Self as Coach

I’m two weeks from digging into the meat of my coach certification and I’m studying like a madman, averaging close to two hours per night. I am recapturing the guilt of my student days as I decide (or not) to allow myself some leisure time. As I recall, I seemed to do a better job of indulging myself in my youth!

However, I am learning some things. A key theme of my readings is that a coach really can’t be a coach until he or she can coach themselves first.

This theme really stuck with me. It resonated. How is it that we would expect to be able to coach a person through the process of being self-aware, when personally we had not yet mastered self-awareness?

It's important to keep one's head when coaching
It’s important to keep one’s head when coaching

And then the concept is elevated yet another notch. Is it possible that we can use our self-awareness in the moment to capture feelings a client we are working with invokes in us? Can we then understand whether those feelings are caused by our own systems or by the interactions we have with our client? And when we know that, are we able to create a parallelism between what we are experiencing and whether others may be experiencing the same thing in their interactions with this person.

As a coach, discerning these things is important. For instance, if we believe that there is a parallelism between our feelings and those of others, we can pursue a line of inquiry such as “I notice that when you are under pressure, I have felt that you have disengaged from meaningful conversation with me. I’m wondering if others might have that same perception. Can we explore that in a bit more depth?” In the coaching literature this is referred to as “self as coach”, where we get to know ourselves well enough that we trust our feelings as a coaching tool (I’m certainly not there yet!).

I’ve been very aware of this lately, and watching for signs of this in everyday life. And I have found them.

Sometimes we see only the shadows of angels
Sometimes we see only the shadows of angels

We’ve had something like this very close to home lately. My wife Kendra is amazing in many ways, but she has two very special abilities. She is incredibly intuitive to the point of spookiness, and she is an empath … she seeks out pain in others. Both these abilities were fully deployed when a dear friend of Kendra’s began to experience some difficulties. Without going into the full details of the situation, her intuition led her to take her friend to the hospital. The 12+ hour ordeal at the hospital ended up with a difficult diagnosis of potentially both lung and brain cancer.

At this point the empath kicked in. Kendra has put herself into service for her friend, who really has little in the way of family to lean on. Kendra doesn’t do this in a small way … she is a rock for others. She is the communication hub for everyone to impart and learn information. She is in attendance at the hospital most days, and she is coordinating most of the business affairs that need to happen.

Her friend of course, is working through the stages of grief and at one point arrived at stage two: anger. It was hard for Kendra. Here she was doing her best for her friend and her friend was angry at her for what she did and what she didn’t do. It didn’t feel good. As an empath she wants to take away pain, not give it. So she would bring the experience home, and defend herself, and express herself, and wonder about the events of the day. Much reflection later, some truths would become evident for Kendra.

But they are there nonetheless
But they are there nonetheless

First of which is that she fears for her friend. And then the self as coach model kicks in. If Kendra is afraid for her friend, isn’t it likely that her friend is afraid for herself? And Kendra can then take it to a further stage of self-awareness and ask “if I was afraid for myself, might I express that in anger?” And in understanding that parallelism, she can then return to empathy and absorb the anger with the pain, knowing that they are the same.

How often does something like this play out for us and we miss it? Think of when any particular emotion hits you. Happy/sad, elation/depression, gratitude/anger. Do we think of why we are feeling that emotion? Do we just think of what that person made us feel? Or do we think of the person or event (which certainly involved others) that stimulated the emotion and what might have been in action there? Do we then go further and interpret our feelings within that scenario to understand how they may be of use to others?

As a leader, this is a new critical learning for me. It begs me to pause on every feeling. To understand its roots and to reflect on its origin. Then, where appropriate, to use my understanding of my feelings to the benefit of others. So far it is an interesting exercise. The tricky part is to be able to do all this in a moment. To run through the stages …

You make me feel..

When you say that, I feel …

When you say that, how do you feel? …

If I feel that, do others feel the same? …

More practice is definitely required!!!

How about you? Have you any experience in this type of model? Any tricks to share? Any interesting stories where you have seen this at work?

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

6 thoughts on “Self as Coach

  1. This all sounds amazing Ian! I have a dear friend whom I love like a sister and have known forever. There are times when I begin to doubt myself or become sad or angry because of something she says. At times I wonder if she invokes this feeling in her family as well and I feel sorry for them. (I’m probably feeling sorry for myself too) Other times, I think both she and I do it, we let some things slide over time to the point where we are hurt or angry and then just blow, all because we think we’re protecting the other from hurt at the time. What you write about above takes it even further. I think I see it more clearly when I’m not involved (observing others) and have been able to walk it through the steps you mentioned. But not so much when I’m involved. I will try to be more aware the next time it happens! Facinating stuff Ian!

  2. I have been reading about non-violent communication, which is similar to what you describe, in the hope that it will help me deal with angry people. NVC teaches you not to accuse,or be judgmental, to use ‘I’ statements and not ‘you’ statements, and speak in terms of your own needs and feelings. So instead of saying ‘You are so critical and angry and expect too much of me’, you say ‘I understand this may be disappointing, however I feel overwhelmed and need some more time to finish the report if I am to do it to the best of my abilities’ (etc)
    In terms of putting this into practice and especially dealing with “angry” personalities, before, I used to act defensively and this never worked and more often made me feel bad about myself. Turning it around by speaking in terms of my own feelings and needs, does in fact diffuse their anger. This is because, as in the example above, I have taken ownership of the ‘issue’ without agreeing that it is ‘problem’ and I have subtly side-stepped any judgement into the other person’s character which after-all is their problem, not mine. The BIG problem is knowing how to deal with these issues in advance, as each one is different from the last. This is not ever easy.

    I am fascinated by your course. I like your idea of firstly being a self-coach.

  3. I love this stuff, Ian. When I think about the pillars of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, relationship management), it all begins with recognizing what’s going on for us inside. Our emotions have important information for us–they really are drivers for our behavior. One strategy I’ve taught when doing trainings on conflict engagement follows: First, Practice self-awareness. Notice your own physical cues to your emotions. Learn what “hooks you”–what are your hot buttons? A useful source:
    Second, Identify your feelings. Develop a more extensive vocabulary; be aware of levels and intensities and look for undercurrents of emotion. Name your emotion.
    Third, Accept responsibility for your feeling(s). Search for the internal source of your feelings (i.e., your expectations, needs, desires, hopes, beliefs, values, etc.)
    Four, Determine an effective response. Reflect: Can I raise this in a way that others can hear right now? If so, develop an “owning of feelings” statement using this formula: “I’m feeling ____ because I ____”.
    The critical part of this formula is creating a “because I” expression of understanding of the internal source of the feeling.
    So, it might sound like: “I’m feeling disappointed because I had an expectation we would be finished with this by now.”

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