Is a coach a cheerleader?

According to the updated core competency model of the International Coaching Federation, a coach “celebrates the client’s progress and successes”, “notices what is working to enhance client progress” and “acknowledges and respects the client’s unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process”. Most coaches would say that being able to witness how clients grow and find their own solutions to tricky problems is the most rewarding aspect of our profession. Seeing the “AHA”-moment can be addictive :-).

On the other hand, it does not really matter what we coaches think about the client’s successes — what is important is that the client is able to see their forward movement. When they recognize that they are moving forward, they can most often also identify what they did to make it happen and learn from it.

If coaches “praise” the client, it can feel like the coach is in a “teacher” position. The coach becomes the judge of what is a good step forward, rather than the client. A “partnering” relationship is replaced by a relationship in which the coach approves of the client (or not).

The fine line between “cheerleading” and “celebrating the client’s success” runs between two fields: is it about the expression of the coach’s joy and satisfaction or about the client’s growth — is it about partnership or about evaluation? A management consultant would put this into a four field diagram:

Celebrating Success

It might be useful to explore how we might recognize that we are in one of the quadrants with our coaching.

Coach’s joy / Evaluation

  • “Wow, that was great!”
  • “Excellent”
  • “Good job!”
  • “Amazing”
  • “So what question did I ask to make this great insight possible?” (ok, nobody says that, but I am trying to make a point 🙂 )

Client’s growth / Evaluation

  • “You identified these action steps, carried them out and they worked. Great stuff!”
  • “Last time, you said you would experiment with this and you did and learned that you are … wonderful!”
  • “Let me summarize your learning for you …. I am very impressed”

Coach’s joy / Partnership

  • “I love it! How do you see it?”
  • “That seems like a lot of progress – what is your take on it?”
  • “Looks like great work – what do you think?”
  • “That is so cool — I am so happy for you! What are you feeling about this?”
  • “When I hear you describe all your learnings, I am feeling so glad and happy for you. Thank you for sharing it. How does it make you feel?”

Client’s growth / Partnership

  • “Thank you for sharing these insights — would you like to look at how you arrived at them?”
  • “That seems like a big step forward to me. How do you see it?” Client: “Yeah, that was massive!” Coach: “Would it be good to talk about how you did that?”
  • “You’ve just mentioned how you …  maybe it would be a good idea to find out what your learning is from this?”
  • “So you did… and .. and… would you like to explore a bit around how you managed to get all of this done?”

I think my favorite quadrant is the “Client’s growth / Partnership” one, but I do plead guilty on “Coach’s joy / Partnership” and “Coach’s joy / Evaluation” every once in a while. I just can’t help being happy when my clients are successful and growing 🙂 .

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