.”
Your client is 100% in control. But your superpower, the best and most powerful thing that you’re able to do is to choose what you shine the light on, what you focus on with your client.
In every moment there are many possibilities to focus on and we can only choose one at a time. Some will be effective, some will fall flat, and some will be wonderfully transformative. Using your coaching superpower effectively means that you are focusing on the best, most effective thing possible with your client at all times, in every moment, to move your client forward towards their goal.
Empowerment and the Coaching Superpower
The Coaching Superpower is the primary tool of Empowerment Coaching, where the client is seen as the “expert” on their life, and in charge of deciding what will work for them to reach their goal.
For example, in 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, in receiving direction they are less likely 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.
Your Coaching Superpower vs. Powerful Questions
In coaching, a “powerful question” is one that has a significant impact on your client. Not every coaching question will be powerful, and it’s impossible to know ahead of time if a question will be powerful, so our goal should be to use our experience, intuition, and skills to ask the best question that occurs to us in the moment to move our client forward, which is your Coaching Superpower. This is simple, but not easy, takes lots of practice to master, and requires being fully present in every moment with your client.
Using Your Coaching Superpower
Here are twelve elements that can compete for your attention when coaching a client and my recommended guidelines and coaching strategies:
In coaching the agenda is always the client’s, not what the coach thinks it should be. Sometimes the client gets distracted from their primary reason for hiring the coach and brings up other problems, goals, etc.
Instead of reactively skipping wherever the client goes, use your Coaching Superpower to focus on helping them make a conscious choice about how to maximize session time and whether to keep or change their agenda for coaching.
A client hires a coach for help accomplishing a big goal. Your job is to help them achieve that goal, which can be challenging when the client distracts, avoids, procrastinates, self-sabotages, experiences fear/self-doubt, etc.
Use your Coaching Superpower to stay laser focused on continually moving them towards their goal and do your best to not get distracted or let anything get in the way.
When a client says “I feel…” or a coach asks “How do you feel…?” What does that really mean? Feelings can be emotions (anger, fear, love, sadness, etc) , physical sensations (hot, cold, tingly, painful, etc), intuition (your “gut”), mis-labeled thoughts/desires/judgments (“I feel like having vanilla ice cream.” “I feel like you’re wrong about that.”), etc. The word is so imprecise as to be useless and even counterproductive.
Since “feelings” (meaning some kind of internal experience) are involuntary and reactive, you can’t change or coach them, and since this isn’t therapy there is no need to directly address them. Use your Coaching Superpower to focus your client on what would move them forward in the present moment. Focusing on the past or an internal experience stops forward movement. If they truly are experiencing a strong emotion, they need to be supported to experience it and let it flow through, so coaching stops in that moment.
We humans are meaning making machines and continuously interpret our experiences in the world. How we see and interpret reality is just our “story.” Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, we are always seeing just one view of a complex world. This becomes a problem when we are attached to our point of view and even interpret it as fact. While “war is hell” and “ice cream tastes good” might be strongly held beliefs or judgments, they are not facts.
This becomes important when your client is challenged or stuck because of judging themselves, another person, or a situation, such as a single woman who believes that “all men are animals and just interested in my body.” Since they are not immutable facts, we can choose and change our story or beliefs and it’s helpful to address those that interfere with your client’s success.
Judging or challenging their beliefs as “limiting” or “sabotaging” or even “wrong” is not helpful or coach-like. Suggesting a more effective belief is dis-empowering. Beliefs, like feelings, are often reactive and can exist unconsciously, without really examining it or choosing it.
It is quite possible to help your client achieve their big goal without directly addressing their “sabotaging” beliefs, and when they experience success, their beliefs will change!
If your client is being blocked by a story or belief and your efforts to move them forward are stymied, use your Coaching Superpower to help your client articulate their belief, which allows them to examine and clarify it, which often results in their changing it. If needed, use your Coaching Superpower to help them explore and select positive, empowering thoughts, interpretations and beliefs. To empower your client the alternative story or “re-frame” must come from within them, not from you, as it is not effective to simply tell them or suggest what they should believe.
