10 ways to develop your sparkle in coaching

It is my firm conviction that whenever two people sit together and one person is trying to be helpful to the other
person, something good will come out of it. There are as many ways of being helpful to one another as there are
people in the world and none is necessarily better than the other.


The International Coach Federation has developed standards of how to be useful to another human being as a
coach. The 8 core competencies describe a framework of what can be expected of a good coach. However, there are more ways of being a brilliant coach and is necessarily described in these competencies and seasoned
ICF coaches would be the first to admit that.

Masterful coaching is not about following a set of rules for each and every conversation. It is about “dancing in the moment”, about responding to the situation, to who the client is and what the client wants and at the same time being able to flexibly engage in conversations around how the coaching conversation can be most productive and meaningful for the individual client at hand.

ICF definition of mastery relating to sparkle

The “old” comparison sheet of the different levels of coaching published by the International Coach Federation states
that mastery level (It will be replaced by the MCC BARS in 2022):

  • Coach is connected to complete trust in new and mutual state of awareness that can only arise in the moment and out of joint conversation.
  • Coach is comfortable not knowing as one of the best states to expand awareness in.
  • Coach is willing to be vulnerable with client and have client be vulnerable with coach.
  • Coach is confident in self, process, and the client as a full partner in the relationship.
  • Sense of complete ease and naturalness in conversation; coach does not have to “work” to coach.
  • Coach is a completely connected observer to client.
  • The connection is to whole of who client is, how the client learns, what the client has to teach the coach.
  • The coach is ready to be touched by the client and welcomes signals that create resonance for both the
  • coach and client.
  • The coach evidences a complete curiosity that is undiluted by a need to perform.
  • The coach is in fully partnered conversation with client.
  • The coach trusts that value is inherent in the process versus having any need to create value.(From www.coachfederation.org)

The sad story of masterful coaching

Who the coach is seems to be as important as who the client is. In my own process of certification as Master
Certified Coach and in mentoring coaches for their credential as PCC and MCC, I noticed developmental pattern.
In the first recordings that we discuss, when the coach is coaching just like they have been coaching for the last five
or 10 years, the coach’s unique sparkle is visible. Coaches who work with Tony Robbins, for example are very
good at encouraging clients to grow beyond their oldest hopes. Solution Focused coaches are very good at being
frugal, concise and in tune with the language and learning style of the client. Vivacious coaches create a wonderful
atmosphere of lightness, more quiet coaches create a sense of spaciousness and allow the client to show themselves vulnerable.

Sadly, as the mentoring journey continues, and the mentees become more and more aware of the requirements set
by the International Coach Federation for the respective level, their sparkle seems to dwindle. It has been my
mission and passion to help mentees discover and retain their unique sparkle during the mentoring process. The
world certainly does not need more cookie-cutter coaches, but coaches are willing to be brave, vulnerable, sharing
their sparkle with their clients.

How to develop your sparkle as a coach

Here are 10 ways to become aware of, retain and develop and celebrate your own sparkle in coaching:

  1. Find out what is your sparkle
  2. Strengthen the story of your sparkle
  3. Find out why your sparkle is important to your clients
  4. Get a baseline by asking your clients
  5. Get a baseline by recording your sessions
  6. Find role models
  7. Find a good mentor for your sparkle
  8. Choose a suitable mentoring or supervision process
  9. Temper your sparkle
  10. Repeat

Find out what is your sparkle

Do you know what you sparkle is? I am sure most of you will have a good idea of what your sparkle could be: you
might be very encouraging, you might be able to talk with ease about things that are truly important to the client,
you may be highly analytical and you sparkle is your ability to clearly structure complex topics and help clients
engage with them or any other thing of beauty that happens regularly in your coaching sessions. A word of caution
here: of course, every coach has his or her own sparkle to bring to a coaching session – yet, the totality of who you
are as a coach is much more than your sparkle. It is no longer sparkle when it becomes a huge flashlight that shines
in your client’s face as if you were trying to interrogate them in the not so friendly fashion. A coaching friend of
mine defines herself as “I am the pushy coach” and it seems like everything she does is informed by this self-definition
– that’s not what I mean by sparkle. A sparkle shows up, waxes, wanes – in short, it is alive in the
coaching session reacting to the client and their situation and desires.


