Friday, August 02, 2013

Coaching: Ten Essential Ideas

Coaching is a challenging job. Change is often not welcome. Being told what to do often results in compliance, not growth and learning. My recent work and learning as part of PLP’s Connected Coaching course has been different. It has showcased an alternative view of coaching, Appreciative Inquiry. One where the individual and their growth is honored. In addition, it has taken that alternative view and added the dimension of coaching online, not face to face. During the past several weeks, ten essential ideas, so far, have emerged for me that ARE the difference that MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.  Let’s take a look at them.

“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often
 make the biggest difference.”
John Wooden

What does it encompass when you trust someone? What do you expect? Building trust is an essential first step in any coaching endeavor.  Building, growing and nurturing trust and relationships is at the foundation of all coaching. How does that happen online? Through many avenues - through checking in with the coachee first, to ascertain where  their thinking and feelings are that day;  through sharing about yourself, your interests, your job, your aspirations; through storytelling and images, that say more than words alone; and by having your ideas and thoughts accepted non-judgmentally. Jumping in too quickly into the focus of a session, can derail trust and the willingness of a coachee to ‘lean into’ the coaching relationship.  While an essential first step, nurturing trust and relationships is an ongoing part of coaching and vitally interwoven with the other essential ideas.


Stories serve as windows into the architecture of {our} psyches and
the longing of {our} souls as well as the platform from which to
build and express new ways of being in the world.
- David Drake

Storytelling is powerful. It invites us in. Invites us to imagine. Invites us to participate. Invites us to re-envision our world as different, something more desirable. By inviting others to share their stories, we become partners looking through an open  window into their perceptions and feelings. The story is the raw material we have to connect and understand the coachee. By listening attentively to a story, the coach communicates respect, acceptance, and appreciation of the coachee. This is turn, opens a space for nurturing personal growth. 
By learning how to see stories as one perspective with alternative storylines, coaches can guide coachees to seek deeper meaning and alternative possibilities from their stories.


“Coaching is helping people grow without telling them what to do.”
- Tony Stoltzfus

Connected Coaching combines a strength-based approach with the positive approach of Appreciative Inquiry. It approaches coaching through the lens of SOAP- strengths, observations, aspirations, possibilities. Together they redefine how we can help others with the process of change. The goal is to not only identify the positive core, but to leverage it in creating the most desired future.

“That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine
our life and character.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are what we believe about ourselves. If we focus on negative experiences, problems, and complaints, they we will believe that we are victims, powerless to make a change. On the converse, we focus on the positive, the hopes and dreams of a person in Connected Coaching, By building off of the strengths of a person, they are encouraged and see possibilities.


“...The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person
is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps, the most important thing we ever
give each other is our attention.”
- Rachel Naomi Remen

The quote pretty much sums it up. As a coach...Listen. Listen. Listen. Don’t talk. Don’t tell your own autobiographical story. Don’t give advice. Don’t offer solutions. Do not direct. And, certainly, do not criticize or pass judgement. Clear your mind of everything that is bothering you and on your to do list and listen with everything you have in you - all of the focus and energy you can muster. Along with listening, learning to be comfortable with silence is important. We extol the merits of ‘wait time’ for students. Coachees are no different. Resist the urge to fill the silence with questions. Give it time. Value it. The silence provides an accepting space, where the coachee is in control of the content, timing, and path of their thinking.


"We don't see clearly because we don't see with the eyes of our
- John Eldredge, in Waking the Dead
“It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible
to the eye.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Listen for the ideas you hear, but also listen for the complete message including the feelings. While there is a lack of ability to read facial expressions, gestures, and mood in an online environment, you can hear the unsaid. You need to look for the things that are said or not said in order to reinterpret that like we would if we were able to use body language.Then translate what might not be said into your paraphrase to see if you got the words but also got the feelings that go along with them. The coach's role is to mirror back thoughts and feelings in their paraphrase. By ‘leaning into’ the coachee’s words, the coach is able to feel and experience what the coachee is thinking and feeling.