Many coaches focus on “why” a client might say or do or think something, believing that the cause must be addressed for them to be successful.
We all have our “stuff” and few survive childhood without emotional/psychological bumps and bruises, Coaching is not therapy, and a client is assumed capable of achieving their goal as they are without “healing” past “trauma.” Clients will sometimes bring this up to try explain or understand why they’re stuck or challenged.
There are many possible reasons why a client might be stuck or challenged, few that require direct intervention for them to accomplish their goal. Use your Coaching Superpower to focus your client on moving forward towards their vision, goal and action steps and don’t be tempted to speculate “why” they are challenged. Remember that “success breeds success” and that coaching itself is therapeutic! If your client is truly stuck, coaching isn’t working and their “stuff” is getting in the way, refer them to a competent mental health professional and work closely with them as a team as an adjunct to coaching to support their success.
The words we use to communicate have powerful meaning and impact, even if we’re not aware of it. Effective coaching requires use of “neutral” language, meaning using words that empower your client without attempting to influence or direct them with your judgments and opinions, even a little bit. And because language is imprecise and can be interpreted in different ways, we can’t assume we know our client’s meaning and need to check out our interpretation with them.
In #3 above we addressed use of the word “feel.” In this article I make a case for deleting the word “I” and in this article I make a case for deleting the word “healthy” from your vocabulary as common examples of language that is dis-empowering and interferes with effective coaching.
A small example is the coaching question “Why is that important to you?” I’m not a fan of “why” questions in coaching. While this question may be a well-intentioned effort to increase awareness of their values, the effect could be the client feeling judged and required to explain and justify why something is important to them. A more neutral alternative might be “What about that is important to you?”
Effective use of your Coaching Superpower requires using neutral language that empowers your client and doesn’t influence or impose your point of view even a little bit. This can be a challenge. As illustrated above, the most well intentioned question can create a problem if it’s not neutral. This takes practice, consciousness, and critical thinking about the language you use.
“Coaching” is a common word in the English language, most commonly associated with sports coaching, which means that most people believe that coaches are directive with their clients and tell them what they need to do to be successful.
Many, if not most prospective coach trainees say that they are attracted to coaching because they love giving advice, and who doesn’t? But being directive, giving your opinions/advice, etc. is dis-empowering and ineffective.
Why is giving advice ineffective? Because for your client to be successful they need to take responsibility for their outcomes, and if they seek or accept your advice they are much less inclined to take responsibility. While it feels good and feeds the ego to give advice, your job is to be the wind beneath your client’s wings and empower them to fly, not tell them how to fly.
Empowerment is a fragile thing, like a balloon that can be popped by one statement of opinion, advice, suggestion, etc. Leave the directive “expert” role to the consultants, gurus, doctors, etc. who are paid for their expert advice. You are paid to help your client achieve a big goal that requires their getting into action, taking risks, stretching beyond their comfort level, and simply telling them what to do won’t accomplish that.
So use your Coaching Superpower to empower your client’s success by exploring their options, seeking needed information, develop plans and creative strategies, and overcome obstacles without directly telling them what they should do. There are many ways to share your ideas and expertise when needed without being directive or dis-empowering your client, which is covered in any good coach training program that teaches the empowerment model of coaching (not all do). More info here.
Coaching is goal and action oriented. Your client hires you to accomplish a big goal and in the process you help them develop an action plan composed of strategies and steps for achieving their goal. Future coaching sessions are focused on implementing that action plan and addressing any obstacles that show up.
Since the goals, strategies and action plans are chosen by the client (with the coach’s support), and the client is in charge of implementation, do NOT “assign” homework, ever. Use your Coaching Superpower to help your client identify and implement their next steps. “Homework” is simply what the client chooses to do about their goal between sessions, which should be identified towards the end of each session simply by using your Coaching Superpower and asking something like “What will you do this week to move forward?”
