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Article: Artistry in Coaching by Lynne de Lay

Article:  Artistry in Coaching

The Tapestry of Art and Science

by Lynne de lay

For years, coaching has emphasised tools, techniques, competencies, and models. Coaching schools, universities, and consultancies stress these elements because they’re essential to develop as coaches. They provide a firm foundation for continued growth and a thread of consistency across the discipline. We might call this approach the “science of coaching”. Could we enhance the impact of coaching by adding artistry to coaching?

If competency is the language of the “head”, art is the language of the heart; some might even say the soul. Art “moves us”; it touches us. Great art evokes feelings or emotions in us. Feelings are the language of the soul and have great power. We all have known artists whose artistry draws people to them like a magnet. They speak to our heart.

What does artistry offer coaching?

Artists create using different media. A writer creates using words and a painter, with his paints, for example. Performing artists, like dancers and singers, create using their body as their means of expression.  An artist’s ability to gracefully express their art during a performance demands years of hard-work, discipline, and attention to technique. Yet artists transcend technique when they engage their “whole being” – their unique heart, mind, body, and style. In doing so, their distinctive artistry engages us personally. We are transfixed.

Although not a perfect metaphor, coaching can be compared to the performing arts. As in performing arts, the means of expression is the coach herself – her whole being – her unique heart, mind, and body. “We coach from who we are” (1) with our unique values, strengths, insights, education, experience and ways of doing things. This is our real gift to our clients. We may have spent years developing tools and techniques but it is the weaving of our coaching knowledge and techniques expressed through our unique “whole being” that “moves clients”. In our artistry, we become fully present to them; we touch heart to heart.

To use our whole being in our work, like performing artists, we need to expand and fine-tune our ability to be more self-aware, client-aware, and aware of “what’s happening “in our interactions with our client and in the client’s system. We need to become more consciously competent “in the moment”.  Coaching moments offer some of the greatest opportunity for learning and change.   There is a paradox in artistry, however, because to show up “fully present” also means to show up “empty” at the same time. Artistry requires that we surrender our control, be open, knowing nothing, and become unattached to the outcome (2)

Why focus on artistry now?

In following coaching social media sites, workshop offerings, and recent books, you may have noticed an increase in discussions around Presence, Mindfulness, and Energy, to name just a few.  All three of these speak to the need to slow down, focus, and step back.

A new book published in May 2012 suggests a future scenario that will stretch all of us to slow down, step back and focus. The book, Leaders Make the Future: Ten Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World (3), written by Bob Johanson, a Distinguished Fellow with the Institute of the Future, proposes that increasingly we live in a time of accelerating and disruptive change and that our future will be characterised by even more volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – called VUCA.  If true, maintaining our own clarity in the face of increasing uncertainty and ambiguity (and helping our clients do the same), creating our own positive vision in the face of increasing fears generated by on-going volatility, and maintaining our own agility and resilience in the face of accelerating speed and need for action will challenge us as coaches to be able to “hold” the anxiety and fear that may emerge from this scenario.

To the extent this future scenario emerges, I believe it argues for taking a deeper “inward journey” for our own clarity (and helping our clients do the same); an inward journey for our own authentic voice to communicate; for our own positive vision that empowers us; and our own thoughtful and compassionate actions that keep us moving forward. The future, which arguably may be now, may demand that we, as coaches, prioritize more time to develop “our whole being”.

Developing artistry as a coach

There are several ways for coaches to develop their whole being. I will mention only one: Coach Supervision. In coach supervision, the supervisor focuses on “the coach”. A supervisor might encourage the coach to consider asking himself questions like: What kind of artist am I? What are my unique values, gifts, talents and experience? How do these play out in my coaching?  What do I evoke in my clients? How can I become more consciously competent “in the moment”? Become more truly present?

Coach supervision, for some coaches, also evokes a sense of vulnerability and they resist supervision. Unfortunately, the term still conjures up images of hierarchy and “the boss”. Coaches who use supervision regularly understand this is not the case. It takes courage to confront our own sense of “perceived vulnerability.” It can feel like an uncomfortable journey into the unknown – and it is – but the learning lies in the discomfort. By choosing the right coach supervisor for YOU, however, the journey delivers professional stimulation, personal satisfaction, and the deepening of your work.

As a coach supervisor, coaches share with me that what they find the most valuable in supervision is the professional and confidential space to discuss their deeper questions with a warm, open, non-judgmental supervisor who is trained to properly engage with them. We explore together their values, beliefs, “ways of doing things”, and coaching relationships – how they can integrate their artistic self with their professional self. They become more self and other “aware”. Coaches mention feeling re-sourced, more creative and aligned with their work. They are more confident and resilient. Ultimately, they gracefully dance with their clients while having more fun and impact.

1)    Quote from Edna Murdoch, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Coaching Supervision Academy (CSA), London, England, an ICF accredited program.

2)    For more explanation of “empty”, see Presence, by Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer, et al, Doubleday, 2004, New York, pp. 93-104

3)    Leaders make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World, Bob Johansen, Berrett – Koeler Publishers, San Francisco, CA, 2012

Lynne de Lay: