Being a 'Good-Enough' Coach is the Best that we can Be...

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Rob Thompson
Coach, United Kingdom

Being a 'Good-Enough' Coach is the Best that we can Be...

Working as coaches we detect and explore the patterns which reveal pictures of a client's inner landscape a window to their 'inner-selves' perhaps? To contain that narrative, we explore our own relationships with the content at some level referencing our inner-selves to find meaning and feeling. Sometimes this is conscious thinking about similar issues in our own lives and how they resonate with our own attitudes and beliefs.

Working with one school leader recently, it became clear that his beliefs towards the academic potential of students from disadvantaged backgrounds was very different to that of students from more affluent families. This counter-resonated with my own beliefs and I experienced a strong somatic response. I considered the position of the school leader. He was under pressure to improve exam results, student behaviour was becoming difficult to manage, staff absences were the highest they had ever been whilst responding to the CoVID pandemic.

Afterwards, I thought about how being a parent had clear parallels with what happened in the coaching session. Winnicott's (1958) concept of the 'good enough mother' came to mind and with it the need to be a 'good-enough coach'. He described how from the moment that babies are born, they are immersed in the relationship with the mother. In the ongoing relationship, the anxieties or feelings a child cannot manage are projected towards the mother (Klein 1923). She introjects such feelings, contains them and returns them in a more manageable form and with new meaning. She contains her own anger, shame and fears as she empathises with the child. As the child encounters a new relationship between mother and father, she sees herself as an independent entity. Parents adopt roles over time which increase levels of independence. Periods of frustration are useful to the child to adapt to different circumstances. If a mother's complete commitment to baby's needs doesn't decrease, then the child's sense of a real external world is distorted. The illusion that expressing a need always results in immediate caring does not allow the child to experience a world which does not always conform to her needs.

In my coaching encounter I contained the emotions and perspectives of the coachee. In re-projecting these experiences, I created the conditions for the coachee to perceive a new reality. In this case, discussing the pressures he was under allowed him to explain that his frustration was with a system that demanded fast results and that this was being expressed as distorted attitudes towards groups of students. As I 'bore-witness' to this re-narration, the coachee created new directions for supporting his team to work with these students. By acting in 'third position', I used his experiences to challenge him to re-imagine what could be done, rather than being bogged down in the present.

Being a 'good-enough coach' is a complex balance of listening, containing, interpreting and externalising. In Western's (2012) Paternal-maternal-paternal (PMP) model for coaching, paternal and maternal descriptors are metaphors for any adult in either parenting or coaching scenarios:
- The maternal role involves the importance of relationship, listening, containment and reframing.
- Paternal roles involve engaging the client with the external world to address the issues and put them to work. This challenges clients to transfer learning into new actions or behaviours. Otherwise as coaches we collude, and relationships become too therapeutic. This ultimately serves no purpose as the status quo is retained.
⇨ Do you view your own coaching in this 'good enough' way?

Klein, M. (1923). The Development of a Child. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 4, 419-474
Western, S. (2012). Coaching and Mentoring: A Critical Text (1st ed). SAGE Publications Ltd.
Winnicott, D.W. (1958). Collected Papers. Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis, London: Tavistock Publications.


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