This has been so far quite an exciting journey in the pursuit of getting my MCC.
I set myself on a focus to accomplish this level of my coaching certification, and I had a strong, compelling and personal purpose driving me.
I created a structure that would help me keep my focus, raising the bar and reminding me of how I want to show up in my coaching.
And because I’ve spent years digging into my coaching skills, I explored and broke down clearly what was required, not just by ICF standards, but beyond that.
All the while I was growing my coaching, challenging myself and setting higher standards.
I reached out to my community and found many opportunities to coach different people, stretching different muscles, trying new things, all the while accumulating a large pool of recordings that I could sift through to find the two calls that best represented my coaching. (All of these appear in more detail in past BITS, but if you missed them, just toss me an email and I’ll be happy to send them to you.)
I knew this stuff, and I knew it well. After all, I am a trainer of coaches—advanced and MasterFull coaching, no less—so this should be a slam-dunk. A lock in. A guarantee. It was clear that really all I had to do was just go through the motions.
I gathered all my materials together. Added up all my hours. Accumulated all my credits. Identified the perfect recordings. And sent it all off to ICF. Now came the wonderful task of… waiting.
And I waited.
And I waited.
And after a couple months went by, that long awaited reply came from ICF.
I had failed.
I’d like to say that I would be the first to admit that my ego got in the way. But at the time, my ego was still in the way, which prevented me from noticing its impact, let alone admit it.
You see, I had spent all these years focusing on “What is MasterFull Coaching–in fact, was teaching it to other coaches—and there began to grow a strong undercurrent internal conversation that was along the lines of, “If you achieve your MCC by coaching the way that you teach, then you will not only achieve that status and recognition, but you will also confirm that your way of coaching is what works.” (Now, if you have been following this storyline you’ll probably recall that I had basically slighted those coaches who teach “their” method of coaching or evaluate and give feedback based on “their” process, as though that’s the only one.
So to those coaches, I apologize. As I’ll now admit, it’s an easy trap to fall into.)
[LESSON: It’s important to remember that your way is not the way. Nor is it the only way. There are multiple ways, and we are more empowered the more we open ourselves to those other ways.]
So here I was, receiving the dreaded email that informed me I had failed my MCC exam. The thing that I had been working so hard for fell through. The thing that was a slam-dunk, easy-peasy-lemon-squeazy, walk-in-the-park, just show up and it’s yours… I didn’t get it.
I went through all the wonderful “self-coaching conversations” and told myself that “failure was part of the journey” (which is true) and reminded myself of my prior EXAM FAILURE story where I wrote at the end I believed that because I had failed, certain things weak spots, old habits and blind spots were revealed and discovered that needed to be attended to. Habits that perhaps hadn’t been caught by my supervisors and mentors, but revealed themselves when placed under the stress of “exam performance” (which is also true), but the truth of the matter was, I was pissed, hurt, frustrated, embarrassed and very disappointed.
So after the initial frustration, embarrassment and disappointment wore off, I recovered myself and got back on the track of learning from this failure. After all, I had heard the same report from ICF that everyone else did, “there is a 90% failure rate the first time for MCC.” Sure, I told myself, it would have been great if it turned out I was one of those exceptional ones that got it the first time (what a credit to my awesomeness that would have been) but I knew I could handle this.
[LESSON: Everyone falls, fails, makes mistakes, gets stopped and overall doesn’t always get what they want. It happens. What’s important is the recovery. Getting back up. Learning from your mistakes, being more aware of what obstacles are present, getting stronger and smarter, make whatever adjustments that are necessary and continue to move forward.
SUB-LESSON: It’s easy to say, and it’s easy to take that stand for your clients, but it’s a much different experience when you’re in the middle of your own failure. So coaches reading this. Remember what it feels like. Be compassionate and understanding to your client and their feelings. That doesn’t mean ‘buy into’ them, You can still challenge them to shift out of it, recover, learn and all that great coaching stuff. Just don’t forget that they’re likely unable to do much depending on where they are in the process.
FOLLOW UP NEW LESSON: There is a wonderful “coachy” awareness that learning comes from failure. In fact, it’s likely even more true that you may realize. In many ways, learning—deep learning—ONLY comes from failure. The brain, when it gets something wrong, is kind of jarred from the anatomy, and then there’s a space to open up and replace that information with new data. And this isn’t just when we fail from the big text or exam, or when we fail from the big game, or whatever, but all the little “failures” along the way. In this case, all the coaching sessions that didn’t work powerfully—what happened? All those calls that didn’t seem to work—why not? All those clients that were challenges, those moments when I wasn’t showing up fully, those times when the coaching didn’t click—for whatever reason—those are all little mini-failures along the way. But they aren’t devastating because we are still setting our sights on the bigger goal. We have accepted those little failures are part of our learning and growing. Much like the baseball player who continues to strike out during practice. It’s practice. So those failures are ok. There are no (or drastically minor) consequences involved.
