Maintains Coaching Presence is one of the eight ICF Core Competencies in the updated model that comes into effect later in 2021. This is such a pivotal skill and quality that coaches bring to their practice with clients. I am sharing my thoughts on this topic in a 2-part series. In Part 1 below, I explore what presence is and its place, purpose and value in the coaching process.

In Part 2, I will invite us to look at some of the barriers to presence and how we can develop and convey this important quality to our clients in our work with them.

To set the scene, let’s begin by looking at the competency itself …

ICF Core Competency 5: Maintains Presence

Definition: Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.

  1. Remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client.
  2. Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process.
  3. Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client.
  4. Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process.
  5. Is comfortable working in a space of not knowing.
  6. Creates and allows for silence, pause or reflection.

What is Presence?

When we explore this word “presence”, we find synonyms which offer us a deeper insight into what is meant and expected of us when embodying this competence and quality, such as:

·      Being there

·      Attending

·      Company

·      Proximity

·      Alertness

·      Here and now

·      Being

·      Manner

·      Just ‘Be’

·      Comportment

·      Demeanour

·      Seen, noticed, experienced by others

Reflective opportunity: Consider how these words relate to how and who you are when you are working with your clients…

Reflective opportunity: How do you, not only connect with your state of presence, but also “maintain” it?

What is the place, purpose and value of Coaching Presence?

Why is our state of presence so important and impactful to the coaching process? To begin to understand the place, purpose and value of coaching presence, we first look at where it sits within the ICF Core Competency Model:

A. Foundation:
1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice
2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset

B. Co-Creating the Relationship
3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements
4. Cultivates Trust and Safety
5. Maintains Presence

C. Communicating Effectively:
6. Listens Actively
7. Evokes Awareness

D. Cultivating Learning and Growth:
8. Facilitates Client Growth

This competency sits within the domain of Co-Creating the Relationship and the nature and quality of that coaching relationship is paramount to the overall success of the work we do with our clients. It is therefore tricky to adequately describe coaching presence without reference to others in this domain, especially Competency 4: Cultivates Trust and Safety, as they are so inextricably linked.

ICF Core Competency 4: Cultivates Trust and Safety:

Definition: Partners with the client to create a safe, supportive environment that allows the client to share freely. Maintains a relationship of mutual respect and trust.

  1. Seeks to understand the client within their context which may include their identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs.
  2. Demonstrates respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style and language, and adapts one’s coaching to the client.
  3. Acknowledges and respects the client’s unique talents, insights, and work in the coaching process.
  4. Shows support, empathy, and concern for the client.
  5. Acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions.
  6. Demonstrates openness and transparency as a way to display vulnerability and build trust with the client.

Reflective opportunity: when considering competencies 4 and 5 together, what are you noticing about what coaching presence means for you in your practice?

So, why are the qualities highlighted in these competencies is important? To answer this question, I invite us to take a look at Humanistic Psychology.

Both of these competencies have strong roots in the Humanistic Approach. This psychological approach was first developed in 1950s and 1960s by Carl Rogers and later became very popular during the 1970s, 1980s and beyond through the work of Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and even more recently Nancy Kline. A humanistic approach focuses on certain principles beliefs and assumptions including:

  • Person-centred approach
  • Non-directive approach
  • Belief in an individual’s “self-righting reflex” – they are creative, resourceful and whole
  • Focus on the wholeness and uniqueness of each individual
  • Focus on growth, development and potential (vs. pathological model)
  • Allowing for and respecting the client’s agency and choice
  • Relationship-based
  • The client’s subjective experience is most important
  • Belief that the client is the expert
  • The client has the ability to make healthy conscious choices given the right conditions

What are those conditions? Emerging from the humanistic approach, we see six necessary and sufficient conditions for positive change to occur:

  1. Coach-client psychological contact (the relationship must exist and be one that feels safe to the client)
  2. The client is incongruent (incongruence exists between the client’s experience and their awareness of that experience)
  3. Coach congruence, or genuineness (the coach is authentic, deeply present with their client, not acting and is able to draw upon their own intuition and experience to facilitate the relationship and the client’s progress)
  4. Coach holds unconditional positive regard for their client (the coach acts without judgement, disapproval or approval and champions an increase of self-regard in their client)
  5. Coach has empathic understanding (the coach demonstrates empathic understanding of the client’s inner world and their concerns, thus increasing and evidencing their unconditional positive regard)
  6. Client perception (the client perceives and experiences the coach’s unconditional positive regard and empathy)

These principles have been further underpinned by the work of Kline, whose research reinforced that the role of a coach is to honour the belief that our clients are creative resourceful and whole by building a safe and empathic relationship and then get out of the client’s way, creating a space and time for them to think so that they may access and utilise their own inner resources. She captured this by proposing some essential behaviours that comprise and nurture a thinking environment and, as such, ten ways of being together and treating each other were identified:

Ten Components of a Thinking Environment:

  1. Attention: Listening with respect, interest, fascination and without interruption
  2. Incisive questions: Removing the assumptions that limit thinking and ideas, freeing the mind to create new and different thinking.
  3. Equality: Treating each other as thinking peers. Giving equal turns and attention, keeping arrangements and boundaries.
  4. Appreciation: Practicing a five-to-one ration of appreciation to criticism, encouraging and enabling the person to feel safe to wander and delve into deep free thinking.
  5. Ease: Offering freedom from rush or urgency so that the thinking process has space and time to emerge and evolve.
  6. Encouragement: Moving beyond competition. Internal competition and judgement make new, high-quality thoughts impossible. With no inner competition, there is no inner conflict, thereby allowing free thinking to happen.
  7. Feelings: Allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking. Feelings cloud judgement and so the full expression of those feelings creates space for thinking to be restored and for free thinking to happen.
  8. Information: Providing a full and accurate picture of reality. Information can help to build up thinking and when faced with the clarity of full facts, the mind can wander and explore strategies and solutions.
  9. Place: Creating a physical environment that says back to people, “you matter”.
  10. Diversity: Adding quality because of the differences between us.

The essence of the humanistic approach is at the very heart of coaching, as it embraces the idea of working toward development, growth, potential and progress as opposed to the perceived pessimism and pathology associated with earlier psychological approaches such as psychoanalysis. The emphasis is on choice and agency and the belief in the client’s ability to make healthy conscious choices given the right conditions…and our primary role therefore as a coach in this regard is to create those conditions.

Reflective opportunity: considering the six necessary and sufficient conditions for positive change and the ten components of a thinking environment, how can you further develop and nurture an environment to ignite positive change for your clients?

Be present, be curious…

In Part 2, we will explore what gets in the way of us being fully present with our clients and how we can develop and convey our presence more effectively and consistently.

Sinclair, T. & Passmore, J. (2020) Becoming a Coach, Pavilion (UK) and Springer (International)
International Coaching Federation (ICF), ICF Core Competency Model and ICF Code of Ethics
Rogers, C. R. (1980) A way of being. Houghton Mifflin Company.
Kline, N. (1999), Time to Think and (2015) More Time to Think. London: Cassell Publishers

Tracy Sinclair, MCC

Tracy Sinclair is a multi-award-winning Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor, Mentor Coach and ICF Assessor. Tracy trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Tracy also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. Tracy has co-authored a book Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide published in 2020 which provides a comprehensive guide to coaching for coaches at all levels of skill and experience, the psychology that underpins coaching and the updated ICF Core Competency Model. In this same year she founded Coaching with Conscience which exists to have a positive impact on society and our environment through coaching. As part of this work, she collaborates closely with MIND, the UK’s leading mental health charity and the British Paralympic Association (BPA). She also offers pro bono personal development and coaching programmes to young leaders (18-25-yrs). Tracy was named as one of the Leading Global Coach winners of the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Awards of 2019 and was a finalist for the Thinkers50 Coaching and Mentoring Award in 2021. She won the ICF Impact Award for Distinguished Coach in 2023 and is a member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches. She was the President of the UK ICF from 2013-2014 and was an ICF Global Board Director since 2016, serving as Treasurer in 2017, Global Chair in 2018 and Immediate Past Global Chair in 2019 and Vice Chair and Director at Large on the International Coaching Federation Global Enterprise Board in 2021.

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