The crucial skill of conceptualization

One of the advantages of The Center for Executive Coaching (and our sister sites The Institute for Business Growth and Center for Career Coaching) is that we focus on the need for coaches to conceptualize effectively.

Many coaches walk into a situation cold. Yes, they may have reviewed notes from previous sessions, and they might have a generic coaching plan. But they haven't really taken the time required to develop hypotheses about the root cause of the issue that the client faces. To put it bluntly, they are doing lazy, lightweight coaching.

Coaching can learn a lot from consulting — without actually doing consulting. A good consultant answers the following question, which I believe was pioneered by McKinsey Consulting: "If the engagement ended today, what would the answer be?"

They don't necessarily know the answer, but they have taken the time to conceptualize the root causes of the client's challenges, and to develop a comprehensive framework to address those root causes. That way, they know the most efficient pathway to assessing what's going on and getting to the bottom line. People who don't do this "boil the ocean" with clients by pursuing every single possible thing — and this will frustrate managers and executives quickly.

One key element of this approach is developing a MECE — or Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive – framework. MECE means that something in one category can't be in another, and all possible categories are considered. Once the consultant or coach has a MECE framework, he or she can drill down with the client and figure out what's happening. For instance, many of my clients think they have a revenue problem, when they really have a productivity/cost problem. Without a MECE framework, I might take their word for it and we will both go down the wrong path.

We are not consultants. But we are also not lightweights who ask fuzzy open-ended questions. The great coach knows how to conceptualize an issue and get to the root cause with the client quickly. Then both can develop solutions and move forward towards improved results.

Once you can develop frameworks, your practice can take off. Now you have intellectual capital. You can take your frameworks and write books, create seminars, develop information products, and license your content to others.

Every coach needs to know how to do this, which is why that's a key part of our curriculum at the Center for Executive Coaching.

Some of you are reading this and don't have a clue about what I am talking about. This is high level, advanced stuff. For those of you who get it, the Center for Executive Coaching might be the best training and educational investment in yourself you can ever make.

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