Coach, Coach Thyself

Coaches WhistleMost of you are probably familiar with the adage, “Physician, Heal Thyself!” The miracle of internet search revealed to me that this actually came from the New Testament as a quote of Jesus from an even older proverb. The meaning might seem to be transparent, which is that healers should use their own knowledge on themselves before attempting to use it on others.

As a student of coaching, this simple meaning was what came up for me on a phone call with a master coach, Michael Spayd. Michael along with Lyssa Adkins, author of the book Coaching Agile Teams, are working together to advance the practice of coaching in the world of agile software development. When most people think of the term “coach”, they probably see someone on a football field or basketball court on the sidelines giving guidance and helping the team perform while not actually playing the game him (or her) self. The closest people come to coaching regarding sports is probably playing something like fantasy basketball or other fantasy sports and trying to win the league table.

But the term “coaching” as intended in this article comes out of the increasingly relevant field of professional and life coaching. The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” There are executive coaches, success coaches, and many other “niches”.

Alright, so I just completed Coaching Fundamentals, the first class of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), which is one of the leading coaching training and certification organizations. It was inspiring being with such a diverse group of people who wanted to help others – from technologists to teachers to managers to real estate brokers. What strikes me most about coaching as taught by CTI is “nobody gets to be wrong”, which means that the relationship between coach and client works best when you go outside of evaluation. In other words, good coaching is not about handing out grades. We’re not in school any more. Coaching especially isn’t about making judgements. And this can be quite tricky. I wonder if a good researcher has measured how much of most of our self-talk is evaluating and judging whether we’re getting it “right”? And what’s funny, is that judging and evaluating itself isn’t ‘wrong’ either.

So when I thought “Coach, Coach Thyself!”, I think mostly for me that was about doing what the manual of coaching as taught by CTI teaches. Here’s a quote from the beginning of Co-Active Coaching: “Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole – The primary building block for all co-active coaching is this: Clients have the answers or they can find the answers. From the co-active coach’s point of view, nothing is wrong or broken, and there is no need to fix the client. The coach does not deliver answers; the coach asks questions and invites discovery.”

Wow, that’s a refreshing way to look at ourselves too. Imagine if we stopped being the judge and stern schoolmaster to ourselves, and instead we were coaches that were curious, asked useful questions that encouraged discovery rather than self-judgement.

I wonder how I might start asking myself better questions and be a better coach to myself? And maybe how can I put away that ugly free clip art whistle too?

8 thoughts on “Coach, Coach Thyself

  1. Way to go, Harold! I love this blog post. You know, what I learned about holding the thought that people are “naturally creative, resourceful and whole” is that just thinking that and acting as if it is true has made it true. Before holding that thought, I certainly did not believe that everyone was naturally creative, resourceful and whole. This is probably why I bossed people around as a project manager (for their own good, of course). 😉

    Now,as a coach, just holding that thought and treating people that way has shown me that people really are naturally creative, resourceful and whole. And, they always have been.

    It’s a miracle!

    Thanks for bringing this thought to clarity for me, Harold.


  2. Hi Lyssa, I’m so honored to hear your experience with the “naturally creative, resourceful and whole” belief system.

    I saw it in action in the CTI trainings and was astounded at how well it worked. Given how much of a miracle each of us are that we’ve grown from a tiny cell and managed to walk, talk, and feed ourselves – there must be some truth to the statement. But often it’s so much easier to experience our own and others deficiencies.

    Thanks so much for advancing the art of coaching, Lyssa, especially in the software world!

  3. Cool. So does coaching include Socratic questioning?

    Jesus used the saying slightly differently as I understand it – he was saying that others would be asking, “If you save others, why don’t you save yourself?” Not understanding that he wanted to sacrifice himself to save others …

  4. I’ve been told that Socratic questioning is a good idea if you are Socrates. If you’re more a normal human, good coaching questions are best delivered from curiosity rather than already knowing the answer. Good coaching really comes a lot from the place of Jim and Michele McCarthy’s “Investigate” protocol except that it includes a good dose of intuition. This sounds like material for another blog post as I can’t explain it all in here.

    Thanks for bringing up what Jesus was trying to say. I didn’t want to turn the blog entry into a Bible lesson – but when I researched it I was fascinated by how the original quote was trying to convey a rather different message.

  5. Thanks for the comments Luke and Julya! About writing a post about the McCarthy “Investigate” protocol – I’m thinking the 3 levels of listening from Co-Active coaching is a great resource. Another resource for listening I’ve encountered doesn’t even require dialog. Genchi Genbutsu comes out of Toyota and Lean Manufacturing. It means “go and see”, but in The Toyota Way, it describes how a leader at Toyota was known for practically going into a trance standing in the workplace. It seemed rather Zen. Perhaps when it comes to one-on-one communication, it might mean actually getting to their home, or being in their space. Kind of like a meditative mini-ethnography. Direct questioning is not the only way!

  6. Great post Harold. Most of us really do have the answers inside, we just don’t want to be quiet enough to hear them. Or we can use a third party to point out the obvious.

    Hope all is well with you and yours.

    Judy Helm Wright aka Auntie Artichoke

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *