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Coach the Human, not the Culture - Part Three

  May 24, 2021

Mastering the Art and Science of Coaching

Masterful coaches believe in, and experience, the global-ness of being. I’m not invested in coaches coaching to different cultural assumptions. This is limited thinking that is not based on true connection. This is limited thinking based on limited  clients and limited coaching hours.

A typical example I hear again and again is that “Asians want to be told, versus Westerners are more individualised and are better at asking”. This has not been my  experience, nor the experience of many seasoned MCC coaches in my network. Westerners want to be told too. It is a quicker fix and easier in the moment for the coach to tell versus ask – no matter the client’s ethnicity. I have heard that there are  even more differences between Asian/Eastern and Western clients in that they: value the ‘status’ of the coach; they want an older/wiser person; and they want more than just questions. Westerners want this too. I wonder how many Asian/Eastern coaches work with Westerners? Professional Coaching is about giving permission to not know, be it to a Chinese, Pole or Kiwi. We are all humans.

Coaching is about connection, yet at ACC and PCC level we are still performing and  using our taught tools, techniques, and training. This is appropriate at this stage of our coaching journey. We need to be taught tools and techniques. We need to know  the ICF Code of Ethics. We need to be familiar with the current ICF’s Core Coaching  Competencies, the Minimum Skills Requirements1, and the more recently updated PCC Markers. All of these give us a framework and guide us as we practice the art and science of coaching. ACC and early PCC coaching is often transactional. What are you going to do? How are you going to reach it?

MCC coaching add in the who piece. Who are you being? Who do you want to be? We move from simply transactional coaching to transformational coaching. Transforming who the client is being, as well as what and how they are doing.  Moving from the simple two-step (what/how) into a more complex three-step (who/what/how) dance. Put another way, we are moving from the individual instrument to the multidimensional orchestra.

Then we move to Masterful coaching, where we not only trust the coaching process  and trust our clients. We add in trusting ourselves.

This can sound ethereal and undefined. I know. Let me share a true story with you:  In 2005 I was preparing my MCC application. The ICF required MCC candidates to  submit a recording to a current MCC and get their support, in line with the Core Competencies, that the candidate was indeed coaching at MCC level. Timidly, but also courageously, I asked an MCC to listen to my recording and they did, at a cost  which I was willing to pay, as it was their time and expertise that I was needing. I sent my very best recording off and nervously waited for the feedback.

Eventually I received the email from the MCC and eagerly opened it. I was expecting paragraphs of feedback, comparing my coaching with the ICF’s Core Competencies, so I was very shocked to see a one liner:

“Belinda, you’re missing the magic.”

ARRRGHH! What on earth does that mean? What is the magic? Where do I find it? How will I know when I have it? This was the worst feedback I have ever received. Once my ego was out of the way I was angry. I had expected this experienced coach  to give me detailed feedback yet that was it – five words. Pathetic. So, I vowed there and then to become an ICF Assessor and give tangible, useful, useable and actional feedback, and I’m proud to say that I have done so and continue to do so.

Now, read that again… “Once my ego was out of the way…” This is a short phrase but it took days… and days. I felt shame at first, and failure. I was not used to failing. I had a strong academic career and was fast tracking my coaching journey. My business was booming, I was on faculty at a coaching college, and my clients were thriving. Yet, here was the feedback – I was not at MCC standard and I was missing the magic.

This is the heart of what this essay is about. Masterful coaching is not about what I do (MCC Skills) but about who I am being as a Masterful coach. It is not about where  I was born, where I live, who my clients are, nor my academic qualifications2. It is not  about my work experience nor my family situation. It is about who I’m being as I show up to coach each individual that comes to me.

But wait I hear you say? Not about your qualifications? Not about your work experience? Not about your culture or environment? Stick with me here dear reader…. all these things help us attract clients as this is part of our marketing. Qualifications and experience give us credibility - just as I did in the paragraphs above. Understanding cultural protocols and nuances get us in the door. However,  once we have engaged our client we no longer rely on these things. There is no regionality in coaching, leave this for our marketing.

