Dr Brene Brown (2013) writes that ‘‘being’ rather than ‘knowing’ requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen’. Brown goes on to say ‘it requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable one needs the courage to surface and voice vulnerability’. Brown talks about ‘wholehearted living cultivating vulnerability’. She suggests there are many tenets to wholeheartedness ‘at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness, facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough’. These tenants apply in equal quantities to coaches and their clients, yet how do coaches show up without getting in the way of our clients work? Professional coaches always prepare for their coaching session to ensure they are able to be fully present and their authentic self. So what does being present and being your authentic self-look like?

Here the International Coach Federation (ICF) help to give us some insights through the requirements of their coaching competencies. In particular two; coaching presence and establishing trust and intimacy with your client.

Coaching Presence is described as the ability to be fully conscious and a create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident. The ICF asks that a coach is present and flexible during the coaching process, dancing in the moment. Asks that they access their own intuition and trusts one’s inner knowing and “goes with the gut.” They ask that the coach is open to not knowing and takes risks.  They ask the coach to be open minded and see many ways to work with the client and chooses in the moment what is most effective. They suggest that the use of humour can help to create lightness and energy. They ask the coach to confidently shift perspectives and experiment with new possibilities both for their way of working and that of their clients. They encourage the coach to be confident working with strong emotions, to self-manage and not be overpowered or enmeshed by client’s emotions.

There is clearly a lot to coaching presence!

The ICF competency on Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client; requires a coach to demonstrate the ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust. In doing this they ask that the coach shows genuine concern for the client’s welfare and future, that they continuously demonstrate personal integrity, honesty and sincerity, they ask that the coach establishes clear agreements and keeps promises.  That the coach demonstrates respect for client’s perceptions, learning style, personal being, provides ongoing support for and champions new behaviours and actions, including those involving risk taking and fear of failure. And, finally that a coach asks permission to coach their client in sensitive, new areas.

All eminently sensible I hear you say. But how do these inform our practise and keep us out of the way of our clients?

In supervision I frequently hear coaches say things like…

  1. In my training they said no two coaches are the same, yet, if I am to be a non directive coach how can my client get to know me?
  2. If my client doesn’t ‘get me’ how can I coach them properly?
  3. If my client knows about my background and experience it will help them choose their subjects for coaching
  4. Surely building strong relationships is what it is all about?
  5. I know if I told them a bit about my background and experience that would really help…
  6. I’ve been through that experience and I can feel their pain too…I know just what it feels like…

The questions and thoughts posed above are very real and need handling deftly and with care. It might be useful to reflect on some of them here…

  • Building relationships – Contact before contract
  • Disclosure – Trust and intimacy
  • Stepping off the line – Positive intent
  • The contract
  • Try hard driver
  • Be perfect driver
  • Over / under performance: Anxiety / nervousness
  • Rushing from a meeting to the coaching session

As you emerged from your Teach First Coach training you doubtless had ‘the spectrum of learning and leadership’ firmly etched on your mind and were clear about your promise to deliver your role as a non directive coaching.

Dr Brene Brown goes on to say ‘it requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable”. To be vulnerable one needs the courage to surface and voice vulnerability. Brown goes on to talk about wholehearted living cultivating vulnerability. She suggests there are many tenets to wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness, facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that “I am enough”.

We need to own our own vulnerabilities. Dr Brene Brown suggests ten ways this may be achieved.

  1. Authenticity: Letting go of what people think
  2. Self-Compassion: Letting go of perfectionism
  3. A resilient spirit: Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
  4. Gratitude and joy: Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
  5. Intuition and trusting faith: Letting go of the need for certainty
  6. Creativity: Letting go of comparison
  7. Play and rest: Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  8. Calm and stillness: Letting go of anxiety as a life style
  9. Meaningful work: Letting go of self-doubt and supposed to
  10. Laughter, song and dance: Letting go of being cool and always in control  

These vulnerabilities have resonated deeply with me and now feature as part of my learning plan. I know what it is like to feel like the emperor in his new clothes. I recognise that it is likely that this may also be so with some of my supervision clients, through their own lenses, models of reflection and exploration. At this juncture I find myself being in the way, yet even more conscious of getting out of my clients way.

I think this presents interesting dilemmas for supervisors, such as, ‘I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be vulnerable’; ‘vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me’; ‘I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine’.  These are rich territory for the drama triangle, parallel process, transference, counter transference and symbiosis (Figure 8). Relationships are essential to supervision. Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work and attention, and full engagement.

Dr Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, 2013.


Lesley Cave has been running her own coaching practice as a Professionally Qualified Coach (PCC), Coach Supervisor and Coach mentor since 2010. She also trains Coaches.

Read more blogs from Lesley: Insights from a Supervisors chair…