In coach training, many of the people in the program come with education and experience – a very impressive group each time! The paradigm in which they have functioned throughout their career is to be the expert and be the “go to” person who knows what to do and how to do it.
At the start of the class, we discuss being a SME, Subject Matter Expert, or being a PE, Process Expert. Ironically, when a client hires a coach the top two considerations, according to the Harvard Business Review, are experience in a similar setting and a model or process. The interesting nuance is that experience in a similar setting is less about expertise and more about understanding. At the same time, according to ICF research, the number one indicator of success in a coaching relationship is the rapport between the coach and the client.
For a coach, there is a responsibility to be a process expert. This involves learning the coaching competencies, ethics, and the process for coaching conversations.
Being a SME is a pro/con question. On the pro side, the coach understands the client’s circumstances. When applied correctly, the expertise informs coaching questions. On the con side, SME may mean the coach falls into the trap of being an advisor, consultant, guru, or mentor which is on the unethical side of coaching. If a coach is not a subject matter expert, they stay in the place of being open and curious. If a coach is a subject matter expert, they must work to keep their ideas and opinions out of the way and only use their knowledge to ask truly open questions to the client finds their own solutions.
The paradigm shift is away from thinking it helps to give answers to a place of realizing that it is more helpful to partner with others, so they find their own answers.