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‘Be A Sovereign Coach’ – Janet Harvey

This 4-part series of outstanding articles is taken from Choice Magazine, The Expert Series. CSA graduate, Janet Harvey ( writes originally and powerfully about use-of-self in our work.

Be A Sovereign Coach – 1

I am uncertain when it started, the voice in my head that asked the question, “What do I do that creates positive impact for my clients?” It’s a bit like a dream that keeps returning each night and I can’t quite remember the whole sequence and grasp the meaning. However, I am an innovator in my core and tenacious in exploring and understanding human consciousness. The question inspires me to reflect deeply, heighten awareness and invite a new relationship with my work. Like any curious adventurer, part of the pleasure is in sharing the discoveries and that is the purpose with this Expert Series contribution.

Most of my adult development, particularly in a professional setting focused on being smart, competent, prepared and adaptive in order to respond to the needs and wants of others – the boss, colleagues, customers and community. When I discovered coaching in the early 90’s I was startled to discover an approach 180 degrees opposite. If I had not had an early and extraordinary experience of applying coaching to a large-scale change initiative in an organization, I probably wouldn’t be here to write this article.

Now, thousands of hours of coaching experience later I am humbled every day by the magnificent breakthroughs I witness and attend with clients in my role as coach. Truthfully, this did not happen in the beginning. Clients made progress and reported satisfaction and I felt proud and inspired to do more and learn more. My thirst for understanding about what produces trust and intimacy for risk taking that unleashes client potential led to an important discovery. The key was and is within me.

The key is being ME – My Essence, being independent and in charge of the relationship I choose with the conditions of my life. This is a state of being sovereign. In choosing to be sovereign I act with integrity and response agility in every domain of my life. Perspective, action and ultimately beliefs and values are congruent and aligned. The more I inhabit my personal sovereignty, the more I perceive and invite my clients to do the same. The outcome is bold, evocative engagement with clients that allows for purposeful and effective coaching. In this four part series I invite you to be with the same question, “what do you do that creates positive impact for your clients?”

Allow an extra five or ten minutes after a client session to listen internally – or talk to yourself out loud if that feels more useful — seeking an answer to the question.
Notice, that paired with actions or behaviors, you discover a mindset with associated beliefs and maybe even values. The mindset you perceive is actually a state of being that is equally if not more important than the chosen actions. Jot some notes and, over time, review across clients to see patterns of choices you make.

What is unique to your way of being that motivates client choices most positively?

What actions as coach supported your client to generate breakthrough thinking and foster creativity?

These activities start to identify your current way of coaching and declaring this matters a lot as a starting point for learning. I will share my discoveries as options for development on the path toward personal mastery; choices for action and choices for being. Retain your own compass, experimenting with what resonates and ignites you.

Be A Sovereign Coach – 2

Looking back on my journey as a coach I notice that more effective outcomes with clients were a direct result of a path of self-development essential to expansion in professional excellence. Coaching Supervisor and co-founder of the Coaching Supervision Academy, Edna Murdoch says, “Who you are is how you coach.” Simple yet profound words that I experience as truth. To appreciate how I coach I must be disciplined to witness and fully embody the unique expression of humanity that is ME.

In order to be present and fully engaged with the breadth and depth of union available when transformative moments emerge for clients, coach practitioners must refine perceiving and curiosity skills. We continuously receive and make meaning of what a client expresses and yet, as most communication experts will share, less than 15% of what’s most important occurs through the words. Pay attention to what you do perceive and what you don’t by reviewing session recordings or better yet examining written transcripts. This practice establishes a baseline for a new breadth and depth of perceiving. Your inner coach perceives the 85% available beyond the words.

Strengthening your muscle for perceiving while simultaneously sustaining full presence with a client is a lifelong development process. Being intentional about your perceiving focus provokes generating new, more impactful habits. For example, if you consistently notice that you perceive ideas and overlook emotions, practice with using emotional language in the framing of questions. Practice this outside of coaching sessions, writing down emotional language you perceive while watching a movie or listening to music. Put your brain’s neuroplasticity to work and give your brain an activity through which to build a habit for emotional perceiving, or alternatively, any perceiving method that does not come naturally when you are engaged with clients.

Rather than practicing formulaic questions or focusing on being curious with just the right words, allow multi-dimensional perceiving to be your wellspring of a boldly evocative mindset for curiosity. Clients always express exactly what is required to open the pathway toward an emergent self-discovery. Surrender to creating awareness on behalf of the client, seeing into and on behalf of the essence of that person. With this approach, curiosity is sourced directly from what the client expresses. As coach, you are simply the delivery vehicle that stimulates deeper inquiry for the client.

Being a sovereign coach requires perceiving through a deeper, internal perspective that naturally is curious about another person and is response agile with each twist and turn a client chooses for exploring. When you are more committed to a client’s relationship with the underlying meaning that blocks getting what they want than in the information or your own understanding, your clients will accelerate gaining awareness of breakthrough thinking.

I offer one more practice I use outside of my coaching as an end of day reflection activity. Sometimes in a journal and always internally speaking out loud, I review my day. I start from the moment I wake up and review how I engaged as the day unfolds. My review is noticing what I paid most attention to and, what I became curious enough about to engage in relationship. In the quiet at the end of the day I then ask myself, what didn’t I pay attention to and what am I curious about myself, in that choice. The simple act of creating a question prepares me the next day to perceive the world with a wider lens.

Be A Sovereign Coach – 3

How many small meaningful moments occur with your clients when your breath catches, tears well up, laughter escapes spontaneously and reverence for inner beauty is discovered and reclaimed? Notice how aware you are of these moments and the degree to which you purposefully choose your coaching response. These are moments of reciprocal inspiration. When you notice what is happening internally in the moments just before will be highly informative about your way of perceiving. What is the pattern that occurs across clients just before a client moves beyond known and familiar insight into the surprise associated with the somatic response of the breath, tears or laughter? Answering this question provides practical data for practicing methods that expand the variety of your dimensions of perceiving.

Reciprocal inspiration was born as a description of what emerges in the field of exchange in any given session and over time. The great irony for me with everything that came before coaching is that for reciprocity to be present, I must surrender any choices in a session with a client that isn’t fully chosen on behalf of the client rather than myself. Witnessing breakthrough thinking and innate creativity organically and naturally express from clients, I realized a new state of being occurs through my work and that is Generative Wholeness™.

Those familiar with the dance of Tango will appreciate this as a metaphor. We definitely require two, fully engaged and contributing partners to dance the coaching tango. In fact the meaningful moments evoke an exchange of energy that can neither be predicted nor controlled. When we witness dancers who take our breath away, it is the electric, blissful experience in the exchange between the dancers that touches us. The same is true in a coaching exchange.
Reciprocal inspiration is created in a union between coach and client when neither is controlling, directing or analyzing choices. Both coach and client surrender to experiencing a holistic, multi-dimensional impact. For example, if a client speaks to an emotion we invite exploration for where that emotion is sensed in the body and perhaps what images or memories are stimulated. Building further, we invite the client to consider what capacity he or she currently possesses that was developed over time since that memory. Everything emerges as relevant, useful and vital for liberating potential and our job as coaches is to trust our client’s choice, focusing attention on the breadth and depth of clarity and alignment a client will allow.

Psychologist, Dr. Carl Jung helped us all understand that we are socialized in order to be effective, productive adults in our families and communities and then, to be ready to individuate by returning home to ourselves internally, claiming and living through our authentic self. While not everyone has this experience, the opportunity is present. The coach-client relationship process is the very best resource I have experienced for this journey toward individuation to be broadly available. The journey is one that liberates potential and affords the possibility for each person to contribute from full potency!

