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3 August 2020


Focus on the client

This month I examine the fourth of the five skills that the Academy of Executive Coaching see as key coaching skills, which is the importance of Coach presence

The AoEC article suggests that:

“The coachee cannot feel for a second that you are going through the motions. They need to be sure that you are there with them, in that moment.

Your attention must be completely focused on the client and your mind empty of everything else.

Your approach must be customised to their specific needs at the time. You must truly believe that the person you are coaching has access to the resources they need to move forward. Your responsibility is to help the client tap into their own resources, skills or creative thinking in order to help them achieve their goals and improve their performance.”

The ability of the coach to create this environment is often described as “being” rather than “doing” coaching. It suggests that presence is more a state of mind and body for the coach, in which the coach allows for inner calm, free of distractions, to exist. This calmness allows the coach to be there wholly for the client, which typically allows the client to feel heard, supported and safe - the perfect environment for honest self-reflection and thinking.

So how does a coach develop such presence? 

For me, one of the key elements is in the preparation for a client session. So, before I meet the client, I will review the brief notes I have made regarding the previous session, which allows me to see the world from the client’s perspective again (I don’t take notes in client sessions, so as not to be distracted by note taking and therefore can remain present for the client, but I do capture brief notes afterwards, about the key points discussed).

I will also focus on my breathing and create an inner calm and whilst doing so I will take a few minutes to free my mind of whatever other stuff is going on in my life/work. This also helps if when in a client session some external thought pops up as a potential distraction because I can then more easily re-set myself to the point established before the session and maintain the required presence.

I will have prepared wherever I am working from, whether face to face or virtual, to prevent being disturbed: phone off, etc. (cafes and fishbowl meeting rooms do not make good coaching spaces!). Some coaches also imagine themselves in a place they like that makes them feel calm, while some use anchoring, such as tapping or pinch point, an NLP technique that induces a certain frame of mind or emotion.

Once the client session is underway, I maintain presence through active listening, managing any “inner chat” that occurs in my head and being “in service” of the client, which means remembering it is their session and the discussion is focussed on their needs and not what I find of interest.

Great actresses/actors and leaders are often described as having a strong presence. In the book Leadership Presence, by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, the authors apply the lessons and expertise they learned as performance artists to leadership presence.

P stands for Being Present: the ability to be completely in the moment and handle the unexpected.

R stands for Reaching Out: the ability to build relationships with others through empathy, listening and authentic connection.

E stands for Expressiveness: the ability to express feelings and emotions appropriately by using all available means – words, voice, body, face – to deliver one congruent message.

S stands for Self-knowing: the ability to accept yourself, to be authentic, and to reflect your values in your decisions and actions.

This model resonates strongly with me as a coach and I can visualise myself using all four elements as part of developing my presence with a client:

Being present is, as per the content of this blog, what I strive to do in every client session.

Reaching out is at the core of developing a client relationship quickly so that the real work can begin.

Expressiveness in coaching is two way, the coach expresses feelings and emotions to demonstrate presence, but also reflects back to the client the feelings and emotions they observe/sense, as a means of deepening the client’s self-awareness.

Self-knowing is in part the ability to create the inner calm I referred to earlier, but also the ability to be non-judgemental and, in doing so, to be in service of the client.

Presence in a client session not only creates the perfect environment for honest self-reflection and thinking, but it can also be a lesson in itself for some clients to show how to develop their presence to improve their ability to “be there” for their relationships whether at work or home.

In my time as a coach, clients have shared many delicate work issues and personal life challenges and presence is a key part of creating a safe space in which they feel comfortable to do this.

As always, if you would like to know more about using presence in coaching, or have other questions, please get in touch and I will be delighted to hear from you.

From the author:

As coaching is not an advice-giving service, these blogs are not written with the intention of proposing solutions to common leadership challenges. Instead, they are thought pieces with the aim of prompting the reader to think more deeply about the topic and reflect on whether it warrants further exploration, with or without a coach.

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