It Takes Two to Tango

Lessons In Coaching From 3 Common Mistakes Made When Dancing Tango

The intention of this post is to invite you to consider the synchronous nature of your coaching through the use of a dance metaphor.

The Tango is a dance influenced by African, South American, and European cultures and is characterized as being based on a syncopated rhythm that allows for much improvisation and full expression. To watch a couple, dance the Tango in a synchronous way can be an immersive experience; watching the dancers float across the floor effortlessly, perfectly synchronized, connected, and fully expressing. They share equal power in the movements even though one partner is leading. It can be so moving when the dancers are in sync. When the dancers are out of sync or “off” in their partnering of the dance, the experience for the observer can be choppy, disconnecting, and in some way uninspiring.

In my practice as a mentor coach, I often witness coaches efforting their way through what it means to partner with their clients in a coaching relationship. I observe many leading with their head, focused on asking the right question, steering the client to a solution, managing the time, etc. They grapple with allowing equanimity in the relationship to emerge when they feel a responsibility to lead or to ensure their clients get results. These are just a few of the many ways we get in our heads as coaches and as a result, lose coaching presence. Anyone who has been in one of my courses or been mentored by me has heard me say, “If You’re Working Too Hard, You’re Not Coaching!”. This is my way of expressing what I know is most helpful in co-creating productive, generative, dare I say, transformative coaching experiences with their clients. The way is to effortless and trust more. Trust yourself, your training, your client, and the coaching process as they offer a framework that you can hold for your client; like the lead might hold the space for the dance partner. With all that said, let’s consider what there is to learn about partnering in coaching from the common mistakes made when leading the Tango.

3 Common Mistakes When Leading Tango:

  1. Lead with your arms – lose connection with partner, looks and feels stilled, working to move partner in the direction
  2. Lead with shoulders – lose connection with partner, looks and feels choppy, working to direct partner by leaning into them
  3. Lead without a full pivot or step – not honoring the partner's fullest expression of the movement

To Correct These Mistakes:

Lead from the center of the body with intention. By leading from your center, your partner can follow your intention. As a result, instead of feeling told to do something, led to do something, your partner will feel invited into a movement with you. They will feel listened to, cared for, and safer to express themselves fully in the movements.

Points to Ponder:

  • In what ways does ‘lead from the center with intention’ relate to coaching?
  • How can you relate to the common mistakes listed?
  • What is emerging as relevant for you in using this form of dance as a metaphor for partnering in your coaching relationships?

At its most basic level, coaching is a co-created relationship that is based on mutual respect, a willingness to partner in support of evoking awareness so a client may harness their potential in the direction of the client’s stated desired outcome. As the field of coaching continues to grow and expand across the globe in organizations and in almost every facet or specialty area of life, the demand for coaching is also increasing. While we, the coaches, are focused on our own process of acquiring training, certification, and in some cases establishing a business in coaching, it is essential that we remember that educating is still a big part of what we do. We are still pioneering this profession. We cannot assume that our clients know what it means to be coached nor how to engage in the coaching relationship in productive generative ways that allow for their success. To lean into the metaphor, was can’t assume that our clients have ever taken dance lessons or maybe they have but they learned the Cha Cha, not the Tango.

It is essential to consider that part of our client’s success in engaging in the coaching process relies on our ability to teach them how to be coached; what the dance steps are, as it were.

In order to maintain consistency and continuity when thinking about what it means to teach our clients to dance with us in the coaching process, I am offering 5 Guiding Principles (dance steps, if you will) that are directly aligned with the International Coach Federation Core Competencies. Specifically referencing the domains of, Foundation: Demonstrating Ethical Practice & Embodying the Coaching Mindset and Co-Creating The Relationship: Establishing & Maintains Agreements, Cultivates Trust & Safety and Maintains Presence.

Establishing a Foundation for a Successful Coaching Relationship

Guiding Principle #1 ~ Be Ethical

Be knowledgeable about the ICF Code of Ethics and maintain ethical practices and your client will feel more confident, assured, and supported.

Point to Ponder:

  • What does it mean for you to demonstrate ethical practice?
  • How does demonstrating ethical practice translate to how you work with your clients?

Guiding Principle #2 - Be A Model

It can be easy to assume your clients know what coaching is or what it means for them to engage in a productive generative way. Your clients are looking to you to offer them guidance, even teach them about what coaching is and what it means to engage productively in a coaching relationship. Modeling coachlike behaviors is a powerful way to invite your clients how to engage with you.

Points to Ponder:

  • In what ways do you feel you can embody the coaching mindset even more? Evolve your own self-leadership?
  • What do you feel is important to model for your clients to support them in leveling up in their own self-leadership?
  • What boundaries might you need to put in place or alter in some way for you to feel your coaching practice/engagements are working for you?
  • What are your clients telling you they might do to help them engage productively in their coaching process?

It Starts With You and It Takes Two: Co-Creating The Relationship

Guiding Principle #3 ~ Set Clear Agreements AND maintain them

Be clear about what your role is, what your client’s role is, what you offer, your scheduling processes, confidentiality, billing  – anything that needs to be addressed allows for full transparency about all aspects of the relationship. Offer all the information you know your client will need to fully understand what is available to them and what is expected of them. Then ask them if there is anything you missed or haven’t been addressed that is important to them to be part of the agreement – this is something a lot of coaches miss and is an important aspect of co-creating the relationship. Confirm the agreement. Then be sure to maintain the agreements set and confirmed for the duration of your engagement.

Points to Ponder:

  • Where can I strengthen or clarify the coaching agreement even further with my clients?
  • What might my clients need to know to make informed decisions about how they fully engage in their own coaching success?

Guiding Principle #4 ~ Be Consistent

You can only coach your clients to the extent they allow you to. Cultivating an environment of non-judgment, trust & safety through consistent congruous behavior and way of being is essential for your clients to greater risks in the coaching relationship and process.

Points to Ponder:

  • In what ways will it benefit your clients if you are consistent in honoring the agreements laid out for the engagement and each session?
  • In what ways will being consistent in your behavior and way of being, cultivate a great sense of trust and safety?
  • Where might you unknowingly direct, or push your client' versus invite them?

Guiding Principle #5 ~ Be Response Able

By expanding your capacity to be present throughout a coaching session, you will be more able to be responsive to what your client offers or doesn’t offer at any given moment. Increasing your capacity to be present, increases your capacity to listen contextually, which allows you to have greater access to your observations and intuition, which results in being more able to be responsive with inspired questions, messaging, and the use of other skills that evoke awareness. for the benefit of your clients.

Points to Ponder:

  • When or where might you lose your ability to be present with your clients?
  • What is happening in those moments when you lose presence?
  • What positive impact will it have for your clients if you increase your coaching presence in these areas, at these times?
  • What does it mean for you to coach from your “center”?

In closing, whether it is the Tango, Cha Cha, Mumbo, or a Waltz that you choose to do with your clients, I know that you have all experienced that synchronistic feeling of which I speak. It is a completely immersive experience that I liken to watching certain ballroom dancers dance, or connecting so deeply with a friend in a crowded room that all the noise and distractions fall away. This is the magic ease and power of coaching. It doesn’t happen by accident. It is made possible when we, as coaches, give care and attention to ourselves and our clients in establishing robust agreements. Offering up a framework for the coaching relationship that allows us to feel supported as we step forward with the intention of taking the lead, it allows us to invite our client partners to fill the space we hold for them with their brilliance and potential.

May you create a foundational framework for your practice that allows you and your clients the freedom to improvise, be fully expressed and immersed.

May you effort, less.

May you lead with your center, more.


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