Tools for Coaching Mastery

Coaching and the Elder Years
by Natalie Tucker Miller, IAC-CC

“You’ve never been 80, so please don’t assume to know what’s right for me.”

My mother provided this pivotal, “water in the face” moment for me almost 10 years ago. There I stood, witness to a disappearance of all the powerful coaching skills I’d thought I’d mastered. Diplomatic as I may have been, I was telling my mother what I thought she needed to do!

It was painfully obvious that it’s easy to use a coaching approach…until you’re intimately invested!

And of course my mother was right. She, in fact, was echoing the very thing I’d learned as a coach: Do not assume to know what is right for your client (mother)! This is a liberating and empowering concept in coaching, the very thing that invites inspiration and allows sustainability. And it’s equally liberating for the coach. Benefits abound! Yet in the throes of wanting what was best for my mother, I stepped in a big pile of fear, missing the perfection by a mile!

Since that day all those years ago I’ve learned, among other things, the distinction between an emotional response and responding to emotions. The former has the ability to assume a crisis situation; the latter can open possibilities for the most loving and appropriate direction. In response to emotions, we are guided to detach from outcomes, a concept with which every coach is familiar.

Even so, people often react adversely to the word “detachment” when talking about loved ones. It could appear to be advocating indifference. However, in my example, by detaching from the emotion of the situation, I was led to learn about the elder developmental stage of life, thus creating stronger understanding and allowing more compassionate actions.

And there were some interesting, paradigm shifting surprises. For instance, the authors of a McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) study reported in the journal “Neuron” that the aging process actually improves certain abilities: Elderly people appear to be better and faster at grasping the big picture than their younger counterparts. That being the case, my mother was right. How could I possibly assume to know what’s right for her, when we weren’t even viewing the situation through the same developmental lens? That explained a lot.

On the contrary, emotional responses can prevent the most appropriate solution from emerging, or prohibit the possibility that a solution may not even be necessary. It’s common to feel concern for our elder’s future, our own future, our own mortality. Being at the effect of our emotional response, we can rely too heavily on conditioning from our past and project the future instead of being in the present moment. Solutions are created in the present. Einstein has been credited for noting, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

So what’s a coach/daughter to do? A peek at the IAC Coaching Masteries® can help offer some insight to a more pro-active approach in these delicate situations.

For instance, my mother has been inhabiting the mysterious world of dementia for five or so years now, and the coaching approach is more important than ever. A key element of Mastery #1, the client feels safe to tell his or her deepest fears without judgment, is crucial to keeping the lines of communication intact, especially during the times when communication seems disconnected. Mastery #4 states the coach allows the client the opportunity to process his or her own thoughts and responses, which can eliminate the need to interject with fact corrections.

When we apply the Masteries in any relationship, we can reduce/eliminate confusion or uncertainty; increase understanding and the confidence of the client (Mastery #6), as well as for ourselves. This is where the magic of “what to do” is answered. This is how we navigate to the next phase and the next and the next. Organic solutions come forth and assumptions of what it best for someone else are left behind. As we say in the coaching biz, everyone wins.

Natalie Tucker Miller, IAC-CC, is the Lead Certifier and a certifying examiner at the IAC and has previously served on the Board of Governors as President. She currently holds positions of Master Instructor and Dean of Students at the School of Coaching Mastery. Additionally, Natalie is founder of, publisher of Picture Books for Elders™ and their families.

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