Friday, January 14, 2011

Draw Outside the Lines

Remember the problem where you're asked to connect nine dots with only four straight lines?

This riddle can serve as a metaphor for you as a coach. There is no box in the diagram, but each client's worldview is a box. The only way to solve the nine-dot problem is to go outside the box, in this case by creating four lines that extend past the numbers:

You, too, want to go outside the lines -- to step outside the box of the coaching relationship -- and ask yourself, "Are my responses to clients reinforcing their key personality patterns or helping them break free of those patterns?"

Success-oriented clients, for example, tend to look outside themselves for approval, seeking the metaphorical "trophy" for achieving their goals. In follow-up meetings they will typically report how well they've carried out their assignments, enacting their key underlying pattern by trying to be the best coaching client. Will you reinforce that behavior by applauding what they've done, or will you help them see this habitual pattern, without judgment, as it occurs in the coaching session?

Clients whose key pattern is perfectionism will come to you wanting to "fix" themselves. Will you jump with them to solutions, or will you help them break the superstructure of their perfectionism by teaching them to observe how their perfectionism plays out without trying to change anything

This is sophisticated coaching; you are always looking deeper than the obvious, always taking the systemic view, acknowledging that your presence invites the lifelong patterns that now keep your clients stuck. The easy approach is to give them what they ask for. The smarter approach is to give them what they don't know how to ask for, a transpersonal shift in how they view the world.