In coaching parlance, there is a phrase, “coach the client and not the problem.” This means that the client’s problem shouldn’t be the center of gravity in coaching—the client should. This of course makes a great deal of sense upon examination. Problems are finite, often relatively limited in scope and duration. Clients, however, are infinite sources of wisdom, depth and knowing. Life itself is at the center of the client.
As a new coach and trained attorney, I wanted very much to help clients resolve the issues they presented. Who doesn’t at heart want to help people, to give them a sense of relief? This, unbeknownst to me at the time, had me coaching problems, not clients. In placing the problem at the center, I started to notice a sense from clients that they had “been there, done that”—meaning, they knew this method very well and indeed the problem was already at the center of their mind and their lives. What they were looking to me for was a way out of that paradigm, even if they weren’t fully aware of it yet.
To shift away from my problem solving mentality, I needed to gain trust that, in stepping back from the problem, my work would still have value and effect in the lives of those I desired to help. I simply couldn't see doing this work otherwise. So I tested out what is known in coaching as getting a presenting agenda from the client (often the problem as they know it) and then diving for the deeper agenda (often the client’s deeper heart based yearning, and the answer to the question: What’s important about this to you?).
At the suggestion of a mentor, I then started to embrace the deeper agenda as the “North Star” in a coaching session. For example, instead of coaching the problem, “I don't want to be so overcommitted and stressed,” we might begin to explore the client’s deeper agenda underneath for “a greater sense of calm, relaxation, and space” or even for “greater connection with friends and loved ones.”
In coming to see and dance with the deeper yearning, the focus of coaching shifted. It became about the inner core, the heart, of the client. It was somewhat frightening to let go at first and move into this space. I truly had no idea what was there or if it would help them at all. But in making the shift, I could sense we were moving out of the old problem centered paradigm and into a place we are not often as intimate with—our own deepest Self. It’s not often we sit with questions about our heart’s desires—asking, “What are they about?” “How do they feel?” “What would life be like if they were lived more fully?”
This intimacy and seeing makes us more conscious of our heart. By giving it color and breathing life into it, I often noticed that client’s problems would simply fade out of view, as if they were never really there. The heart took center stage. It was its vision, its understanding, which seemed to land clients in a more truthful reality about themselves and the world around them. It’s as if going deep in the heart rooted the self in the Self. From there, the vision was no longer one of problems but of new realities and possibilities.
What does your heart say about “coaching the client and not the problem?”
About the author:
Michael S. Wright is a trained social worker, attorney, and certified professional coach. Moved by a deep knowing that true and lasting change begins within the individual, Michael followed a call to coaching. He brings a passion for spiritual truth and its real-life application to his work, and is particularly drawn to support visionaries for a new world—those individuals that are deeply committed to personal change and yearn to bring about new ways of being and doing in the world. Previously, Michael worked for 15 years in the civil and human rights fields, leading social projects for organizations like Harvard University, the United Nations, and the Shriver Center. Information on his practice is available at dreambrightly.com and you can contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.