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Becoming more aware…

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ICF Blog May 20/16

As coaches, we all have certain competencies that are of significant importance to us. One of my favorites is from ICF Core Competency 8: “The coach helps clients to discover for themselves the new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, emotions, moods, etc. that strengthen their ability to take action and achieve what is important to them.” (emphasis mine)

What I have learned is that this essential competency is even more important for coaches.

We want our clients “to discover for themselves…” In other words, we want them to become “aware of.” Awareness is powerful. It is an ability to observe how we think, believe and act—and then to see (or be aware of) the consequences of these thoughts, beliefs and actions as they happen. In real time. It is a practice of slowing down our thoughts long enough to experience them from a different point of view, almost as if we are watching ourselves as we react in the moment. With this new perspective, we begin to notice, in order to discover what is stopping us from moving forward, what is getting in the way.

Working with the coach, the client will be asked such powerful questions as: “What comes up for you when you consider asking your boss for a raise?” “What obstacle(s) are you facing?” and “What are your options?” Answers to this kind of question create a new awareness. As a result, clients begin to break away from the restrictions of their habitual thoughts, feelings and emotional patterns. Coaches encourage their clients to use this new discovery, this new “consciousness,” to create fresh pathways forward. Awareness creates choices and change. It allows the client to work on removing obstacles to their success.

But what of the coach’s capacity for awareness?

Over the past few years, it has become increasingly apparent that the coaching relationship is not only about increasing awareness in the client or helping them “discover for themselves” new thoughts and perceptions. It is about how we, as coaches, must devote a considerable effort to increasing our own self-awareness, our own discoveries about ourselves. We need to work constantly on creating a greater consciousness of what is going on with us during the coaching process. Just as the coach may ask the client questions that lead to liberating discoveries, the coach may also ask themselves: What is this stumbling block I encounter each time I have a client with this same issue? What will help me communicate more clearly with my client? What is it about my coaching style that I can improve in order to avoid hitting this same wall?

Case in point: one of the hurdles to increasing our self-awareness is our ego. In fact, coach supervisors and mentors often notice that one of the significant obstacles faced by new coaches is just that: ego. The self-talk begins. Am I good enough? Does the client like me? The ego needs to know if the clients are impressed with the coach’s skills or if they think the coach is attractive, intelligent or talented. Ego may feed off potential insecurities of an inexperienced coach as they start their career. It can sneak up on us when we are not looking!

But, as we know, the ego can only survive in the past (nourishing our worries, regrets, guilt, blame) or the future (creating expectations, anxiety) as it distracts us from the “now”—where awareness thrives. We must ask ourselves: Am I truly centered on my client and not on myself?

Being aware and in the moment allows us to avoid the ego’s distractions and remain focused on what is happening with the client. It is the client’s agenda that is front and center, and not the coach’s thoughts about what is best for the client. We are fully present, allowing the other person to just be who they are. Our own thoughts, emotions and beliefs are brushed away as is the ego’s need to criticize or judge, abandoning ourselves to what is happening. This is a pure example of “letting whatever happens be OK.”

Along with powerful questions, a supervisor or mentor coach may decide to suggest techniques such as mindfulness, meditation or yoga to new coaches. These resources are powerful ways to improve their capacity to be fully present, to get beyond the ego’s interference.

The opportunities to grow as a coach are endless if we are open to ourselves, our clients and the potential of an ever-increasing effectiveness as professionals. Be continually open to “the new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions” that will become a permanent item on the coach’s self-awareness or AQ checklist.


Michel Lavoie, PCC (ICF Quebec Chapter), has a post-graduate degree in Communications, an M.A. in Philosophy, and an M.A. in Educational Psychology. He became a personal coach in 2003 after a distinguished career in public broadcasting in Canada. Michel has trained coaches at Coaching de Gestion Inc. and mentors graduating students in the Coaching Program at Concordia University, Montréal. He recently published a book on self-coaching, Coaching Unleashed. For more information, please visit

Written by Michel

June 10th, 2016 at 10:12 am

Coaching Retirees

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Coaching retirees is about coaching people in transition, perhaps one of the last important transitions in a person’s life. It is important that it be done successfully.

In the coming years, the demographic bulge of baby boomers will be retiring en mass: changing tires …re-tiring as it were! This is an excellent opportunity for coaches.

The main issues for a person considering retirement are:

 The financial issue is a key one of course. It is not satisfying lacking resources at this point in life. Planning is key.
 Ending or continuing as a professional or career person; if I continue, on what basis?
 Time management issues. You are not driven by anyone else’s agenda anymore; you set the agenda from now on. Some people are not comfortable with this new responsibility.
 What will I do during my retirement years, what’s the vision, what’s the plan? It is a good idea to begin planning this new phase while still in the professional phase, the same way financial planning should begin before retirement.
 Becoming mindful of a new ‘identity’. The more one’s identity is tied up in his or her work and career, the more challenging the transitional phase will be. The rituals and routines surrounding one’s professional life will begin changing. Habits, schedules, contacts will come to an end, sometimes abruptly. This psychological transition takes energy and it is worth doing it thoroughly. Take the time to experience and to integrate the three facets of a transitional period:
1. An ending, what some people call the mourning phase or the letting go phase.
2. The closing the gap phase, the crossing of the Rubicon phase: a feeling of disorganization but also a time for the creation of new habits, beliefs, and ideas.
3. The beginning of a new phase, (construction, invention).

Retirement represents the last major transition in a person’s life. It is a time for clients to realize personal passions, dreams, bucket lists. What they decide to do will reflect their personality, just like it did during their professional years. Outdoor people will probably take up outdoor activities, travel, exploration, living in the country. Those who love sports will get to play golf four times a week if they wish or take up a new sport. The sky is the limit really. Retirees start businesses, take up painting, go back to university, start gardening, meditation or cooking classes. They spend more time with their children, grandchildren and friends. They make new friends. Some spend more time giving back: working with other less fortunate seniors, children, or perhaps overseas in developing countries. There are many possibilities. Some people use their expertise to help others by joining a board of directors, acting as a consultant with young startup companies, teaching in less developed neighborhoods of the city.
As a transition coach, pre-retirees make interesting and challenging clients. A massive number of Boomers will retire in the next five years. This is definitely a growing field for coaches. Coaches can accompany their mature clients as they get in touch with their values and passions, helping them to open their minds to new possibilities. Helping them design their dream life!

Written by Michel

December 17th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Coaching and Positive Psychology

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Positive Psychology: A breath of fresh air…

Carol Kauffman is an Assistant Clinical Professor and Co-Founder and Director of the Coaching and Positive Psychology Initiative at Harvard Medical School.  Ms. Kauffman elaborated upon some highlights of Positive Psychology in a dynamic presentation made to coaches attending the Montreal ICF conference last November in Montreal. Dr. Kauffman spoke of Positive Psychology as ‘the science at the heart of coaching.’

Known as the scientific study of happiness, Positive Psychology is an emerging field. The movement was founded some years ago by Martin Seligman, a past president of the powerful American Psychological Association. The goal of Positive Psychology is to identify and maximize the use of an individual’s positive psychological traits rather than improving or correcting any negative flaws. Positive Psychology speaks of mental health rather than mental illness. Whereas the traditional psychological paradigm focused on pathology, victimology and mental illness, Seligman’s contribution (some call it a revolution) was to begin to identify characteristics and strategies of individuals with positive outlooks.

Seligman affirmed a person’s power of choice and capacity to make positive decisions in life. Not only did he manage to open up Psychology to new possibilities, more importantly, he based his findings firmly on the basis of scientific research. By doing so, he challenged the establishment and created a whole new way of understanding people. He literally changed the way many people view Psychology. Seligman’s questions:

    Can there be a psychological science that is about the best things in life?
    Can there be a classification of the strengths and virtues that make life worth living?
    Can parents and teachers use this science to raise strong, resilient children ready to take their place in a world in which more opportunities for fulfillment are available?
    Can adults teach themselves better ways to happiness and fulfillment? (Authentic Happiness, p. 29).

His answer to all these questions was a resounding, yes!

The relevance of this emerging science to professional Coaching is obvious.  Positive Psychology provides a robust theoretical and empirical base for the practice of life and executive coaching. The goal of any coach is to help people become aware of and live out their full potential. Not only can such a body of knowledge supply a scientific underpinning, but it provides a much needed methodology and knowledge coaches can use to help individuals and to inspire them to focus on their strengths, thus living out their potential. By integrating and applying the principles and the teachings of Positive Psychology in their practices, coaches can better motivate, manage and empower their clients to set and meet their personal goals and to live happier and more fulfilling lives.