While no conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a
career, a company, a relationship or a life- any single conversation can.
- Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations

Well, we jumped ahead a bit, mentioning paraphrase in the last essential idea, but let’s take a deeper look at the power of words in appreciative inquiry. My work and learning as part of PLP’s Connected Coaching course has highlighted the the power of words to make a difference. Mirroring back thoughts and emotions without injecting your feelings, your judgments, your ideas-- without sharing is a completely different way of interacting with others. In a paraphrase, capture the essence of what was said while also reflecting the tone. Paraphrasing helps to bring clarity to a coachee’s thinking. By paraphrasing what is said, the coachee is able to affirm and clarify their thinking. Through affirmation, the coachee feels accepted, valued, and respected. Remember a single word can change an attitude. Learning to be conscious of choosing your words carefully is important. Using the word ‘you’ instead of ‘I’, ‘could’ instead of ‘should,’ and ‘and’ instead of ‘but,’ communicates your belief in the genuine capacity of the coachee and opens the world for them to contemplate their own possibilities.


“Great coaches do not tell people what to think. They point people
in the right direction to find the answers. This self-restraint is one
of the most difficult challenges of leadership.”
- Thomas Bandy

Probably my best quality as a coach is that I ask a lot of challenging questions and let the person come up with the answer.
- Phil Dixon

At the core of Appreciative Inquiry is the belief in the complete capability of the coachee to identify their next step and to learn and grow. It is within them, they may  just need someone to guide them in discovering it. Having built relational trust and validated their stories, we turn to wondering, Now What?  Through questions, coachees are able to discover their own strengths and devise their own outcomes. Questions are asked with genuine curiosity following a coach’s paraphrase. Powerful Questions invite a response from the coachee. Powerful Questions are open-ended, have multiple answers, are phrased to help the coachee consider new perspectives or next steps, think more deeply, make connections, and imagine alternatives.


“Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”
- John Whitmore, in Coaching for Performance

“I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process
to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem
previously thought unsolvable.”
      - John Russell, Managing Director, Harley-Davidson Europe Ltd.

“That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will
determine our life and character.”
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Positive Presuppositions are about assuming positive intentions. By inquiring into strengths, we set into a motion the generative power of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As coaches, we speak with a positive intent, believing in the competence, dedication, and capability  of those we coach, no matter what we have seen, experienced, or believe. There is always something positive that is working. The coach’s job is to find the positive to communicate our belief in the coachee’s abilities.  Here, again, choice of words makes all the difference. By stating a positive intent, the conversation turns to talking about positive experiences, those where the coachee has been successful. By focusing on strengths, the coachee uses their experiences as a touchstone to what they are capable of achieving.


When teachers are filled with a sense of their own strengths, vitalities,
and aspirations, and when they are invited to imagine the possibilities
that would make their life and work more wonderful, they get fully 
engaged in self-directed learning. Their energy goes up and their 
resistance goes down.
- Tschannen-Moran, Evocative Coaching

Take time to talk to teachers and ask they why they became teachers. Listen to their idealistic vision of what they hoped to accomplish. Those aspirations are genuine, but perhaps stamped out by the stresses of keeping up with the day-to-day world of education today. How many times have you heard a teacher say, “we aren’t allowed to have fun anymore at school?” How do we rekindle their spirit? How do we tap into their aspirations and realize them? By using an Appreciative Inquiry approach, coaches can help teachers to explore their aspirations -
values, beliefs, strengths, motivations, and desirable outcomes.

Aspirations are visionary, embracing hopes and dreams, but not easily realized without first considering the possibilities. Possibilities help teachers to imagine what they could do next to begin to process of realizing their true aspirations. Possibilities enable teachers to try out different ideas and to explore different paths of actions. Possibilities unleash a world of creativity, imagining and play with ideas. There are no wrong answers, only possibilities. Wonderings and brainstorming are the means for helping teachers generate possible avenue to experiment with, to play with, to re-envision a path toward the realization of their aspirations.

When teachers see the possibility of learning or doing something
that would help to make their future aspirations a reality, they often
smile at the thought and jump at the opportunity.
- Tschannen-Moran, Evocative Coaching


Twitter, Facebook, and other social media - even largely nonverbal Instagram, which is all about photos - invite us to be storytellers around imaginary campfires, ringed with friends, acquaintances, and family.
- John Timpane

While coaching has been mainly a face to face endeavor, with the increasing use of technology worldwide, coaching naturally moves into online spaces. How does a coach build relationships and trust, facilitate self-directed learning, support a learner in realizing their strengths, and empower them to learn and grow when you are not “Seeing” and “Talking” to the learner? A coach does this through a creative, eclectic use of a wide variety of tools and experiences. A Learning Management System, LMS, is used as the classroom space where assignments and information are shared through the use of video, podcasts, links to online resources, and playlists using Delicious or Diigo are used to collaboratively share additional resources. Synchronous weekly webinars use protocols that have been adapted for online use and a variety of interactive experiences that engage learners in exploring course topics more fully and deeply from differing perspectives. During the week, asynchronous experiences invite learners to explore topics more fully using a range of formats. Learners collaborate in sharing and creating ideas using Google Docs and Google Presentations. The Visual Ranking Tool is useful for working together to rank ideas while  is useful for taking online polls. Collaborative ranking and polling Collaborative brainstorming is accomplished using and Building trust is essential for all coaching. Online, engaging learning in activities that request information about themselves, and asking learners to share core beliefs and values and their passions are successful through the use of tools that help learners share more than text alone. By incorporating images, video, and audio in their responses using tools such as,, or AudioBoo opens up new ways of “Seeing” and “Hearing” the learner.


