Coaching for Gifted Adults

Several names exist to qualify gifted adults.

Organizations often refer to them as “High Potentials”, or “Top talents”. In practice, the qualifiers “Zebra”, “Hyper Efficient”, “Gifted” and “Talented” are also encountered, the word “Precocious” usually being reserved for children.

Gifted adults, or Zebras, possess unique attributes.

In practical terms, coaching is conducted as with any other individuals. However, the specific characteristics of Zebras require the coach to adopt a specific stance, resembling existential or philosophical support.
Existential support for the human mind starts from the premise that, while humans are essentially alone in the world, they aspire to connections with others. People want their lives to have meaning, but ultimately, they must come to terms with the fact that they cannot count on others for a personal sense of accomplishment. They must finally realize and understand that they are fundamentally alone (Yalom, 1980). Stemming from this revelation is the anxiety of knowing that our sense of purpose in life must come from within and not from others.

A relatively recent form of consultation, philosophical consultation, is now applied in many domains seeking to achieve well being and awareness. The stance is that of a humanist, in an encounter between one subject and another, with an emphasis on communication. Here again, questioning, suffering, and paradox are at the forefront. Where existential musing presents existentialist contributions, the philosophical consultation introduces references to philosophical models.

The coach’s stance with “High Potentials”

With a Zebra, the coach is exposed to several dangers:

  • They can experience difficulties keeping up the coachee’s thought processes and the pace of their reasoning.

  • They can feel jealousy or fear. Sometimes, the Zebra’s giftedness triggers excessive admiration or submission in the coach, who is then unable to work through means other than seduction, or even flattery. This very typical counter-transferential reaction is less noticeable in coaches who are Zebras themselves.

  • They may fail to relate, thus preventing a link from being established.

Finally, the coach, whose speciality is the human subject, may feel overwhelmed by the intuitive, in-depth human understanding of their client. Some coaches are unable to deal with this.

The work of Jeanne Siaud-Facchin and Kazimierz Dabrowski, among others, prompts us to think that adopting a specific stance combining emotional hypersensitivity, intense and above all benevolent cerebral activity, and harnessing shared experience, the coach can foster the establishment of the link and thus help the gifted coachee to play an active role in their transformation.

Some common characteristics of High Potentials

  • Hyperesthesia (heightened sensory receptivity)

  • Emotional hypersensitivity

  • Intense cerebral activity

  • More rapid and tree-structured treatment of information and perceptions

  • A deficit of latent inhibition that inhibits the filtering of less important information and brings about an overload in the brain (hyperawareness, he or she sees everything, hears everything, registers everything …)

  • A global and subconscious mode of reasoning that allows him or her to arrive at the right results without being able to explain the steps having led up to the resolution of the problem.

  • An intense feeling of difference and mutual incomprehension with the rest of the world

  • The feeling of seeing him or herself living his or her life, of being merely a spectator and not an actor of his or her existence, of not “being” there.

« Being gifted is above all a way of being intelligent, an atypical mode of intellectual functioning, and an activation of cognitive resources whose cerebral bases differ and whose organization displays unexpected peculiarities. It is not about being quantitatively more intelligent but about having an intelligence that is qualitatively different. That is really not the same thing! Being gifted involves a very high level of intellectual resources, an outstanding intelligence, huge capacities of comprehension, analysis, and memorization AND a sensitivity, an emotiveness, an affective reception, a perception of the five senses, a clairvoyance whose magnitude and intensity take over the field of thinking. »
Jeanne Siaud-Facchin
in « Too Intelligent to be Happy? »