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3 Critical Tings about Coaching Most Coaches Don't Know

Here are three critical things about successful coaching that too many coaches don’t seem to know:

1. We live in a connected world

2. It’s critical to balance the celebrated and wounded self

3. People make meaning in different ways at each stage of adult development


A lot of coaching is individualistic and behavioural. Also, many coaches have one approach that is applied to all clients.


More than ever we live in a connected world. Of course, we always have and now our connections are exponentially increased with the aid of technology. No matter how well we change our individual behaviour, and even our thoughts and feelings, we still need to interact with others and their goals and behaviours. Some of the behaviours of others will support out goals and some might conflict with them. The network within which we live and work has an enormous impact on us. We can’t control it and we certainly need to be aware of it and understand the impact it has on us. Just changing our own behaviour does not guarantee success.


A while ago I mapped the network of a successful CEO and the network map exposed that she was isolated and at risk. Some key relationships had broken down and some important relationships that were necessary for her ongoing success were missing. I shared this with the CEO and her reaction was, at best, mild interest. Soon after that there was unfavourable press coverage about the organisation and it ultimately led to her being asked to resign from her job. She didn’t have the support she needed to weather that storm. Had she worked on shoring up the key relationships in her network she might well have been in a different situation when things went rocky.


A lot of coaches fundamentally use a goals and behaviours approach. All you need to do is be clear about your goal, determine what behaviours will support achieving that goal and go and do it. It’s a classic behavioural approach. The problem with behaviours is that they are less driven by will than values, beliefs, assumptions and habits, some of which are unconscious. That’s why we have such appalling results for New Year’s resolutions. Setting a goal and implementing actions too often just doesn’t work, especially in a sustained timeframe. Examples that come to mind would be weight loss and stopping smoking. Until the underlying reasons are identified and dealt with, real change is unlikely.


Earlier this year I attended a coaching course and all of the participants were required to huddle together and shout out three times “I am amazing and I can do anything!”. I found the exercise both futile and excruciating. Futile because it’s simply not true, well at least the part about being able to do anything. No matter how hard I try I will never be a concert pianist or violinist. I’m too old to allow the necessary physical development of my fingers to develop. In the same way I will never be an Olympic athlete. It’s just not true that I can do anything I want.


Traditionally coaching focuses on the “celebrated self”. You can do anything, if you just try hard enough. If you don’t succeed it’s because you didn’t try hard enough, or the goal was wrong or maybe the action wasn’t right. Psychotherapy focuses on the “wounded self”. What has gone wrong in your life that has caused you to develop some sort of pathology. Both have value and both are not enough. A good coach should be able to work with both your celebrated and wounded selves.


We know that our brains continue to grow and develop well into adulthood. We literally make meaning differently through various stages of adult development. A one-size-fits-all approach to coaching does not make space for this fact. A good coach will determine your meaning-making patterns, or action logics, and tailor their intervention in a way that will make sense for you. There are powerful tools available that will show your primary action logics. Make sure your coach uses one.


When you are looking for a coach make sure you ask them how they will:

1. Work with you in the context if your network;

2. Understand your unconscious motivations and work with your celebrated and wounded selves; and

3. Have some way of discerning you stage of adult development and can work with any level.


Stephen Duns 0448892553

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