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What Role does Authenticity Play in Coaching?

After reading a lot about authenticity lately, I have come to think that yes, we should all thrive to behave authentically but to do so, requires work. Authenticity is not rolling out of bed and showing up at work in your pajamas, emotionally and physically. Staying within our comfort zone will confine us in our current state and prevent us from developing as adults. Rather, it is about exploring our ideal selves, experimenting with different ways to behave vis-à-vis others so that we can learn how to express our ideal selves and stay true to our ideal selves, which will continue to develop through all of our adult lives.

Looking at authenticity this way, what role does authenticity play in coaching? I am coming up with these examples. I am sure you can find many more!

First, at the outset of each engagement, coaches will strive to quickly build trust with their coachees. One important ingredient for a trustworthy relationship between a coach and her coachee is intimacy (Maister, 2021), i.e., a level of closeness where the coachee feels validated and safe. One important condition for such closeness to develop is that a coach lets a coachee get to know her, and to do that, a coach must exhibit authentic behavior allowing her coachee to perceive the coach’s ideal self and for the coachee to observe that the coach stays true to her ideal self.

Does this mean that a coach shares her entire life story with her coachee? No, that would be the equivalent for a coach to show up to a coaching session in her pajamas. To develop trust also requires that a coach keeps her self-orientation under control. Coaching sessions are all about the coachee, not the coach. A coach needs to keep herself in check not to drown her coachee in her own emotions and stories. So, coaches must carefully balance sharing enough of themselves for intimacy to develop but not too much for coachees to perceive their coach as more interested in herself than the coachee.

Second, as coach, one of our roles, especially at the outset of a coaching assignment, will be to help our coachees to explore their ideal self. Who do they want to be? What do they want to do? How do they want to be fulfilled and live a balanced life? In addition to supporting our coachees in the areas where they wish to grow to come closer to their ideal self, it is also to help our coachees do their authenticity work, i.e., to experiment or play with different styles how to express and stay true to their ideal selves vis-à-vis the outside world. Coaching conversations can be terrific playgrounds for coachees to play with and test different ways to present themselves to the outside world. With valuable feedback from the coach, coachees will be able to express their ideal self and work with and on their authenticity.

Third, research has shown that the positive consequences of authentic behavior on a person’s work life (expressed by reduced relationship conflict and enhanced task performance) depend on the degree to which a person is a “high” or “low identifier”, i.e., the degree to which extent a person identifies herself with her social environment (Karelaia, Guillén, Leroy, 2021). In the work context, such social environment will present itself in the company culture, the company’s values and the day-to-day work atmosphere. Coaches are in an excellent position to help their coachees explore to what degree they are aligned with their work environment. If such alignment is low, such exploration could evolve in a coachee’s realization that she cannot really be her authentic self at work and either wants to change herself to align closer or leave her current job and explore alternative work environments.

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