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The Coach and the Expert

The Coach and The Expert    Dr.  Barrett McBride

“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.”  Rumi

 I have a contingent of coach-clients who have played—or are continuing to play—an expert role in another occupation. For example, I supervise health and wellness coaches who have transitioned from clinician to coach. I supervise executive & leadership coaches who have transitioned from business leader or consultant to coach. Despite extensive training and years of experience as “coaches”, many continue to use their expertise as a first point of response to a client issue, rather than coaching. They are coming to me for supervision to address what they call the “reality” of coaching versus the “pure” vision of coaching that was at the core of their training. Their clients become more capable when coaches willingly share their subject matter expertise, they contend me. Yet, the words they heard repeatedly during coach training and experienced as trainees, continue to flow through their consciousness years later– that clients often have their own answers and are much more likely to succeed at an endeavor that is their idea.

As supervisors, we have several options for approaching sessions with these coaches. After much trial and error, I have come to view this scenario as an aspect of coach development–as well as supervisor development! As someone who believes whole-heartedly in the power of coaching, I often found myself initially in a parallel scenario with these clients – attempting to convince them of the viability of coaching based on my –gulp—coaching expertise. I quickly realized the negative effect this had on their development and our relationship. I have since moved to bringing full-spectrum curiosity to my engagements. By this I mean the belief that there is much to explore in every facet of a coach’s world in order to help the coach I am supervising in the moment discover the multiple elements impacting her/his current question. From this place, I have found the following four explorations especially helpful in supervising coaches who are weighing the value of expert vs. coach.

1) Energy – exploring the energy coaches feel when they are teaching/sharing knowledge versus when they are purely coaching. A relative low energy in coaching often opens up exploration of the factors that create the energy gap. This can be the need for external validation of being a subject matter expert, a relative lack of coaching tools versus knowledge tools, which often relates to the need for external validation that coaching works.   One coach described his energy as leaning forward when he is sharing his expertise and leaning back when he is coaching – he found in coaching he was trying to “get out of the way” and in sharing knowledge he was at the center of the process. This led to an exploration of the “center” of the process.

2) Trust – exploring trust that coaches have in the coaching process. Do they trust the process, yet feel some personal inadequacy or do they have some mistrust of the process. One coach, a former clinician, said she was having a very hard time finding the evidence in evidence based coaching, and a relatively easy time finding evidence of clinical interventions. This lead to an exploration of what evidence she would need to feel satisfied, and of the differences in behavioral sciences and physical sciences. This then led to an exploration of the medical model focused on diagnosing illness versus the coach approach of focusing on strengths. She ultimately concluded that as coaching is not medicine, it would be important for her to establish new parameters for measuring her trust.

3) The Field – exploring all facets of the field in the context of coaching practice, including the nature of the environment, industry, peers – both at work and socially–the way in which they establish new clients, and even family. Somewhat related to #2, exploring the field looks at the impact of all facets of the field on a coach’s philosophy of and mission related to coaching. In exploring the field with one coach, he realized that his doubts about coaching stemmed in part from competitive facets within his family.

4) Back to the Beginning – Retracing the reasons the coach initially chose to pursue coaching as a profession, their key learning points, and creating a timeline of significant landmarks since training and how they have impacted the coach’s experience of coaching. Then, further exploring the key landmarks from multiple perspectives.

In the end, not every coach/expert will release the role or personal significance of “expert” with clients. However, without exception, the clients I have supervised are very clear on the motivations for their choices, their key measures of achievement, and key influences on the choices they make.


Dr. Barrett McBride MCC CSA Supervisor