Ultimately I recognize a change in my experience of the coach-client relationship, as I perceive reciprocal inspiration occurring. I engage through a deeper trust in client wholeness, capacity and resourcefulness. Clients don’t need my expertise, my competence, my smarts or my adaptability. Clients crave my sovereignty. Clients expect for me, without necessarily knowing why, to create an environment that invites all of who they are to engage, explore and ultimately claim sovereignty in their own life.

I invite you to reflect on the words, whole, capable and resourceful, noticing the assumptions, biases and beliefs that influence how you choose to coach. Notice the reciprocity that occurs as you expand your self-trust and client trust.

Be A Sovereign Coach – 4

Your life journey matters deeply. Be conscious of how your history influences your current presence, your freedom to express from essence and your dynamic capacities to originate, create, learn and produce results – in others words to be in the state of being called Generative Wholeness™. It is only from this state, accessed from the inside that we stimulate breakthrough, artful coaching practice.

The heart of the matter for clients occurs when sustained change in behavior and choices moves a client toward a more desirable way of being, first in the context they bring to coaching and then ultimately in all areas of a person’s life. As coach practitioners we must allow this same journey for ourselves in order to engage with integrity and response agility as clients choose to pursue breakthrough thinking and creativity through our relationship.

Step by step you will illuminate blind spots in perceiving relationships of all kinds: self, family, workplace, social community, society as a whole and also the planet. Blind spots arise from invisible ways of thinking in the form of unconscious bias, learned motivation, adopted beliefs, developed personality and core essence. In the image of the iceberg, these elements are underneath the water line yet have a direct influence on what is our observed behavior and action, our habits of expression and choice that operate on auto pilot, and not always to our best advantage or contribution. As with the aperture of a camera lens we are capable to expand and contract our range of perception based upon our tolerance for replacing comfortable habits with the discomfort of exploring what is just outside of our awareness. This courageous listening within opens the doorway to greater consciousness and generativity.

In early parts of this series you practiced methods to refine your perceiving and stimulus for curiosity. These activities support you to surrender to client emergence more spontaneously. As you trust your capacity to self-author and embody a sovereign path you will inhabit your life more congruently. A quiet confidence results that shifts your focus of attention more fully toward an experience of your client, inviting and challenging the client to step ever more fully into who they are. Your congruence generates safety for your client. Your role modeling builds on that safety, and is an inherent invitation for clients to surrender habitual ways of being, communication and engaging so that a change in behavior occurs that will forward action toward what is more desirable.

Expanding perceiving skills maximizes potential of your inner coach while allowing for reciprocal inspiration that maximizes potential spontaneously in the exchange between coach and client. As you illuminate blind spots in your perceiving you will recognize when this is occurring for your client and be more compassionate and inviting because you know the reward from being sovereign. Your curiosity will be more evocative. In partnership with your clients you will heighten awareness for opportunities to change behavior. Trusting you ability to original, create, learn and produce results is reciprocal with clients, opening the doorway for client sovereignty to make choices that generate desired outcomes. Technical conscious competence in terms of coaching skills recedes into effective habit and allows flow and agility on behalf of the client to emerge as your primary focus of attention.
We cannot change what has been nor predict what will be. Yet we create in each moment and to do so consciously is being a sovereign human. Being a sovereign human, fuels our ease to be a sovereign coach and be useful for clients to foster a sustainable pathway for breakthrough experience and creativity.

Janet M. Harvey, ICF Master Certified Coach, Certified Mentor Coach, Accredited Coaching Supervisor (CSA), ICF Global Past President and ICF Foundation Board President, has 30 years of experience as both a corporate and entrepreneurial business executive. An early adopter for creating a coach-centered workplace, Janet has worked with global organizations and teams of leaders within to establish a generative, resilient and high performance culture through a coaching approach to leading and managing success. Janet Harvey brings her executive and entrepreneurial experience as CEO for inviteCHANGE, leaders in sustainable excellence through a signature transformative coaching and learning process for people, processes and systems. Clients and audiences around the globe speak of Janet as bold, curious, provocative, challenging, yet respectful and compassionate in her leadership roles.