So how can you get more information about your sparkle? Here’s a short list of ideas:

  • record your sessions
  • have them transcribed (e.g. with sonix.ai or otter.ai)
  • listen to them and mark the places in which you think your sparkle showed
  • send the recording and the transcript to a friend, a mentor coach, your client, a mentor, a supervisor or coach who comes from a very different coaching tradition
  • ask them to mark the transcript the same way. You could ask something like “I’m interested in finding out what it is that I specifically bring to the coaching conversation that is helpful for my clients. In short, I want to call this “my sparkle”. Could you mark the transcript and highlight those passages in which you feel who I was and who I am as a coach made a difference?”
  • Ask friends, family, coworkers, colleagues … what it is that they appreciate most in conversations with you?
  • Comparing notes across these various forms of feedback should give you a good idea of what is your sparkle as a coach and how you can describe it to other people so that they can make a decision whether what you offer is what they need.

Strengthen the story of your sparkle

Narrative therapy talks about the difference the stories we tell ourselves make for us. This form of therapy works
with clients’ stories and invites clients to tell their stories in ways that makes them stronger. They invite clients to strengthen the strands and storylines that give hope, agency and meaning. The practice used here is what narrative therapists call a “reauthoring” conversation. It is also wonderful way to connect with you sparkle without making it the only thing you know want to know about your practice.


Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to keep alive and growing the story of your sparkle:

  • What’s important to me about my sparkle?
  • Where did I learn that this is important?
  • What was that situation like in detail?
  • Was there anyone in my life who stood for or stands for what is important to me about this?
  • What would they say, feel or think about me consciously holding this dear and using it in my coaching practice?
  • How do I want to pass on what is valuable about this to other people?

Find out why your sparkle is important to your clients

You don’t only want to know what your sparkle is but you also want to know what difference it makes for your
clients. Salespeople talk about “unique selling propositions” and about “feature”, “advantage” and “benefit” of any
offering. To be able to describe well what your unique sparkle brings to clients you can ask yourself the following
questions:

Feature

  • What are the features of my sparkle?
  • How does it show in the conversation?
  • What are the ways in which this is different to other coaching conversations?

Advantage

  • How does this difference create an advantage for my clients?
  • What is better about my sparkle compared to “non-sparkly” ways of coaching for the client?

Benefit

  • What overall benefit does this lead to for clients?
  • What is it that they are looking for that makes me a good fit for their coaching needs?

Here is an example:

Feature
I give clients lots of space to think during coaching conversations. I am serious, empathetic and don’t fear deep
emotions. In the coaching sessions there are long periods of silence which are never uncomfortable. This is different
from coaching conversations that are very fast-paced and results rather than exploration oriented.

Advantage
My clients tell me that they can be themselves in my sessions and that they are never afraid to show who they
really are in the coaching session. They can think slowly and in depth about what they really want to achieve and
why this is important to them. The spaciousness of the coaching and my comfort with deep thinking and feeling
creates a unique space.

Benefit
Clients can take time to “be” rather than “do”. They feel understood, supported as the people who they really are.
There is no need for pretense. My coaching practice is very suitable for people who want that kind of the space
and who would like to create in-depth, sustainable development.

Get a baseline by asking your clients

After you identified your sparkle, you can go back to your coaching and start engaging and deliberately
practicing that sparkle. This time, instead of asking people what you sparkle is, you can craft more targeted
questions around it. Possible questions to clients could be:

  • I am working on my ability (insert description of your sparkle) — on a scale of 1-10, were ten is that I
  • demonstrated this in a way that is exactly right for you today, where would you put this session? (You could
  • even prepare a little form with a line from 1 to 10 for this that the client marks)
  • What were the instances where this was just right for you?
  • Where would you have wanted me to do this more?
  • Where would you have wanted me to do this less?
  • Do you have any other recommendations for further collaboration?