However, remember coach, that “learning from failure”, while true, is what happens AFTER the shock, pain, anger, disappointment and other impact of the event wears off, we must also respect the moments in and after the event. That anger, pain, resentment, frustration, fear, and whatever is a very human, and actually important, experience. So we as coaches need to honor that. I tell you this, because the last thing anyone who in in the pain of failure wants to hear is “all the learning” crap.]
I was feeling a bit burned, frustrated, embarrassed and angry. So it took me a little time to let that subside. And after a bit of recovery time, I was again ready to learn, grow, adjust, improve and all that wonderful stuff… just in time to have the feedback/evaluation form from ICF pop in my mailbox.
Great (I smiled that sarcastic, “this is bs” smile). Perfect timing.
Although I had come to terms with my failure, I still really wasn’t sure why it had happened in the first place. And part of the recovery process—a critical part, if we’re going to step into that “learning from failure” stage, is when we are able to actually identify where the errors were, where the cracks and problems were. That’s really the only way we are going to be able to learn and grow from them. (Cause, like, if you don’t have that awareness, you’ll keep doing the same mistakes, right?)
However, as I’m reading through the “feedback”, I’m becoming even more confused than I was before. I’m seeing things like “good job… excellent… wonderful…” only to see at the bottom some sort of comment like “Would like to have taken the client deeper.” What the heck does that mean?
I mean, I know what it means. But it can mean many things. “Going deeper” can take so many different forms. And so, I have absolutely no idea what “going deeper” the evaluator in this evaluation is referring to. Not only that, but let’s say I “go deeper” in that particular way that evaluator is expecting, or would “go deeper” in their own coaching (in other words, their way) there’s no guarantee that it would be recognized and graded favorably by any other coach. So I’m left back at, “What the heck does that mean?”
(I hate it when I get empty comments like that, or when I work with coaches who have received those comments from other mentor coaches or supervisors.
NOTE TO SUPERVISORS: Nebulous comments like that aren’t really helpful. Which is why I always offer more supportive insight, suggestions, and specific comments that the coaches can actually learn from. BS magic “fixit” answers like, “just get curious” doesn’t really help. “Be with your client” doesn’t help. And “Go deeper” is bland, unclear and unhelpful. Look, we don’t do this with our client’s right? That’s not coaching. And it’s not teaching, training, learning or growing.
Consider this. You’re taking a math quiz, and you get it back from your teacher only to get a bunch of red marks all over it and a big “F” on the page. And then at the bottom the teacher says, “Add better”. Now, is that helpful? Can you learn from that? Can you get better, stronger and more solid in your mathematics?
So of course, when I get something like this, it starts to set me on edge. Which, I’ll admit, is not a very powerful place to learn and be open and discover.
ANOTHER NOTE TO SUPERVISORS AND MENTORS: Do you get it? When you offer this unhelpful help that isn’t pointing the coach/client to a place to learn and grow, you’re actually sending them deeper into their own confusion and trap and stuck.)
Reading through the feedback even further, I came across another comment that really frustrated me, because it LITERALLY expressed the evaluating coach’s own perspective of, “An MCC coach would do this in this situation.” Which I can agree with, and vehemently DIS-agree with.
Let me clarify. In the recording, my client was working through some “Saboteurs”. My impulse was to explore the different ones that were showing up and help the client discover she was able to still hold onto her power and not succumb to the power of that fear. In fact, the work we did was quite exciting, almost like discovering her anti-saboteur super powers, loaded with armor, weapons and magic spells. By the end of the call, she felt much more empowered and strong, ready to take those fears and voices and old things on with new strength and groundedness.
The evaluation/feedback said that “an MCC would look to explore the gift that was present in the saboteur.”
Ok, I’ll acknowledge that this a wonderful approach, and can be considered even an advanced approach to working with a saboteur. Rather than try to “banish” “abolish” “get rid of” or otherwise, try to change the client’s perspective into something “good”, we can learn into the experience, explore the learning and gift that lies within the fear and conflict.