  1. Linda, you have not only captured the essence of the course, but expanded upon it with images and quotes from other sources. This will be useful as we move ahead in our work with other adults. Thanks! I've added your blog to my Feedly so I can stay in touch even after our course ends.

  2. Linda,

    "ten essential ideas, so far, have emerged for me that ARE the difference that MAKES THE DIFFERENCE."

    Your phrasing really speaks to me and is such an invitation to read what is to come---

    You've been particularly thoughtful and described a positive, "generative" (one of my favorite words), supportive and comprehensive landscape of coaching.

    You mentioned more than once a coach having "belief in the genuine capacity of the coachee", "As coaches, we speak with a positive intent, believing in the competency, dedication, and capability of those we coach"--reminding all of us of a primary focus that will transform relationships and outcomes.

    Linda, thank you for the gift of this reflection,

    1. Lauren and Lani,
      Thank you so much! Your thoughts are genuinely appreciated! I never know what will result when I start writing and synthesizing ideas. This post, sort of, took on a life of its own as I continued to review what we have done and cross-referenced with other books Lani has recommended. But, writing it really did help me to see the 'whole' of what we have been learning, to understand the recursive nature of the parts and to also focus in on the details and the art of coaching.

  3. Linda, you have provided an incredibly clear and comprehensive summation of 10 Essential Ideas of Connected Coaching which have stood out for you in our course. It is easy to read and understand, and it flows easily from one Essential Idea to the next. Your inclusion of appropriate quotes, pictures, and tools adds an extra element of beauty and emotional connection to each idea. How did you decide in what sequence you would present them?

    How do you see yourself applying these ideas in your coaching work with others? Specifically, in what ways can you envision these tools helping you to coach others through what can be a difficult process of change and growth for them, while at the same time, continuing to learn and adapt in these challenging educational times yourself?

    Thank you for putting so much of yourself into this post. I'm in awe of your ability to organize and present it so beautifully and succinctly! The people who you work with are very lucky to be working with you!

    1. Cathy,
      Thank you for your kind words. I am thrilled that the post helped to capture our work together for you.
      Figuring out the sequence was simply a work in progress. I started with six ideas, added a couple more, rearranged them and then added a couple more after that and finally reworked the end result. All of that work really did help me to make sense of the different elements and their relationship to each other. It ends up looking linear, but I'm pretty sure that it is not linear in the implementation!
      As for what I envision these tools will do to help me to coach, I think I can only see it one person and one day at a time right now. It is an awesome responsibility to nurture the strengths, hopes, and dreams of another.

  4. I particularly like the aspect of storytelling. Stories are how we understand our experiences, the world and each other. We use stories to make our dreams and aspirations and our failures transparent. Asking and listening is all it takes to uncover these stories.

  5. Sue,
    I so agree with you. Storytelling is a window into each of our individual worlds. By listening to each others' stories, we gain new perspectives and at the same time, a deeper understanding of ourselves.
    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Linda, you have provided us with a comprehensive reflection of the Connected Coaching incorporating other quotes and references to compliment your reflections it makes for a really rich summary of Connected Coaching.
    I particularly enjoyed the reference to the use of online tools that incorporate,video, text, audio allowing new ways of 'seeing' and hearing' the learner.
    Have there been any tools that you've been introduced to that you think will be particularly powerful for 'seeing' or 'hearing' your learners?

    1. Fiona,
      I really liked that a variety of different tools were showcased, including a variety for recording audio and images. There are so many different ones out there. For brainstorming, I might suggest:, Mind42, Inspiration, Popplet, LucidChart, and Mindmeister.
      I am thinking it might also be interesting to include cartooning tools, to provide some fun and a different perspective I like ToonDoo, Cartoonatic, Comiqs, Make Beliefs, and PikiKids.
      Lastly, I think it would interesting to try out creating Infographics using. or, Piktochart, or
      Thank you for your thoughts.