Politicians: Coaching’s Next Frontier

by Michelle Randall, CPCC

“We believe in co-active relationships, partnerships and community, knowing that our impact will be much greater than if we acted alone.”


Imagine that Co-Active principles replaced partisanship in government. “We operate from a foundation of respect and trust that each individual has inherent value to add. We listen with deep curiosity and intent to discover and build on each other’s ideas and intentions.”

What would be different in our legislatures?

“We create designed alliances with explicit shared expectations of roles and outcome so we can both support and challenge each other in action.”*

What could be achieved in our lifetimes?

In the United States, less than a quarter of the public has confidence in Congress, and just a third in President Bush. And faith in political leaders is plummeting around the globe. Everybody knows that something’s gotta give-and that’s opening the window for coaching in the political arena.

So how can coaching change the world? The same way it changes lives every day. We model co-activity, self-awareness and emotional intelligence with our clients and in our communities. Our work supports organizational leaders in developing themselves, and their evolution impacts their staff and ripples out to families and communities.

It’s time we take coaching to the political arena. Public officials and their staff are people working crazy hours with little pay. They’re working to change the world and are subject to constant attack. Their profession is treated with contempt. No wonder a siege mentality sets in and they start to insulate themselves with people who like them a lot. No surprise that truth evaporates when everyone has an agenda for them.

Coaches have a huge role to play in the political arena. Many political leaders are savvy enough to know that they need a steady dose of agenda-free feedback and a safe environment where they can think out loud with someone they trust.

On Coaching Political Leaders

Eight co-authors and I just released Winning Without Compromising…Yourself: Unlocking Personal and Professional Mastery in the Political Arena. It took us 2.5 years to research and write. In that time, I went from having a dream of working with political leaders to actually coaching members of the U.S. House of Representatives and state officials. To help others make that transition, here are five things it helps to know to effectively coach political leaders.

  • Time: They have crushing work schedules. In my years of coaching elite executives, I have never seen these kinds of 90-hour work weeks and all-nighters. Once they reach leadership and federal levels, they hand over control of their schedule to staff, and our work often begins with them regaining co-activity with their own day.
  • The Glass House: There are unique challenges to life in the public eye. Trust isn’t given easily. It’s hypercompetitive, and the “need” to appear perfect is very real. Your clients can see their family members attacked, which is often much more painful then being attacked themselves. You can research your clients thoroughly thanks to the Internet. Ask yourself if you will, and consider the benefits and liabilities of doing so.
  • Payment and Ethics: If you’re working with elected officials, you may be paid by the official, by the campaign or by the office fund. As far as ethics rules are concerned, it makes a huge difference, since there are varying regulations at the state and local levels, as well as between the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Campaign expenses are public record, which jeopardizes the confidentiality of the relationship. On-site, observational coaching can be done in some circumstances but not others, and the guidelines aren’t always clear. It’s complicated and a world of difference from our self-regulated profession.
  • Power: These people have power to impact a lot of lives. What will you do when your clients pursue policies that you dislike or even fear? You can’t just hide on your side of the aisle unless you and your clients think in lockstep with a particular party. Any assumption of shared values and beliefs with your clients is a landmine. Know your agenda, then be prepared to manage yourself in the moment and grapple with the implications of your work regularly. Why do you want to coach political leaders? What role does power or celebrity status play in that decision? Know your own motivations and be prepared to manage yourself so that you can appreciate life in the corridors of power but not get too dazzled that it compromises your ability to speak the truth.
  • Coach and Citizen: Coaching is about the person, not the politics. So, how will you choose to be a non-political coach and a citizen at the same time? What do you make up about people from the other party? Or your own? If you’re focusing on the politics, you’re doing something other than coaching.

There are plenty more considerations when it comes to coaching political leaders, such as staff management, family, and the potential collaboration between coaches and consultants. However, the most important thing to know is that when you’re coaching, your clients are just people.

When I took my headset off after my first coaching call with a political leader, I thought, “They’re just like everybody else.” I felt a sense of disappointment. Other times, I’ve found myself walking toward the Capitol Building smiling from ear to ear.

Coaches can change the world by coaching politicians.
Will you?

Who We Are
Winning Without Compromising…Yourself: Unlocking Personal and Professional Mastery in the Political Arena introduces executive coaching to the political arena. *CTI’s Value of Co-Activity from the website www.thecoaches.com


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