Reflections on a “Way of Being”

Sometimes, when I am presenting to large audiences about the potential of coaching within educational organisations, I ask the following question:

Can you think of someone, back in school when you were a student, who had a lasting positive impact on you?

The question tends to hit home for a good number of people. They can remember someone--a favourite teacher, a supportive teaching assistant, the encouraging sports coach. After giving the audience a minute or so to think about the question, I follow it up by asking:

What did they do or say that had that positive impact?

Perhaps you’d like to take a moment now to reflect on those two questions.

When people share their thoughts about that person, it is often with some emotion. That person “believed in me when I was going through a tough time”. That person “saw something in me that no one else saw”. That person “wanted me to succeed and believed that I could”. That person is rarely remembered for what they taught—more often they are remembered for the positive impact they had on others. For me, that person was Donald Corsette, my sixth grade teacher. He was kind to me. And, crucially for me, he thought I could do well at school. I remember that. And I remember who he was. What he said to me, the "information", is hazy.
Considering the lifelong impact such a person can have, they tend to be humble. They seem more interested in the success of others than in their own reputation or standing. They are curious about their students. They show genuine interest in students and treat them with respect. They believe that their students have enormous potential. These qualities, or ways of interacting with others, form the basis for what I have termed a "way of being". I describe this term, which I have borrowed from Carl Rogers, in my book An Introduction to Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide. For me, effective coaching requires more than knowledge of certain skills and a conversational process.

What seems to make the crucial difference in coaching effectiveness is the "way of being" of the coach.

This may raise important challenges for those of us interested in encouraging more coaching interventions and the creation of coaching cultures in educational settings. Can this "way of being" be taught? What can each of us do to better understand how we are experienced by others? How can we ensure that we are focusing on the potential of our coachees rather than on what we perceive as weaknesses?
Remember, that person we're thinking about can have a significant positive impact on the self-esteem and self-belief of others. That person can inspire motivation and self-confidence. Aren't these the kind of things that we want for our young people? Aren’t these the kinds of things you want for the people that you lead and coach?
If the answer is "yes", be that person.

What would be some signs of more of being ‘that person’ in your leadership and coaching?

What small steps might you take this month to bring more of those qualities into your ‘way of being’?


  • van Nieuwerburgh,C.(2014) An Introduction to Coaching Skills. Sage. London:UK