Coaching is goal oriented, and a goal is in the future, which means that coaching is future oriented. There is rarely a need to refer to past experiences and present reality (including problems and obstacles), because all that matters is moving forward and doing what’s needed to accomplish their goal.
To quote myself:“It doesn’t matter where you’ve been. What matters is where you’re going and how you’ll get there.”
You could certainly argue that the past and present DO matter, big time, as they DO have an impact on our client in the present. But if we assume our client is fully capable of achieving their goal, as they are (which is usually the case), we need to assume that moving forward towards their goal is what’s needed, not focusing on the past or present.
For example, let’s say your client is single and shy. They’ve had a lot of experiences in the past that influenced their being shy. In the present they have habitual ways of thinking and behaving that are socially awkward and uncomfortable for them.
You could focus on healing from the past and their self esteem issues, but this isn’t therapy. You could focus the problems their shyness causes for them when dating, or you can focus on strategies and solutions for moving forward towards their goal as a socially awkward shy person.
Being shy, socially awkward and uncomfortable doesn’t mean they can’t date and is only an obstacle if allowed to be. If they truly have emotional and psychological trauma preventing their success, coaching won’t work and they need a higher level of intervention, but that’s where you might end up, not where you start.
So use your Coaching Superpower to move your client forward towards their goal and assume that the influences of the past and the problems of the present can be overcome with forward movement and creative strategies.
As mentioned above, coaching is goal and action oriented and future focused, not problem focused. It’s tempting to see a problem as an obstacle and want to solve it, but if you assume the problem doesn’t have to be an obstacle, it can disappear and become solved with forward movement.
For example, in the case of the shy single client above, as they start implementing creative strategies for dating and engaging people, they will become more comfortable, confident and successful. The problems of being shy (fear, discomfort, awkwardness, etc) can be solved and disappear by developing and practicing strategies for engaging people.
So don’t be tempted to focus on the big, scary problems. Use your Coaching Superpower to focus your client on creative ways to move forward and assume that success by itself will solve their problems, and if not, you can cross that bridge when you get there. More info here.
In any one moment in coaching there are many possibilities to focus on, some will be productive, some unproductive, and some wonderfully transformative. When you use your Coaching Superpower to focus on one thing, there are many other things that are not addressed. Some never need to be addressed, and some will be important enough to address in the future, and we call them “missed opportunities.”
Missed opportunities always happen as it is impossible to address everything at once. If it’s important it will not go away and will show up again and rise to the top as a priority for attention. However, “out of sight, out of mind” is a common phenomenon and a masterful coach will note important missed opportunities and address them along the way.
So use your Coaching Superpower to focus on the best, most productive thing that you can identify that will move your client forward in each moment, and note any important missed opportunities for future follow up.
It is human nature to get attached to our point of view, our desires, our possessions, ideas, people, values, beliefs, experiences. Sometimes we get attached to something that interferes with our success, such as attachment to the status quo, or security, or our comfort level, or a “limiting belief.”
It is common to be unaware of our attachment to something. It can be hard, but it is in our power to choose or un-choose anything we are attached to if it is not serving us simply by being aware of it and making a different choice. Simple, but not easy.
Use your Coaching Superpower to help your client identify and evaluate attachments that interfere with their success, explore more productive alternatives, and develop strategies and a plan for letting go of their unproductive attachments in favor of productive ones.
The Coaching Superpower is simple, but not easy, and takes years of practice to master. The biggest obstacles are ingrained, unconscious, habitual patterns of thinking and communicating that come out in your work with your clients. The best and easiest way to develop your coaching skills and your Coaching Superpower is to record your coaching sessions and review them regularly. Many, if not most coaches record their sessions for their client’s benefit, which is a great practice that clients appreciate. When you review your recorded sessions it will be easy to spot old habits that detract from effective coaching and allow you to make adjustments towards becoming a masterful, powerful coach.