Use the Power of Possibility

Excerpt from “10 Steps to Successful Coaching, 2nd Edition” by Sophie Oberstein (Association for Talent Development).

In my coaching practice, I not only enjoy the privilege of having people share with me their secret (or not-so-secret) dreams, I also have the privilege of helping them see that they can turn these dreams into reality. Granted, this transformation doesn’t always happen, but at every moment of coaching, I hold the strong belief that my coachee’s dreams, and even more, are possible.

This step in the coaching process is the one where you help others dream and plan bigger than they think they can. And why do you do this? Certainly it’s not so they can fall flat on their faces. You do it so they can realize their brilliance and their possibilities.

Because of their strengths, people can accomplish far more than they think they can. Coaches let them know that by using the skill of championing. Showing individuals their own brilliance is accomplished by acknowledging who they are—recognizing the wonderful traits they have and that they are displaying. Sometimes coachees believe in themselves but don’t know how to make their dreams materialize. That’s where the skill of visualizing comes into play. These are three skills that can help coachees understand a context that is greater than they may experience on a day-to-day basis. It is the context of options, opportunity, and possibility.

The Skill of Championing

A coach must truly believe in her coachee. When the coachee says, “I can’t give a presentation to the senior management team,” the coach says, “You can.” When the coachee says, “I want to start a new business three years or so down the road,” the coach says, “How about next year?”

I remember a fellow participant in my first coaching class saying that this approach seemed very irresponsible. How can a coach encourage someone to do something he might not be ready or able to do? My course leaders said something then that has stuck with me: People have enough naysayers in their lives—the kind people who simply don’t want them to “get their hopes up,” to get hurt or disappointed, to fail. And coaches can’t just add their voices to that din.

Coaches are not afraid of people failing or getting their hopes dashed. They generally believe that people are capable, powerful, and terrific. They know their coachees are strong enough to handle hardships in pursuit of their goals. And they know that if not pushed to their highest levels of magnificence, their coachees are robbing the world of their greatness. People do not need another protector; they need someone who will inspire them and expand their possibilities.

Think of a sports coach. Do you think her players would get anywhere if she was afraid her players would fall down, get injured, or lose a game? In fact, a coach knows her players have to experience these circumstances to learn and improve.

The value of championing has been shown in studies from numerous fields, including healthcare, education, and business management. These studies show that when leaders (managers, teachers, doctors) hold the assumption that the others’ (employee, student, patient) capability is high, productivity or performance will tend to be high (Rosenthal and Jacobson 1968; Livingston 1969; King 1971; Eden and Shani 1982; Eden 1992). Key findings from studies on this phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecies, or the “Pygmalion effect,” show that:

  • What managers expect of subordinates is a key determinant of performance.
  • Superior managers are able to create and convey higher expectations of their teams than less effective managers do.
  • In general, managers are more adept at communicating low expectations than high ones, even when they believe the opposite.
  • The phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecies in business has the largest impact on employees who are relatively young. The reverse also holds true: Employees who are perceived by managers to be mediocre tend to perform at a lower level than their counterparts (Manzoni and Barsoux 1998). This set-up-to-fail syndrome becomes a vicious circle in which poor performance that is influenced by low expectations reinforces the manager’s belief that the performer is weak.

Your coachee knows his own limits only too well. If you ask him to do something he’s not comfortable with, your relationship should be strong enough for him to say, “No.” But who knows? He may counter with an offer greater than his original thought.

Stretching Your Championing Muscles

Try the following prompts with your coachee (if you don’t have one yet, enlist a friend, family member, or colleague who wants to live his or her biggest dreams).

“What’s bigger”? Ask your coachee, “What’s your dream?” Let her tell you all about it. Ask “What’s even bigger than that?” Let her answer, and then ask again, “What’s bigger than that?” Ask this four or five times—no kidding. Then ask, “What’s possible for you to do right now to move toward this dream?”

A coach afraid to champion her coachee, afraid to support him wholeheartedly in whatever he’s doing (provided it’s safe and legal), is thinking too egocentrically about herself. It’s not as if the coachee will do whatever the coach says. But that moment when the coachee has someone believing in him may be just enough time for new doors to open and something he never thought possible to come through those doors.

One tricky part of championing is taking it too far and making it into an agenda. I’ve done this—I’ve made it “wrong” for a client to do anything other than go for his biggest possible dream. What I learned that the coach needs to remember is that this dream must remain the coachee’s dream for himself. If, for whatever reason, the coachee is choosing to downsize or not to follow his dream, that has to be OK. Championing a coachee’s dream simply lets him know that if he wants it, he can achieve it.

Excerpt from “10 Steps to Successful Coaching, 2nd Edition” by Sophie Oberstein (Association for Talent Development).

As founder of Full Experience Coaching, Sophie Oberstein currently coaches individuals across the country. Her background includes consulting for numerous Fortune 500 companies, a Master’s degree in human resources management, postgraduate certification in training and development, college-level teaching, and certifications by the Coaches Training Institute and International Coach Federation. She is the author of 10 Steps to Successful Coaching, 2ndEdition.”

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