Where am I going? Achievement, development and transformation

Coaching by reference to clearly-stated objectives

Coaching has traditionally and uniformly been framed – and its results widely evaluated – by reference to clearly-stated objectives.  Setting such objectives can appear to make it easier to calculate in advance the potential value, the significance and the return on investment of a coaching programme.  Importantly, such an approach implies that the coaching client needs to be demonstrably achieving something that can be precisely defined and articulated in advance.  In other words, it’s directional.


Coaching objectives, development and transformation

Objective-orientated coaching will be appropriate for certain clients with certain types of coaching need.  However, such coaching isn’t the same as developmental coaching, or indeed transformational coaching.  Development and transformation tend to be emergent. They tend not to be in the same space as coaching objectives, partly because they can’t be definitively planned or anticipated, in either form or content.  In my experience developmental and transformational coaching often subsume coaching measured only by reference to objectives, in the sense that clients realise that they have achieved their objectives without explicitly working on them.


Going somewhere

Just because a client doesn’t appear to be going somewhere doesn’t mean nothing is happening.  On the contrary, a great deal might be happening, emerging from what in Gestalt psychology is referred to as the Fertile Void, ‘so-called empty space….. rich with fertile possibilities’, as John Leary-Joyce puts it in his book ‘The Fertile Void: Gestalt Coaching at Work’[1].



A lack of structure in the emergence shouldn’t be confused with a lack of something valuable.  Two of my clients who have created noticeable value from their coaching were acutely aware, with great presence, of actually going round and round in circles. At some point, some clarity emerged for them.  Both reflected, experimented, gained insights and learning from their experiments, allowed emergence to happen, reflected, experimented again, gained more insights and learning….. and all that without striving for particular objectives, but nourished and stimulated by the coaching relationship, my own presence, my acceptance without striving towards coaching objectives, my sensitivity to emergence,  and a focus on enquiry.


Sense of self and leadership

Far from nothing happening, something significant was happening for both of them, which fundamentally impacted on their sense of self and their leadership.

At the end of their coaching programmes, one of these leaders reflected: ‘Each session …. helped me to look for my self worth and identity within myself. You helped me make a paradigm shift in just being: self care with small steps and seeing that my value and right of existence is not derived from affirmations, external to me. Just being is something I learned from you, building do-nothing time with journaling made me see the lessons and opportunities in every challenge.’

The other expressed his experience (in a working life which he characterised himself as full of ‘lots of doing’) like this: ‘You gave me one of the most important moments of self-knowledge of my life’.


Radical acceptance, radical inclusion and weak signals

There’s another aspect too to this kind of emergent coaching: not just acceptance, but radical acceptance – acceptance of everything and everyone in the client’s system, no matter how opaque.  This, in turn, relates both to what John Whittington (see, for example, his book ‘Systemic Coaching and Constellations’[2]) calls radical inclusion in the context of working with systemic constellations, and what Jennifer Garvey Berger[3] calls ‘weak signals’, the small signs that become obvious only after the event.  All of these concepts – radical acceptance, radical inclusion, and weak signals – are relevant to developmental and transformational coaching.  It needs space and time to be able to perceive the sometimes elusive facets of their value, for thinking and experience to become expansive and therefore more fertile, and for vision to become broader and more creative.

All are important underpinnings of outstanding leadership.



Photo by Bankim Desai on Unsplash


[1] AoEC Press

[2] ‘Systemic Coaching and Constellations’, John Whittington, Kogan Page 2020

[3] ‘Simple Habits for Complex Times, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Stanford Business Books 2015

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