As an external coach, you interact with your clients on a twice-monthly basis – or at best a weekly basis. Lots of ground is covered by your client in between sessions as they use the skills and resources available to them to meet their daily challenges. The internal coach, on the other hand, is part of their client’s daily life, right alongside their clients. They “live with their mess.”
In his interview for my book about internal coaching, Vernon Stinebaker observed that when an external coach is brought in, they do their work and then leave. The internal coach, on the other hand, does their work and stays, because they are part of the system. They live (and coach) in the mess that they are making.
He continued, “I think that deeper understanding of values and culture that comes from living in the mess is key to help build strong values that will help the organization stick together in times of extreme turbulence.”
Viktor Glinka also commented on the benefits of living with your mess as an internal coach, noting that one of the advantages is having more connections with your clients because you see them every day; you see their growth. Whereas when you’re an external coach, you don’t know what is going on between sessions, in fact, external coaches are often encouraged to forget about their clients in between sessions. Internal coaches rarely have this luxury.
Change is not a straight line
Change is not a straight line moving from where you are currently to where you want to be. Instead, change is a series of twists and turns, moving forward, backward, and laterally on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. At any one of these twists and turns, our clients can stall, give up, default to previous behaviors, or become overwhelmed. Internal coaches, because they are living in the mess, are present at any of these points.
It is absolutely critical for the internal coach to remember that they can empower or disempower the client at any of these moments. The masterful coach learns to discern when to step in and when to stay out.
A few questions for the internal coach to ask themselves at these critical moments include:
- Whose need am I responding to at this moment? Mine? Theirs?
- What does the organization/system need from me right now?
- How else might I respond?
- Who else can respond?
- What’s at stake for me right now?
- When is it best for me to step in?
Additional questions to consider:
- Regarding the mess you are currently working in, what is one contribution that you can make because you are in the mess?
- What are the signs and signals that you need resources and support from someone not living in the mess?