The Important Distinction: Masterful Coaching vs MCC Skills

Frequently I’m asked, “What does it take to be Masterful Coach?”. This is a big question not just in this essay, not simply in Asia Pacific, but globally. Without a doubt, it requires hundreds of hours of coach-specific training and thousands and thousands and thousands of client hours. It’s application of behaviour, not just knowing the theory. Then, and only then, it becomes about who the coach is.

Again, let us be clear on this distinction:


  • Master Certified Coaches coach the who of the
  • Masterful Coaching has universal application, no matter where or with whom we practice Masterful coaching is about who the coach is

The question was “What does it take to be a Masterful coach?”

Now we get to the real crux of the matter. The shift we’re required to make to be  a Masterful coach:

Coaching Presence - Embodying a Coaching Mindset is an MCC skill and a key to being a Masterful coach. This is where we are fully conscious and are able to create  a spontaneous relationship with our client. We must be open, flexible and most importantly confident. We need to trust ourselves, our client and the coaching relationship. We need to be open to not knowing.

Not only do I have to be willing to not know, I have to be willing to allow the client not  to know. My curiosity about who the client is and what the client wants has to supersede my need to discern the solution, or to be a great coach, or to be right.

Here, the coach is responsible for the process, the client is responsible for the content and the results. Yet, many coaches still believe they are responsible for the results2. This is the coach’s ego getting in the way and moving from true relating back into the safer, more familiar modality of informing. That is, from relating to interrogating our clients so that we can provide a solution. This is where the coach is ‘performing’ and an ICF Assessor can pick this up quickly as we know how to recognise it.

Q:  What does it take to be Masterful Coach?                                        

A:   A decision to evolve.

Now is the time to retire our past careers and make a decision to offer only Masterful coaching. Not consulting, facilitating, psychology, counselling, training, teaching, or whatever other related modality you may have experience in. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Moving from doing coaching to     being a coach takes time and courage.

Remember, Masterful coaching has universal application. Culture, place and time dissolve. Moving from doing coaching to being a coach takes time.

Choosing to be a Masterful coach is a choice. A choice to let go of who you were  being and move into who you want to be. This takes courage.


1As a member of the Global Credentialing Committee I was on the four-person sub-committee that wrote these MSR in the second half of 2006.

2More often than not, I hear newer coaches bragging who their clients are – be it the position of their clients (C-Suite, Board, EVP’s, etc…) or the nature of their clients’ business (MNC, industry, size, turnover, etc…) This is  a clue to me that the coach is still gaining their coaching confidence from their clients’ status, not from their ability to coach. This is a red-herring. As I said earlier, the hardest thing about masterful coaching is to let go of our taught tools, techniques, and training; and trust ourselves, our clients, and the coaching process. It is not who your clients are – it’s about who you are.

Coach the Human, not the Culture is a four-part series that continues with Part Four in our next blog posting.



Belinda MacInnes was one of the first MCC’s in Asia Pacific (2005) and has coached many nationalities and levels of seniority in clients in the region. She has been privileged to coach 300 clients over 7,800 hours. She has over 500 hours of coach specific training behind her and plans to have many more ahead. She is on faculty with a global coach training school. Belinda is an ICF MCC Assessor and has served as ICFA President and APAC First Vice President. She is also a Professional Mentor Coach. Belinda is the author of the globally- selling Professional Coach’s Business System (pcbs) Revisited – a step-by-step manual supporting coaches in private practice how to set up and run their business using systems. Belinda has, and continues to, attend as a delegate, speaker, and sponsor, numerous coaching conferences internationally and locally. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Melbourne (physics and mathematics) and a Graduate Diploma in Business Systems (with Distinction) from RMIT University. She is a passionate student of where theoretical physics, neuroscience, philosophy and AGI are heading in this 21st century, and enjoys synthesising these to give her a unique approach to coaching and the business of coaching. Belinda is a 20-year veteran.




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