Get a baseline by recording your sessions

What is important about deliberate practice is that it does not happen while you are “performing” the coaching.
Masterful musicians don’t practice on stage. So again, to get a baseline of where you are at with regard to your
sparkle and to start practicing deliberately, you need to go back to recorded and transcribed coaching sessions.
Here are some questions that you could ask yourself:

  • Where do I see my sparkle?
  • Where are opportunities in which I could’ve used my sparkle but didn’t?
  • We were there instances in which I overdid it?
  • What are my ideas about what I could have done instead?

Find role models

No masterful artist, sports man or sports woman or musician would start practicing without a good idea of what the
end product would look like in the best case. Artists study the technique of other masterful artists. People engaged
in sports watch videos of excellent athletes. Musicians listen to what the best in their fields sound like and diligently
record their own performances in order to compare — without necessarily wanting to copy. A singer might have his
or her own idea of how he or she wants to interpret a certain song but will look at other artists interpretation of the
same song to see which phrase here she wants to do in which way.

When I started working as a coach and facilitator as a young woman my imaginary role model was Shirley
Schmidt from the TV series “Boston Legal”. She carried herself with the kind of poise and authority that I wanted to
emulate in difficult situations.

So ask yourself:

  • Where else do I see my sparkle happening?
  • Is there a person I know or know about who demonstrates this sparkle?
  • What do they do to do that?
  • What exactly is it that they do to do that?
  • How do they sound?
  • What do they say?
  • What do they look like when they demonstrate the sparkle?

Find a good mentor / supervisor for your sparkle

When you are in the process of selecting a good mentor for your sparkle at first, it seems natural to look for
someone who embodies that same sparkle. While it might be very useful to learn from someone who has the
competency that you are willing to develop, bear in mind that this might be a trap. We don’t expect from coaches
that they know more about the subject matter than their coachee — what is more important in a mentor than their
ability to demonstrate the sparkle that you are looking to develop is their ability to help you in this process.

Questions for the selection of a good mentor could be:

  • Do I trust that my mentor has my best interests at heart?
  • Do I feel comfortable to be open and vulnerable with my mentor?
  • Does my mentor understand what I want to develop?
  • Is my mentor willing to listen to or watch recordings of me coach?
  • Do I feel positively challenged and acknowledged?
  • Is there enough breadth of experience for me to profit from?

Choose a suitable mentoring process

Once you have found a mentor agree with them about what it is that you want to develop and why you want
to develop it. A good mentor will ask you about it, too, I think. Here is some additional
things that you might consider proposing to your mentor:

  • listen to your coaching recordings and compare where each of you sees your sparkle happening
  • put on different “hats” for the evaluation of your coaching recordings:
    • the client’s hat
    • an ICF assessor’s hat
    • a person from a completely different approach’s hat
    • etc.
  • coach your mentor overdoing, under doing, doing the opposite of your sparkle
  • look at the evaluations that your clients give you about your sparkle and see whether you might have an easier time showing up with your sparkle with certain clients rather than others.

Temper your sparkle

As I said earlier: a sparkle is not a flashlight! Always be mindful not to stereotype yourself and to stay flexible
and respond to each individual client and situation. Developing your sparkle is about showing up with your
unique qualities to help a client. Sometimes a client might really not need the kind of sparkle that you have. In
that case either you are flexible enough to accommodate for the client’s different learning style or you refer
the client to someone whose sparkle fits better. In any case, if you haven’t seen any significant development by
the client within the first three sessions it might be better to have a conversation about “fit” with the client and if there isn’t a good fit recommend someone else.

Repeat

And of course, once you are confident enough that your sparkle shines and you can show or temper it as
needed, you might want to find out about more sparkles in your practice. Now you have a process that you
can use over and over again to develop your own mastery and coaching. Your learning process stays in your
hands and you take full responsibility for your development as a coach. You choose your development goals
and you work with the entirety of what you have to offer. In my experience this also strengthens in your ability
to see feedback as an interesting perspective on your work rather than a judgment of your capabilities, or
worse a judgment of your personality. You become calmer, more mindful of what you do and I hope more
joyful and playful in the development of your practice.

If you would like to find a suitable mentor / supervisor — at SolutionsAcademy we have wonderful mentors whom you can book an exploratory free session with at www.solutionsacademy.com/contact

Or you can meet us in our free coaching meetups and exchanges