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Problem Solving or Possibility Seeing

By Michael Wright
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In coaching parlance, we have a phrase, “coach the client and not the problem.” This means that the client’s problem shouldn’t be the center of gravity in coaching, the client should be. Problems are finite, often relatively limited in scope and duration. Clients, however, are infinite sources of wisdom, depth and knowing. Life itself is at the center of the client.

As a new coach and trained attorney, I wanted very much to help clients resolve their issues. Who doesn’t at heart want to help people, to give them a sense of relief? This desire, unbeknownst to me, had me coaching problems, not clients.

To shift away from my problem-solving mentality, I needed to gain trust that, in stepping back from the problem, my work would still have value. So I tested out getting a presenting agenda from the client (the problem as they know it) and then diving for the deeper agenda (the client’s heart-based yearning, and the answer to the question: What’s important about this to you?). I then started to embrace the deeper agenda as the “North Star.” For example, instead of coaching the problem, “I don’t want to be so overcommitted and stressed,” we began exploring the client’s deeper agenda underneath for “a greater sense of calm, relaxation and space” or even for “greater connection with friends and loved ones.”

In the dance with the deeper yearning, the focus of coaching shifted. It became about the inner core, the heart, of the client. It was somewhat frightening to let go at first. But in making the shift, I could sense we were moving out of the old problem-centered paradigm and into a place we are not often as intimate with—our own deepest Self. It’s not often we sit with questions about our heart’s desires.

This intimacy makes us more conscious of our heart. By breathing life into their heart’s desires, I often noticed that client’s problems would simply fade out of view. The heart took center stage. Going deep in the heart rooted them in the Self. From there, the vision was no longer one of problems but of new realities and possibilities.


Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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