The ‘hummingbird’ type of coaching

[Reading time: 6 mins read]

Coaches often fail to appreciate how profoundly their work can influence the individual they are coaching and their specific circumstances. The key here is the word individual and that’s how us coaches should treat every person we encounter in our coaching practice.

People are multidimensional beings and our aim is to uncover and unpick the various dimensions. I’d like to see the individuals I coach having a super-hero moment i.e. getting out of the assignment empowered, having uncovered a little bit more about their thoughts and feeling confident to take control and to act.

The model I use is flexible and takes into account all different models and means depending on the person and the situation. I built this model having in mind that different people will respond better to different tools and the topic a person brings on the table will also dictate what methodology one can use as a coach. The way I see it is that the method should be person/situation specific and the coach should be skilled in drawing form their experience and knowledge. I see the use of different methods and techniques used in different sessions with the same coachee, if the topic and the situation they bring on the session demands for something mode specific i.e. if the person brings a work-related performance or skills’ matter.

I use here, figuratively, the multi-motion flight technique of hummingbirds, and I liken this to our ability as coaches to be flexible and adaptable. Hummingbirds are nature’s more agile flyers among birds. They are capable of not only sustained hovering flight, but also fast forward flight and various rapid manoeuvres. Hummingbirds exhibit remarkable capabilities for both generating manoeuvres and stabilizing their course and orientation after air perturbation; mastering a repertoire of controlled aerobatics is essential for their aerial survival. Moreover, hummingbirds use a multi-motion flight technique (yaw, pitch, roll) as escape response and aerial survival or sexual selection. The purposes of their flight are not relevant; however, their maneuverability is.  Like a hummingbird, a coach hovers over and uses the same multi-motion flight technique to gain better view and visibility to facilitate the journey.

I believe the relationship between the coach and the client is a dynamic one, in that both ‘stakeholders’ transform the journey, but they are transformed as well, as part of the process in their awareness and understanding and in feeling empowered; they incorporate themselves into this transformation by adapting and evolving all the time. Coaching is not a term or a rigid model – it is a dialogue-based approach, a coming together of minds to shed light into the client’s thoughts, beliefs and values. 

My modus operandi is the Socratic method (also known as maieutic = pertaining to midwifery) the method of eliciting knowledge in the mind of a person by interrogation and insistence on close and logical reasoning. This is a method of elenchus, a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.

Based on that, I implement a process of enquiry and discussion, by listening, questioning and offering summaries, observations and feedback, to help gain increased clarity regarding a situation or a topic, which will then enable us to make progress in some way.

I begin by making connections and defining the context in the person’s life to help them in their professional and personal journey. Through this process my role is to help the person in their quest to pursue a career change, a life transition, performance improvement, leadership strengthening, health & wellbeing matters and anything else that can improve their personal and professional life.

Context is important too for both the coach and the person. For the former is about understanding the facts, the rationale, reasons and circumstances behind them and helps to create the background of the journey.  For the latter is about verbalising their thoughts as they take form. Often unexpressed thoughts can cause confusion. By spelling them out the person will get more clarity and the coach will too.

God is in the details and attention to small details creates a deeper rapport with the individual, and ultimately yields the greatest results for example remembering details about their job and their family, or situations they have mentioned. Clutterbuck & Megginson (2010) also advocate for the importance of contextual knowledge:

One of the most pernicious myths about coaching is that coaches need no contextual knowledge of the client’s world. Whether born of self-aggrandizement or a mechanistic view of coaching, this is manifestly untrue, on two counts – client safety (and hence ethicality) and efficacy.

Context helps understand and form the right questions, and with this builds greater connection with the person. Aloof coaches alienate the individual they coach, by lacking empathy and understanding and eventually credibility.

Finally, getting feedback is vital and I like to turn this into learning. I listen and analyse all the feedback I get from people I coach and other colleagues. I see this as being able to develop more my skills, learn from the individuals and become a confident and helpful coach. I reflect on my own practice after each session and I strive to identify my shortfalls and improve. Also, I am eager to connect with other coaches so I can discuss and learn about my coaching practice. Ever learning and improving myself from the whole process! I quote here Aristotle who said: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” So, if you want to do, say and be something you need to be open to feedback and this is a difficult skill to learn.

Applications & extensions: coaching is a continuum of genres that facilitate different situations using different tools, for example, some of them focus more on skills and performance and the tools used are more active and direct, (e.g. GROW, eFIRE) while others are more drawn to the person and changes in their behaviour, and the techniques used are much ‘softer’ and with an analytical style (Co-Active, creative means etc. ). Certain models are more focused on tangible solutions while others are more person-centred and with psychological aspects. A holistic approach to coaching adds value to organisations and people engaged with a flexible coach, as the approach is not a one-size-fits-all approach.


Clutterbuck, D. and Megginson, D. (2010) ‘Coach maturity: an emerging concept’, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching, Vol. viii, Issue 1, December, pp 1-11 (