Coaching Is Always On | Should Coaching Require Permission?

By Toku

Why I’m a yes to coaching. 

In a lot of coaching groups that I’m a part of the agreement is that there’s no coaching without permission. And while I get the value and appropriateness of that agreement I don’t actually think it’s the most powerful way to play. In the groups I create and lead we have another way of playing called Coaching is always on, and here’s why I think it’s a better way to be in the work, creates more powerful containers, and helps people learn how to be leaders. 

1) Trust is the default – 

Very often when I ask people about why they don’t want to let someone coach them without permission and they’ll talk about how they haven’t established trust with people and I get that.

In my normal life trust needs to be built and grown in order for relationships to develop, but this shifts inside intentional containers. If the container is created in the right way I believe we can turn trust into a default. 

This is especially true inside a leadership container because as a leader I need to learn to generate and create trust even in situations where trust may not normally exist.

By practicing with trust as a default we can be more present about what gets in the way of trust and how vulnerable trust really is. 

I’ve also found that in groups of leaders people are more cautious at first anyway, they tend to hold back rather than lean in. So the challenge is usually how to get people to be more in than out and this agreement pushes on the right edge. 

2) There is gold in all feedback – 

Another reason people object to coaching being always on is that they don’t have confidence in other people’s feedback. They think people are assuming and projecting, and on some level they probably are. In fact people tend to project even more and become more solidified in their projections over time, especially the people who know you. It’s why often some of the best and most accurate feedback about who you are being comes from people who don’t know you. 

Putting that aside, even if the feedback is muddied up by people’s projections almost all feedback has some gold in it. I’ve received some really messy, projecty, feedback from people and I’ve still been able to sort through what it is that I can learn. In fact, if I’m training as a leader I need to master this skill, because very often as a leader the feedback I get is messy and unclear. To get the most out of the people I lead and train I need to be able to find the gold, sort through their projections, and let go of the judgments flying at me. This is why the practice of coaching always being on is so valuable to leaders because it puts the impetus on us to find the gold rather than on our peers to deliver pure gold. 

Learn to want more feedback even if it’s messy because more feedback means more opportunities to learn. 

3) It creates a brave vs safe space – 

A lot of spaces emphasize safety which I think is great, but safe spaces tend to relate to the people inside them as fragile. If you are really fragile because of trauma, injustice, or because the topics are edgy then yes an emphasis on safety is key. But in leadership spaces leaders take on the role of creating safety for themselves. So what’s called for is more bravery. 

Leaders are people who choose to relate to themselves as not fragile but resilient, they are saying I can take my licks and keep stepping up. It’s not that they’re not human and shouldn’t set limits, it’s just that they choose to relate to life from a place of power and responsibility. 

A brave space invites brave people to be inside of it, people who trust themselves and honor their limits. It shifts the responsibility for safety from the group to the individual. It means that not only do I work to understand the difference between danger and discomfort, it also asks other people in the space to feel into what each person can handle and what’s right for them. 

Which leads me to my next point. 

4) It puts the responsibility on the coach vs the client or recipient

The fear that arises for most people is about getting more coaching than they can handle which may happen. But part of the challenge of no coaching without permission is that it sets a clear gate to action. Which coaching is always on, the gate to action is more subtle. As a leader I’m always asking what someone can handle and the way I learn that is by giving people what I think they can take and them being responsible for the impact. 

Sometimes I’ll give too much, sometimes not enough, but the only way I can learn that really well is to be in the practice of it. By removing the gate you move from a switch to a dimmer. I have to learn the right level of feedback and coach in the moment. This coaching without a net demands WAY more attention from me in the space, both on what I can handle and what others can handle. It demands I create more and notice more rather than leaning back on the gate. 

Final Thoughts

It’s so easy to say “well they said yes to coaching” or “I’m not going to offer anything because I’m afraid about getting permission”. You can always seek extra permission when coaching.

Coaching is always about space but it’s on you to decide when to ask and when to offer. YES, you’ll make mistakes but the mistakes will help you learn. And in a space for leaders that’s what we want to emphasize over almost anything else. 


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