The Inner Work of Leadership Coaches

January 04, 2020 10:24 AM | Lynn Levis (Administrator)

First published in Coaching World in August 2019 by the International Coaching Federation.

Leadership starts within. As leaders, we naturally and inevitably bring ourselves into our work. The same is true with leadership coaches: In order to serve and support leaders, coaches need to be able to access themselves in a way that they can use themselves as instruments.

A familiar scene comes to mind: Before an airplane takes off, the flight attendant reviews the safety instructions and informs you that, in the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will be available. “Be sure to put your own oxygen mask on first,” the flight attendant warns, “before trying to help others.”

In what ways can coaches put on their own oxygen masks so that they can better support leaders? What does this “inner work” really look like in practice, and how can coaches do it? Try this three-step process:

Step One: Pause

How many leaders truly take the time to pause? In today’s hyper-connected, always-on world, it’s certainly a difficult task. But the benefits abound: By integrating a “pause practice” throughout a busy day, leaders create the space to be more attentive and productive when they return to work.

Leadership coaches have the same opportunity. Despite experiencing the same distractions, it is our chief responsibility as coaches to be truly present with our clients so that we can support them on their growth journeys. What might this look like for you as a coach? Perhaps it means taking three deep breaths before a coaching call. Maybe it’s a slow, mindful walk around the block before going into a coaching meeting. Maybe you meditate, do yoga, or run. In whatever way possible, choose to stop and still your mind, every day, for even just a moment. Any amount of time is a helpful start…for you, and your clients.

Step Two: Listen

We know that our job as coaches is built on the skill of listening to our clients. But what about listening to ourselves? This is especially helpful when integrated with those moments of pause. When you quiet your mind, what do you hear? What ideas pop up? What insights do you have? What do you learn about yourself?

By modeling a sense of curiosity about your inner self, you demonstrate to your clients the power of this type of learning. As coaches, we know that silence is a powerful tool, one that often leads our clients to their own insights and aha! moments, in part because they were given the time and space to bring them to the surface themselves. Give yourself this same gift, and you will find you gain similar insights…as long as you are truly listening.

Step Three: Connect

Every coach’s inner work is a little different because we are all different people, and that’s part of the work itself: connecting to the unique gifts you bring to your role as a leadership coach and embodying them in a way that is authentic to you.

We often think about connection as an external act, but in this process, think of it is an internal one. Ask yourself: What is true for me? What is important in this scenario? How can I bring my inner beliefs and values to the surface here? When you make the time to pause and create the space to listen, the act of connecting to your inner self becomes easier. Over time and with practice, anchoring yourself in those beliefs and values will give you a much deeper capacity for self-expression…which is a wonderful thing for us as coaches to model for our clients.

In the end, the process of inner work is about staying true to your intentions as a leadership coach. During tough conversations or challenging coaching sessions, it can feel easier to acquiesce to the situation at hand. Though it may seem more difficult, choosing to lean into the inner work will yield greater returns in the long-run. So pause and be present, listen deeply and take time to reflect, and engage in a way that is true to yourself and your coaching philosophy. There is no better way to serve today’s leaders.

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