Yesterday, I sat down with another coach to assist her with her coaching practice. In our profession, this is called ‘supervision’. Psychologists, nurses and other helping-professions also engage in supervision to develop and maintain their professional standards. [1]

We discussed the concept of success in coaching. What makes a coaching session successful? Previously, I’ve heard the following answers to that question:

  • “I am successful if I can get the coachee to think differently.”
  • “The coaching session is successful if I can get the client to have an insight.”

The problem I have with these answers is that it places the success of the coach in the hands of the coachee. As a coach, I can not control my coachee ‘generating insight’ or ‘thinking differently.’ That is up to them. All I can do is contribute to the creation of the conditions for that insight to occur.

Coaching is a collaborative endeavour. It is a two-way conversation, focused on the client, where meaning is shared and co-created based on the uncovered stories and narratives. Insight may happen, or it may not. But, I increase the chances if I help create the conditions for its emergence.

So I think a successful coaching session is one where I show up, ask questions I don’t know the answer to, and listen to the response from the coachee with as much empathy as possible. If I do what I can to create the best conditions required, if I control what I can control, and I trust in the process, then I believe I have been successful.

What might that mean for you as a leader in your organisation?

When you are having developmental conversations with your team, you can’t control them ‘getting it.’ But you can work to create the conditions for them to ‘get it.’ Ask them questions. Work through issues with them. Listen to them. Seek to understand.

The rest is up to them.

[1] I have mentioned my supervisor before here.