One of the main approaches consists of assessing, developing and utilizing clients’ individual character strengths. As attention is shifted away from pathology and pain (the traditional medical model focused mostly on pathology) and directed to the strengths, vision and dreams of the individual, the coach can then work with his clients to find out what ‘energizes and pulls people forward rather than what causes and drives pain and failure’. The choice then is to ‘follow this trail of dreams’ during the whole coaching process.

For the coaches wanting to learn more about this fascinating area of research and who wish to develop practical skills and insight on the subject of Positive Psychology, a good place to begin is Martin E.P. Seligman’s best-selling book ‘Authentic Happiness.’ (ISBN 0-7432-2297-0).

Written by Michel

April 7th, 2009 at 2:37 pm

“Solution talk creates solutions.” (Steve de Shazer)

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I attended a very interesting conference last evening given by Danielle Lapointe, a business coach who lives in la Ville de Québec.
Based on the work of a group of psychologists residing in the mid-west of the United-States, their philosophy stresses the fact that the client is the expert in his life and profession and that he possesses all the necessary tools to be competent and to succeed. Called Constructivism, this coaching trend is future-looking and stresses exploring the ‘possibilities’ instead of trying to ‘problem-solve’. “Problem talk creates problems; solution talk creates solutions.” In large, the Constructivist movement is inspired by developments in NLP. Where does the coach fit in? He is the partner who co-creates solutions with his client instead of trying to resolve and ‘fix’ problems. Milton Erickson had developed an approach which taught that the ideal way to help a client is to build on the ressources by helping ‘to direct him towards his own future’. Concretly, it is the difference between a coach carrying someone on his own shoulders (very uncomfortable for both parties!) as opposed to actually helping the client to discover where he wants to go and to follow him as he brings us there. The coach then acts as a person who leads his client ‘from behind’.

Problems drag us down or keep us in the past. Dreams and an approach based of discovering solutions propulse us towards the future and get us out of our boxes, our comfort zones, and also out of our limiting behaviors. When we create objectives, we begin creating a new reality.

A coach can help a client change his perspectives and his perceptions. He can assist the client in opening that space in his mind and heart in order to ‘create new possibilities and solutions.’

Written by Michel

January 19th, 2007 at 12:20 pm

Change beliefs to shed pounds!

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Benoit Jobin loves to cook and eat and he has gained a lot of weight over time. Happily, with the help of a weight loss group, he has lost a lot of the accumulated kilograms.

The sad news is that diets alone never work. My own life experience and my work with my clients have convinced me of this. Diets can help a person to lose weight temporarily. However, the kilograms will inevitably return if an individual doesn’t deal with other issues in his life.

What does work is making a major change in limiting beliefs. Humans are beautifully complex beings. The physical, emotional and mental energies are all connected. A person cannot just change one element in his life (e.g. the control of food intake) with the expectation of making a lasting lifestyle change. Emotional states affect appetite and behavior; and our physical health affects our emotional. What we eat and what we do affect both. Unfortunately, there is a tendency today to compartmentalize and to separate these energies. A person just can’t deal with his emotions or exercise regularly or eat in a healthy way. All three energies must be maintained simultaneously. Good eating habits, exercise and healthy emotions coupled with an empowering belief system must co-exist. Nothing else will work. That’s why we speak of having to decide to make a commitment to profound and lasting change in order to succeed. Individuals succeed in the battle of the bulge when they decide once and for all to make changes in three areas of their lives. This is the holistic approach.

The ideal approach for an individual seeking to find and maintain a healthy weight level is to partner and work with a coach who can assist him to explore and to discover what is lacking in his present approach. The key is to explore the road to a lasting and profound lifestyle change. We aren’t talking about major years spent in psychotherapy here. When a person “sees” and comes to understand that he can only maintain his healthy weight goals by choosing a holistic approach, then regular exercise, relaxation and maintaining healthy eating habits will become a truly satisfying way of life.With his coach, an individual can examine many areas of his life. Usually, a client will decide to choose new and empowering beliefs in order to accomplish his weight goals, replacing his old limiting negative beliefs.Since beliefs are self-fulfilling propheties, the client will make major breakthroughs when he learns to make new choices in life by choosing to create a whole new set of beliefs that will enable him to succeed!