I’ve done that approach many a time. And while it is a wonderful coaching experience, I would also argue that it doesn’t define MCC coaching. It may be what an MCC coach does from time to time, and perhaps even that particular MCC who was judging does it with wonderful results. But doing that approach alone doesn’t mean it’s automatically MCC coaching. Are you kidding me? Even from my own experience, I’ve done that very technique and the experience was, shall we say, less than MasterFull. (Which confirms even more with was clearly a “this is what I would do, and I am an MCC and therefore, this is what MCC coaching is” kind of comment. Which also rubs me the wrong way.)
[LESSON: I knew it before, but this really hit it home for me: There’s clearly a distinction between MCC coaching and MasterFull Coaching.]
This whole “feedback” experience frustrates me. I’m not getting what I feel to be clear feedback, in order to learn and grow stronger, to be able to provide what is truly needed, but instead I get personal opinions and “you should have done this instead” that really sound and feel like, “you didn’t do it my way”. And all this adds to the feeling like I’m trying to win some sort of lottery with this exam.
Instead of showing up and presenting my own skills of coaching, it seems I have to now try to predict what specific actions and approaches the evaluator will prefer so that I don’t zig when they would have zagged.
Which instantly sparks my performance anxiety and the urge to “do it right.” Which is not MasterFull Coaching.
But I knew I wanted this. It was important to me. I had spend enough time building up to this; there was no way I was going to let a single failure stop me. After all, with a reputed 90% failure rate, and “everyone fails” and “it’s how you get back up” and all that stuff, I knew that this failure would ultimately make a great story to share with other coaches.
After all, my original CTI failure experience turned out to be a great story—one that many coaches have come across and found to be so helpful. Why not this one?
So even though I wasn’t sure why I failed, and therefore not sure what adjustments I needed to make, I set about scheduling more coaching calls.
This time, I turned to social media and sent out the request. Initially embarrassed that I (Mr. “wonder-coach”) had failed, I also anticipated that my courage to admit it, in tandem with my commitment and request for help, would bring more coaches to agree to be my client.
And I was right.
And, as I suspected coming off the heels of this failure, the coaching was a little harder to maintain at a confident level. Even though I was skilled and experienced, those nagging phrases of “Would like to have gone deeper” and “an MCC coach would have done…” kept popping up throughout the sessions and I kept becoming self-aware of how well I was doing, following some sort of internal checklist and that “observer” was constantly evaluating my work “real time”.
“That was pretty good.”
“Thanks. Now let me get back to my client.”
“All right. But make sure you take them deeper.”
“Yes, I know. But what the heck does that mean? It’s such a generic phrase and comment.”
“Well, if you were really a MCC coach, you would already know.”
“That’s not true. I just don’t know what is specifically expected of me.”
“Yes, you do. It’s the 11 Core competencies. Just do that.”
“Great. By the way. How is the coaching going now?”
“You just missed a perfect moment with your client.”
“Yeah, but that’s because I’m talking to you.”
“Well. an MCC coach would have caught it.”
“That’s not true.”
“Of course it is. Otherwise, how will you go deeper?”
“Leave me alone and just let me coach my client.”
“All right. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
(I’m sure you’ve had conversations like this as well.)
[NOTE: It’s not just a high-level exam that brings this “performance” mode, but any time the stakes and expectations are high—when a client or company is paying big money, when you’re doing a sample to see if they want to hire you, and even when they come to you with a big problem and they’re expecting you to help them fix it. That “performance” and “doing it right” urge and agenda can come in at any time and hijack the coaching.
Which, in my case, it did.]
However, that’s not to say I didn’t do some good coaching. On the contrary, there were some beautiful clients that showed up and I got to do some wonderful work with them. It’s not that I was completely hijacked and all the coaching failed. Again, as I listened back and reviewed, there were some really nice things that occurred. But was it ICF MCC Exam-worthy? That I wasn’t completely sure of. And the doubt and questioning kept nagging at me, much more deep than before.
Before I thought I knew what it was. But now it was clear that it wasn’t what I thought it was, but had no idea what it was instead. So I was doing my best to basically learn and grow from nothing.
I selected two new recordings and sent them off. Feeling like in my own journey and exploration I must have discovered what was missing. I certainly did what I could to “take the client deeper.” And in fact, another saboteur conversation (different client) popped up that we got to work on. And this time, we explored the gift that was present.
(You know, like an MCC coach would do?)
(I’ll admit, there was a little chip forming on my shoulder and I was feeling a stronger urge to prove myself—now reinforced by the unhelpful help that was offered. Which, again, looking back, might not have been a solid place to come from and bring into the coaching.)
But there it was. After another couple of months, two new recordings, resubmitted.
And once again, having fallen down and gotten back up, gone through the journey, I was back in the stage of having to just sit and wait another two to three months for that wonderful email to arrive telling me that I had this time passed and was now an MCC coach.