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Home » Blog » Transformational Coaching- The beauty lies in the details

The birth of transformational coaching stems from the fact that there is a fundamental difference between ‘agreeing to act’ and ‘acting’. Intellectual agreement to an action and an intense desire to make something happen may appear the same initially but they are worlds apart. Borne out of the frustration from not being able to see ‘change’, transformational coaching is a trinket within ‘Dreams to Reality’- if you will.

In ‘The Complete Handbook of Coaching’ by Elaine Cox, Tatiana Bachkirova, and David Clutterbuck, transformational coaching is defined as that which enables coachees to create fundamental shifts in their capacity by transforming their way of thinking, feeling, and behaving in relation to others. This is achieved through focusing on the shift that needs to happen live in the room so that a sustained change takes place, beyond the coaching session. Transformational coaching sits at one end of a spectrum of coaching, according to Peter Hawkins, widely considered to be one of the father figures in the world of coaching. That being-


One end of the continuum (skill coaching) focuses on developing new skills or competencies in the coachee. These could be related to a job role such as sales, IT, administrative, or finance. This kind of coaching is mostly done through training courses and is included as a part of on-the-job learning. The majority of skill coaching does not require external or specialised coaching. Performance coaching is less focused on the acquisition of skills (inputs) and more centred around raising levels of performance (outputs and outcomes) in a current role. It focusses more on applied capabilities than competence. Developmental coaching is centred more on long-term development and less on the current role. Besides looking to enhance capabilities and competencies, it looks to develop the whole person and their broader human capacities showing how they can use their current role to develop their capacity for future roles and challenges. At the other end of the spectrum, transformational coaching focusses even more on ‘second order’ or Level 2 learning (involving radical change and often personality trait shifts) and change. It is more concerned with enabling the coachee to shift levels or ‘action logics’ and thereby make a transition from one level of functioning to a higher one.

Recent developments in neuroscience show that whereas most coaching works with the cognitive aspects of the neocortex brain, transformational coaching, which is associated with fundamental change, requires a shift in the patterns of relating that are embedded in the limbic brain.

At the beginning

Everything starts with the CLEAR model. It comprises five stages, each requiring a different skillset on the part of the coach. The coach starts by CONTRACTING with the coachee both on the boundaries and on the focus of the work. The coach then LISTENS to the issues of the coachee, focussing not only on the content but also on the feelings and the way of narration. The coach needs to let the coachee know that they have not only heard the story, but have ‘got’ what it feels like to be in that situation. Once past that the coach may EXPLORE with the coachee the dynamics of the work relationships and the coaching relationship playing out live in the room, before facilitating the coachee to explore new ACTIONS. Finally, the coach REVIEWS the process and agrees to the steps going forward.

The Four Key Elements according to ‘The Complete Handbook of Coaching’

  1. Shifting the ‘meaning scheme’- Usually the objective or outcome of a coaching partnership, Peter Hawkins defines this as the ability to help clients change their ‘meaning schemes’ (specific beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions) during the coaching session, which leads to a ‘perspective transformation’ for the client.
  2. Simultaneously working on multiple levels- This is done to effect change across all the various levels (physical, psychological, emotional, and purposive elements). The change in perspective has to be ’embodied’ (i.e., the coachee needs to be able to think, feel, and do differently) for it to be truly transformational.
  3. Shift in the room- Transformational coaching therefore focuses strongly on freeing the coachee’s ‘stuck’ perspective within the session, live in the room. The process, by which the coach helps the client to experience an integrated transformation of perspective, is termed ‘creating a shift in the room’. There are 4 levels to such shifts. Level 1 relates to changes in physical appearance where the coachee may look brighter, livelier, or more engaged. Level 2 relates to behavioural changes, with the coachee becoming less rigid and more experimental with their behaviour in relation to the issue that they brought to the coach. Level 3 is where the feeling tone changes for the person, something which David Clutterbuck described to us on the podcast, the xMonks Drive (which you can, of course, listen to HERE) as an ‘Oh Shit Moment’. The person may laugh or have a facepalm moment in disbelief that they have been in the clutches of this idea for so long. That lightening of tone and laughter is a strong clue to the shift having taken place. Level 4 shows that since they now no longer believe in the initial story, it holds far lesser power on them. The mindset shifts and there appear to be possibilities that were not there before of doing things differently.
  4. Four levels of engagement- This model shows how the coach can avoid ‘problem-solving’ or ventilation of feelings as a default coaching outcome and helps create a developmental/transformational intervention for coachees. Knowledge of this model helps the coach to see whether he/she is dealing with facts, patterns of behaviour, feelings, or assumptions. If the entire content of the conversation has focused upon facts and behaviours, then the coach knows that, in order to help the coachee move on, it will be necessary to help them look at the underlying feelings driving these events. It also shows that to create sustainable change, coachees need to understand their internal dialogue, which generates dysfunctional feelings in the situation in which they find themselves (i.e. their assumptions).

The Three Questions

Although there are various models and methodologies dedicated to transformational coaching which may seem confusing to the new coach, bear in mind that this process is essentially all about asking three simple yet key questions, and of course, answering them by the end of the coaching contract-

  1. What is disconnected that needs to be connected?
  2. What is the truth that needs to be spoken?
  3. What is the shift that needs to be enabled?

In asking these questions the coach applies them to all parts of the system: ‘What is disconnected within the client’s organisation?’; ‘What is the shift that needs to be enabled right here in the room?’; ‘What is the truth that needs to be spoken by me, by the coachee, or in the organisation?’.

The gist is that, while transformational coaching is not the answer to every coaching need, it is an elevated coaching conversation in itself. To see the change you have to be the change, and as a coach, transformational coaching is perhaps the best tool to facilitate long-lasting change.