Written by Michel

January 17th, 2007 at 6:05 pm

Procrastination- ‘to act or not to act’.

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At our very first session, a client (Robert-not his real name) informs me that he has been put on probation at work because of his unsatisfactory performance. “I’m a terrible procrastinator. I’ve always been like that but it seems that I have been getting worst in the last couple years. In fact, my supervisor told me that I had been passed over for a promotion because of this habit. In a way, I think my days are counted with this company. It scares the hell our of me because at 44, it won’t be easy to find another job that pays as well as this one. I don’t hate the work and I have made a lot of good friends in the company. And, if I get fired, how do I face my wife and family?”

During the session, I got him to describe what procrastination meant to him and what he got out of it (the positive intent or secondary gain behind the behavior). He wasn’t clear when he tried to answer the question. “I’ve tried to change my behavior in the past. I have made all kinds of resolutions.”

Procrastination isn’t an easy habit to kick because it always provides a secondary gain for the person. A secondary gain is a benefit one unconsciously gets from a particular behavior. But in this case, it is one that could eventually sabotage his career. With more dialogue and questioning, I tried to make Robert more aware the positive intention that was causing him to behave in this un-resourceful way. The goal was to create a small opening so that he could see what motivated him to adopt this behavior. Because our rapport had clicked from the beginning of our work together, he felt in confidence with his coach and this contributed to him being less defensive and willing to take a good look at himself.

“I think I am a procratinator because I have this thing with needing to do a perfect job in everything I undertake. When my boss asks me to prepare a report, I get it out eventually but I always have the feeling I could make it better or that my boss won’t like it. I can’t stand to face that. That really stresses me. What if he doesn’t like it? He won’t trust me with future mandates. I couldn’t live with that. It is like nothing I do is ever good enough.” His coach asks him if his boss has criticized him lately for his work. He say no. He rarely does. “I am my own worst enemy. I am always harder on myself than everyone else.”

“Procrastination is a coping mechanism to deal with internal anxiety resulting from one of these deeply embedded fears: fear of failure, of success, of losing control, of separation (losing another individual’s affection), or fear of attachment.” (Yuen and Burke, 2006)

So, how did Robert come to adopt procrastination as a favoured coping mechanism? It turns out that, in subsequent sessions, he came to better understand his behavior patterns. He fits the typical profile of a procrastinator. As it turns out, he is not very realistic in his time management. He procrastinates in some areas of his life but not in others. You could find him on the golf course punctually at 6 in the morning. No procrastination here.
“What would be a more productive behavior at work, asks his coach.” “What would happen if you duplicated the same state of mind at work that you bring to the golf course. “On the course, I only please myself. I don’t feel I have to please a boss.’ With introspection and more awareness, Robert realizes that he can work on his perfectionism. He can choose to adopt new behaviors that will cut him more slack where in counts, in his inner self. You don’t accomplish this in a short time span, but awareness is the first small step towards new, more productive and resourceful behaviors.

In a subsequent session, his coach asks him: “What could a couple goal-setting and time management courses do for you to help you confront and solve the problem?” “What other resourses (people and courses) could help you to be better organized in the future? “how would your boss react if you brought him a focused training plan that would help you acquire key tools that would make you a better employee?” “What other things could you do to improve your performance and to feel better in your job? How can I best support you in the coming weeks as you move forward?”

Robert began dealing with his issues systematically. Once he was aware of the problem, he could begin dealing with it, one small step at a time, in an orderly fashion. Once he understood that the positive intention behind his procrastinating behavior was really based on his fear of not pleasing his boss (who reminded him of his demanding father), he could work on changing his state of mind and confronting his work in a more realistic way. He stopped sabotaging himself. He stopped being so demanding on himself and was under much less stress at work. HR helped him get some short-term training and he even became an expert time manager in a short period of time. The last time his coach spoke with him, he had applied for a more senior post in his company. Robert is a changed man. He still has a tendency to procrastinate but he is able to talk about it and make fun of it. “What do you expect from a ‘perfect’ employee?…that’s right: perfectionism!”

Written by Michel

January 15th, 2007 at 6:06 pm

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