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Being Before Doing. A Case for Coaching 'Who'

  March 8, 2021

Many of us became coaches because we wanted to significantly impact the lives of those around us. We noticed that we were gifted at helping others reach their potential and we made the decision to devote our careers to doing so.

To create lasting change in a client’s life, we must learn to coach the client, not their current circumstance. We must coach the client, not the content. We must learn how to coach the ‘who,’ not the ‘what’ if we want to facilitate sustainable change. 

The International Coach Federation’s PCC coaching markers underline this belief stating how a capable coach explores who the client is being in addition to what the client wants to achieve. Thus, clearly understanding the difference between ‘what’ and the ‘who’ is critical, as the change process is never solely a ‘what’ exercise. It is always the ‘who’ that transforms.

Example: The goal setting process.

Aside from ensuring that goals are SMART, we also want to look at whether the client’s goals are transformational in nature. This will help us test whether the goal is addressing content (surface level matters – the what) or if the goal is pointing at what mindsets may need to be developed to succeed (transformational – the who). If a discussion around goals only addresses what the client wants and what the client must do to have what they want, then we are missing an integral piece of what fuels the change process. 

We must ask the client to look at the internal shifts that would need to occur to achieve their ‘what.’ The bottom line is we want to coach the client not the content. We want to create change that will last beyond attaining their ‘what,’ and make keeping their ‘what’ sustainable. 

Clients often think that goal achievement is ‘do-have be.’ They need to do things to have what they want, and when they have it, then they will be ____ (fill in the blank). For many, the ‘do’ part can become unsustainable. Hence why diets and exercise commitments may collapse after a while. That is because do-have-be thinking targets surface level matters – the doing, the what – not the who. The who must change for the actions and results to follow and create lasting change. 

Example: Finding a soulmate.

Let us take an example of a goal I hear quite often. The client wants to find a soulmate – someone they describe as a good communicator, emotionally available/intelligent, loyal, honest, affectionate, and financially sound. The client sets out to ‘do’ what they believe will help them find that person – online dating with a well-written profile and professional headshots, asking friends if they know someone to introduce them to, going to places where like-minded people hang out, etc. They take these actions as they believe it will lead them toward attaining the relationship that they desire and that finding their soulmate will create happiness (they will ‘be’ happy).

Let us look at this differently for a moment. What if you asked this client to look at ‘who’ they must be to attract a soulmate of this depth and caliber with whom they can nurture a long-term commitment? We must ask the client to look at their beliefs, attitudes, and values, as these all inform their way of being. We must help the client identify the gap between who they are being now versus who they need to be to attract and be part of what they envisage as their ideal relationship. The gap is where the opportunity for transformational change lies. Asking, “Who do you have to be to create that? How does that person think and behave?” helps focus the client on the ‘who.’

By being the person, they want to attract (emotionally sound, communicative, confident, loyal, honest, affectionate, and financially sound), the client will begin doing things differently, which will allow them to ultimately have the things they most desire. And yes, the client simultaneously can perform the actions of online dating, networking, etc. 

We want to go beyond helping our client accomplish tasks (something your client most likely already knows how to do) and start challenging our clients to look at how they are showing up. When a client starts living in congruence with who they are capable of being instead of looking at what tasks they must tick off to find a soulmate, they start the process of deep change by thinking and behaving like the person who can achieve this goal.  

Zig Ziglar said, “The bottom line is that you’ve got to ‘be’ before you can ‘do,’ and ‘do’ before you can ‘have.’ It is about being the person you want to be and then doing what that person would do to have what they would have. To create the outcome and results you desire; you must perform the actions and exhibit the behaviors that lead to it and hold the mindset and awareness that support it.”

If we want to be agents of sustainable change in the lives of our clients, we must focus on who, not what. In this way, we can impact the client’s life forever.

Published in choice, the magazine of professional coach. Used with permission.
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Paulette RAO
Master Certified Coach

Paulette Rao, MCC, BCC is an executive coach, coach educator and author. As principal of True North Resources, Paulette helps leaders enhance their personal and team performance to achieve organizational objectives. Paulette’s coaching is informed by 28 years of experience as a senior leader in corporate America.



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