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Coaching Outside the Lines

November 3, 2017

Even though I’ve been coaching for 15 years, I still sometimes ask myself, “Am I doing this right? Do I have permission to do this?”  (No doubt, that’s my doubt showing up.)  And yet, when I look at the World’s Top 30 Coaching Professionals for 2017, it’s clear, to me anyway, that they didn’t ask anyone for permission.  And apparently, they didn’t ask the question “Am I doing this right?” Instead, they opted for figuring out what was right for them and did it.  (And of course, wrote a book about it, got it published and successfully promoted it – which is nice. 😊 ).

The Secret Sauce of Coaching

I don’t know what “My Way” of coaching is, my “secret sauce.”  And I sincerely respect (and am somewhat pissed off by) people who do.   I barely understand my way of coaching well enough to do it, much less write a book about it.  That said, I don’t believe there is any ONE secret sauce of coaching.  There’s a secret sauce we make for and with our clients.  Perhaps if we each could figure out the recipe for our own coaching sauce, we each could bottle it and sell it.  And what feels important is that we coaches create that secret sauce with our clients in a way that brings out not only the best in them, but the best in us, as well.

Coaching Outside of the Lines

I’d only been coaching a few years, when I realized that one-to-one coaching was wonderful and awesome – and not enough for me.   I wanted to do more for my clients…and for me.   Fortunately, while I have my doubts, I’m not afraid to try things.  So I began creating unique coaching experiences that allowed me to express more of myself and granted me the ability to try things with my clients that weren’t possible in the traditional one-to-one coaching model.  

Here I offer you ways in which I’ve experimented with coaching outside-of-the-lines, in the hopes that it encourages you to create coaching experiences that you love and that reflect the uniqueness and wonder of YOU.

Experiences that Inspire

In 2009, the US was in the depths of a recession. My CEO/business owner clients were feeling the devastation of it.  I was desperate to find some way of restoring their hope, reconnecting them with the inspiration of why they do what they do.  So, I organized one of the first TEDx conferences in the US.

Luckily, I stumbled on to Simon Sinek, author of the then soon-to-be-released book, Start with Why.   I paid to fly him from New York to Seattle to be the opening speaker for my conference, TEDxPugetSound.   Simon gave what is now the third most viewed TED talk of all time.

In this TEDx Talk, he presented, to a group of 50 of my coaching clients and prospects in the Georgetown Ballroom in Seattle.  This conference, this experience I created, gave my clients something that traditional coaching couldn’t.  I went on to organize two more TEDx conferences as an extension of my work as a coach.

Expanded Perspectives

The question of whether or not my clients have all of their own answers is one that I’ve wrestled with for years.  And at one point, for better or worse, I determined that if I couldn’t or wouldn’t give them advice, I’d find someone who would.  😊  For many years, I ran peer roundtables through Vistage.   Peer roundtables gave me several opportunities:  to see my clients outside of the traditional coaching setting, to facilitate their receiving multiple perspectives on their internal and external challenges, and to provide them with advice -even if it wasn’t from me!  I still run a CEO roundtable in DC, and love the freedom it gives me to co-create a group coaching experience.

Deeper Learning

By the end of 2014, I’d completed my time with both Vistage and the TED organization.   I was coaching on my own, and acting as an advisor for a company called Netcito that created and supported roundtables for entrepreneurs in DC.   Once again, I found myself wanting to do more for my clients than traditional coaching.   I wanted to go deeper on essential topics, playing with them and exploring them in ways that my coaching didn’t allow.  So I’ve created a quarterly dinner/workshop series for my clients on both east and west coasts (DC and Seattle).

The purpose of these dinner/workshops is to connect people to an idea, to like-minded peers and to a deeper understanding of themselves.   We do that by exploring a single meaningful topic (like shame or anger or the ladder of inference or mindfulness), sharing and connecting through our fears, doubts, and vulnerabilities, and resting in a safe and creative space.  All while eating yummy food and drinking good wine.   It’s pretty much the most fun I have all quarter. (If you’d like to experience a taste of the workshops I do with my clients, and you’re in the Seattle or Boston area, please join us.  We’d love to have you.)

What about you?

My hope with sharing these examples is to encourage you to explore coaching outside of the lines, giving yourself permission to define coaching however you want.   Maybe you already coach outside of the lines. Bravo!   I believe that what the profession of coaching calls on us all to do is to create our lives in a way that we love and that expresses the fullness and preciousness of who we are.   Because when we do, we lead the way for our clients and they flourish as a result!

How do you coach outside of the lines?  How do you make your coaching yours?  What’s your secret sauce?  I’d love to hear it.

Alison Whitmire

President | Learning In Action


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