For any good coach or mentor
. . . establishing an effective coaching and mentoring relationship doesn’t happen by magic. Neither will it look the same for every client you work with.
While there are some general principles and good practice it is wise to adhere to, each one of your client’s circumstances will be different. Clearly in establishing an effective coaching and mentoring relationship you need to take account of the individual context.
And this is equally true whether you are coaching in a more formal and clearly defined setting or coaching and mentoring on a day to day basis, perhaps in a managerial context. In the latter case the words you use and the depth of the contracting may well be different but the principles of openness, transparency and honesty required to establish a good relationship are clearly still crucial if you are to optimise the learning from the coaching or mentoring experience.
Taking time to agree
. . . or contract, with your client thoroughly and appropriately right at the beginning of your relationship is essential to success. In my experience, as a coaching supervisor and developer of coaches, when things go wrong in the relationship it can be traced back to an omission or lack of clarity about the process.
When there is more than one person involved, for example when the work is being commissioned by an organisation rather than the individual, there is even more room for misunderstanding. Taking the time and effort to establish a clear and agreed contract will repay all the effort in terms of your time and, more importantly, in terms of the effectiveness of your coaching and mentoring practice.
Most coaching and mentoring books devote time to identifying what you need to keep in mind at the start of your relationship with your client and some provide helpful lists of things to remember. These include, as you would expect, practical considerations as well as often some guidance on how to structure your coaching sessions.
Agreeing how you are going to work with a client
. . . can seem very straight forward at a practical level and, while lists can be a good place to start for those who find them helpful, there is a risk that they can distract you from seeing the wood for the trees. It is very easy to be seduced into focusing too quickly on the detail before you have scoped the territory then finding yourself advertently heading off in the wrong direction. How many times has that been a focus of attention for your coaching when working with your client? Yet we often forget to apply the same learning to ourselves.
What is most crucial, for the establishment of an effective coaching and mentoring relationship, is for there to be a detailed understanding as well as joint ownership of the purpose of the coaching and the principles that are going to underpin it. It is these that should drive your practice rather than the logistics of the process. Your role, as the coach or mentor, is to provide that safe and secure place within which learning can occur. This means ensuring that practice and procedure are shaped after purpose has been agreed.
As an example . . .
It is very easy to agree with your client where you are going to meet for your sessions. However, this might look very different after you have had a conversation with your client about what they want to achieve through the coaching or mentoring sessions. Meeting in their office, which may have been the client’s original thinking, might be the antithesis of what needs to happen to secure the necessary conditions for optimising their coaching and mentoring experience.
The timing of when to undertake the different parts of the contracting process is also worth spending time thinking about. Again this may be different from client to client.
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