There is a nice tension between being prepared and being too prepared and each of us has a different ‘comfort’ level. It could be that you are about to run a workshop, an intervention, or meeting someone for the first time, or perhaps completing a task in your home. In his book “The Checklist Manifesto“, Atul Gawande takes on a journey through complexity where the use of checklists work to effect striking and immediate improvements (a fascinating book if you have not yet read it). And yet, thinking about what we do as professional coach and supervisor, we need to understand where the ‘checklist’ stops and intuition and clients agenda starts. Some of this is born out of our own security, and need for structure and I find that when supervising people this structure is the thing that sometimes gets in the way from incredible moments.

Being able to understand your own barometer of your unique need for structure then is important. Thinking about the task is important. For example, being equipped and ready in the mind for a coaching session is completely different from painting a living room … or is it?

The task of painting a living room requires you to think about the process of painting and the order for the application of sealer, primer and final coats. Similarly, in a coaching conversation, one needs to explore some of basic contracting first – “what is it that you want to think about today” or “where do you want to be at the end of the session” being two typical openers leading to a foray into wherever the coachee wishes to go. In painting a wall, we do this with a system – usually starting at one end and systematically moving through the wall length until complete. In coaching, we adopt models and adapt them to suit situations moving adeptly through various stages (think GROW, think RADAR etc…). We endeavour to challenge and hold a space for our clients to explore reflections to move ahead with improvement. So we have similarities.

The difference then between coaching and great coaching then I would argue is the ability to stray off piste and be comfortable about holding the clients agenda, utilising an eclectic range of constructions that can help the coachee get to their desired or freshly discovered outcome. To do this, there needs to be some structure to act as a framework, but perhaps a visible discovery in getting to the outcome. Building discovery is hard, it requires us to concentrate exponentially on the client, listening to body language and acting on nuances uttered. Each client is different and each situation presents fresh challenges for us to practice our craft. It needs us to work, it needs us to practice and be prepared. Finding the right level though, is a personal dilemma.