One behaviour that great coaches show and adopt is a deep curiosity to understand who they are. They explore, reflect upon and challenge their sense of self. As great coaches we will actively try to identify our purpose and what we want from work, life and relationships; especially as many of our clients tend to enter coaching programmes with those same areas of exploration.

I find that the crucial aspect about this is not actually fully knowing ourselves (is that even possible?) but rather in having that inquisitiveness and open-mindedness around our sense of self, how it’s developing and the way we are impacting it. The International Coach Federation (ICF) even updated their competencies to include this coaching mindset as a key behaviour for successful coaching.

Why is this so key? Firstly because coaching, as a profession, is highly based on reflective practice. We engage with our clients to help them think more consciously about what’s happening in their lives, what they want or desire and the way they wish to get there. And although as coaches we don’t need experience in a client’s formal role, or a full understanding of their background, we do need awareness of how being reflective supports us, as humans, achieve what we want. There is an aspect of role-modelling here: to support someone else consider the value of reflective practice, to stop and pause.

This can be quite scary, not only for clients but also for us as coaches in our development. Being open to understanding ourselves at a deeper level means facing things that we might not immediately want to. It’s also a bit scary because we are tapping into aspects of who we are that are unknown and at times we might feel it’s better to keep certain things that way. Your client will also feel that fear, particularly when opening up to being vulnerable with you. Knowing how you have responded when you felt vulnerable; the thoughts and feelings that you had and the assumptions and excuses that you’ve made will help you when working with your client.

So how do you develop a deeper understanding of who you are and how you coach? Here’s a few ideas you might wish to consider:

  • One of the first things that people tend to focus on when trying to understand themselves is an assessment tool or a psychometric within some area of their life – their personality, a certain ability, their levels of resilience, etc. Whilst this is useful, for me, it should not be the first port of action. By starting from an assessment there is an inherent assumption that the psychometric will give us the answer – it will tell us how confident we are, our levels of self-efficacy or why we behave in a certain way. However, many psychometrics are indicators – they do not give us the answer. And if we complete an assessment and only focus on the answers it juts out we are missing a key element: that of the reflective practice itself. In this case, the journey that we take to get to an answer is equally if not more important than the answer itself.
  • Always remember that it doesn’t entirely rely on you and it’s not something that you can fully control. There are certain areas within our life and our self that we are blind to. That’s why getting feedback in a supportive environment is key to help us understand who we are, our preferences and how we coach. This in a way is similar to Jo-Hari’s Window (search for it online if you aren’t aware of the concept – it’s a great one to keep in mind as coaching professionals).
  • In all of this there is a process of scrunity, questioning and accessing information that isn’t as easily and immediately available to us. Through this you will learn to more fully understand your narrative, how you interact with others and how you have changed (and will continue to change!) over time. So apart from curiosity, what is also important is that we show ourselves the same level of kindness and non-judgemental behaviour that we would show to our clients. Understanding ourselves in this more connected and deeper way requires a heightened sense of emotional intelligence; and being kind to our own experience and being grateful to our own self for taking the time and the challenge to do this is key for this practice to be something that we do not just every now and again but as a continuous cycle of personal development.

One of the areas that we focus a lot on our ICF Diploma in Integrative Coaching is this understanding of ourselves and how we coach. We think it’s vital for great coaching. What do you think?