Coaching Presence: What Is A Signature Presence?
Management & Leadership

What is a signature presence, and why do coaches need one?

Sep 05, 2017
Coaching Presence
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…A tune beyond us, yet ourselves…” by Graham Williams

Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart … Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love – Rumi

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are” – Carl Jung

What is a signature presence?

An online community encourages us to “Profit from your signature genius” – to cut through our diverse multitude of gifts and talents, and focus on the ones we can best align and package into multiple streams of income.¹

Signature Presence Coaching, said to be developed by Alan Brisbon offers would-be coaches a way to ascertain what gives them most leverage to reach their wanted outcomes, embody strong leadership, show the outside world a credible, persuasive, powerful persona. It is about personal image, brand, power, exploiting a market niche, having a competitive edge, developing a unique value proposition, and impacting to maximum effect.²

These approaches to developing a signature presence seem to me very self-focused, and will probably appeal to the immature – chasing after the small p’s of position/power/possessions/pleasure/ perfection. The more mature approach is to be other-oriented, driven by the internal rather than external, and exploring and caring about Personhood, other People, Presencing, Planet and Purpose.

What SACAP sees as signature presence is close to the latter: a coach discovering who they are and how this impacts the coaching relationship. What makes them unique and how this influences their coaching style, quality and flavour.

How does signature presence relate to (higher) purpose

There are many paths to arriving at one’s higher purpose:

  • a sudden revelation
  • the result of a life crisis or experience (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual) that confronts them with a cause they are compelled to adopt,
  • gradually unfolded over the course of their life,
  • a giftedness or calling pointed out by someone else,
  • or through rigorous analyses and testing expose their unique motivational pattern (motivational thrust, preferred subject matter, abilities, recurring relationship level, role and type, and typical trigger circumstances.³ James Hillman’s ‘acorn theory’, that we enter the world complete with embedded destiny or calling or purpose, and that this consists of both doing and being, dovetails with motivational fingerprinting.4.5 

A coach cannot do more important work than this – for themselves or to guide a client. Purpose relates very closely to ‘signature presence’, answering Who am I? Why am I here?

What this means for me personally

Clients are offered ‘stretch’ on a whole person basis. I find a short excerpt from Wallace Steven’s poem very meaningful:  

They said, “You have a blue guitar. You do not play things as they are”

My ‘instrument’ or tune is to offer an alternate reality or view or reframe a situation into an opportunity, to understand that we are always in flux, and that reality shifts.

The man replied, “Things as they are, Are change upon a blue guitar”

Growth is encouraged through  reflecting back, holding up alternatives – sometimes by ‘simply’ listening and allowing the client to have their own insights and discoveries.

But play you must, a tune beyond us, yet ourselves. A tune upon the blue guitar 

Allowing the client to see another world, a new reality, new possibilities, worthwhile stretches.

This is a tune of freedom, healing, integration. The coaching outcome is not to serve the client’s self-serving requirements. Rather, it addresses their authentic, congruent potential on a whole person basis, including non-dualistic thinking, spiritual and emotional maturity, realisation of social and eco-centric interconnectedness. Only when the client is ready to hear the tune (“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” – Friedrich Nietzsche), but then, to borrow an Oliver Wendell Holmes sentiment: Once stretched we can never (like an elastic band) go back to our previous state.

I stay true to who I am. Anne Morrow Lindbergh said “When one is out of touch with oneself, one cannot touch others”. Thinking, feeling and acting congruently and in line with purpose and values, is part of what it means to be authentic – and able to connect with another with no mask on. (Stated core values – or even better, consistently practiced character virtues – are individual and seldom easily identified and selected from a list of prescribed universal values, but that is the subject of another article)

As the Skin Horse explained to the Velveteen Rabbit:8You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand”.  

Every coaching encounter happens in a hallowed space. Anita Diamant’s book, The Red Tent, is about the rape of Dinah. The red tent was a safe special, blessed place where women could talk at a deep level.The book has been published in 25 countries, and a movie made. A spontaneous “Red Tent Movement” has sprung up. In red tents there is no judgement, a chance for equal sharing, relating and learning. Every contribution is valued.  

For me the spiritual dimension overarches the rest of the whole person. We cannot divorce it from our work lives. I am acutely aware of a mystical, mysterious, inexplicable aspect that cannot be captured in words.

The usually offered dividing lines between the so-called ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ are unhelpful. Spirituality is not determined by whether your religion is Zeus or Deus. I see it as:

  • an internal focus and an outward execution
  • a transcendent worldview that calls forth a higher purpose, and rises above religion, culture and ethnicity
  • a deep appreciation of our interconnectedness as a context of our existence (working with the why? and the how?)
  • an other-orientation. The desire to serve others, society and the environment
  • the development of positive principles and character virtues, a mature ethics and morality in action (purity of heart) along with a recognition that love is the highest virtue, but reachable
  • Above skills and qualifications: “The Tibetan Buddhist teachers, on the other hand, were skilled at being good human beings”.9 I like that viewpoint.

(And it is not helpful when applied in an insensitive, blatant, evangelical way).

So, does one need much more than a humble demeanour and a clear focus on the client’s healing and growth, to have a signature presence?

On Wednesday, 13th September SACAP (the South African College of Applied Psychology) will be hosting a coaching Twitter Talk from 1pm to 2pm, focusing on Coaching Signatures – what is a coaching signature, why is it important, how to develop a coaching signature. Join the conversation by following the hashtag #CoachSignature and the @SACAPGrad_CL Twitter handle.


1. Discover Your Signature Genius and You’ll no Longer Struggle to Attract, Meet and Lead Those High-Paying Clients You Know You’re Called to Help

3. Miller, A.F & Mattson, R.T. The Truth About You: you were born for a purpose Fleming H. Revell Company: New Jersey 1977
4. Hillman, James The Soul’s Code: in search of character and calling Warner Books (by arrangement with Random House) NY 1997
5. London, Scott On Soul, Character and Calling: a conversation with James Hillman 1998
6. Diamant, Anita The Red Tent St. Martin’s Press 1997
7. Stevens, Wallace. Collected Poems, Knopf, NY, 1990
8. Williams, Margery The Velveteen Rabbit Egmont London 2005
9. Miller, Andrea Matthieu Ricard’s Journey to Compassion Lion’s Roar December 9, 2016

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