Hi, everyone. My name is Alex — and I’m a coach.
There, I said it. I’m a coach. (Don’t freak out if you’re working with me on other things, I’m still doing everything else too!)
I’ve been keeping a (relatively) low profile about this coaching thing for a while, because I was still processing the various reactions that people had when I told them I was preparing to get certified as a coach. Based on a representative sample compiled with utter disregard for the laws of statistics, these reactions tend to fall within one of three categories, so I decided I should accompany my public announcement with a list of FAQs, just in case the random sample actually turns out to be representative. And if you have any other questions, please let me know – I am always happy to talk about this stuff, because it’s just awesome! You may need to stop me at some point, though…
So here goes – coaching FAQs, as (involuntarily) suggested by my friends and family:
Um, that’s great. But what is it? Are you, like, a therapist now?
That’s a fantastic question, thanks! No, I am definitely not a therapist. There are tons of definitions of coaching out there, some more grandiose than others, but the one I like best comes courtesy of the Neuroleadership Institute (which is, incidentally, where I got my certification): according to them, coaching is “facilitating positive change by improving thinking”. It’s nice and short but each word tells a story:
- “facilitating” – the coach is a facilitator, not a teacher or a trainer; coaching is about asking the right questions to help the client get to their own conclusions, not telling people what to do.
- “positive change” – coaching is solution-focused, not problem-focused. As coaches, we aim to help clients formulate and reach their own goals. The things that get in the way are, of course, important to acknowledge and look into, but the focus will always be on moving forward, rather than looking back in too much detail.
- “by improving thinking” – coaching is based on the concept of “listening for potential”, which means listening to clients with the belief that they already hold the key to the issues they are confronting; we just need to help them find it, by helping them improve the way they think about things.
So why do it that way? Why not just tell people what they should be doing and save them time and money?
Well, first of all because everyone’s different; the chances that I or anyone else will be able to tell you exactly what you should do in order to, for example, improve the way your team works together, or have a better relationship with your kids, are infinitesimal. Then, because our brains suffer greatly from “not invented here” syndrome – even assuming I could find the perfect solution for you, you would probably not see it as such. And even if we were to go further into fairytale territory and assume that I found the perfect solution for you and you agreed with me that it was perfect, your level of emotional involvement (and chances of actually implementing the solution) would be much lower than if you had come up with that solution all by yourself.
“I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.” ― Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband
So the first job of the coach is to help you reach insight – the “aha!”, “eureka!”, “can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner” moment when you work stuff out for yourself. When you have an insight, your brain creates new mental maps and releases tremendous energy – kind of like internal fireworks. But, like fireworks, insight energy is as short-lived as it is intense, and the second job of the coach is to help you capture that energy and create structure around it to ensure that you will actually follow up and implement this fantastic insight your brain just uncovered.
Does that mean that coaching is the only way to do things, or that it’s better than mentoring, training or therapy? Definitely not. Some issues require external input to be resolved – sometimes we actually need advice, so we will look for a mentor or trainer. And sometimes we just need to go through some serious emotional healing or processing, and that’s when therapy is probably your best choice.
What – you too? Everyone and their dog is a coach…
I agree that it might seem that way, because unlike, say, psychotherapy, coaching is not a regulated profession – so you don’t need an official licence or authorization to call yourself a coach. (Which, by the way, makes coaching similar to management consulting. Hmm…) So it’s totally understandable if you’re a bit skeptical about it. And I agree with you – there are some serious weirdoes out there calling themselves coaches.
Which means that it’s really important, when you choose a coach, to be pretty thorough about your due diligence:
- get clear about what it is exactly that the coach does do (see question 1 above, but also ask them how they see their role);
- talk to others who have worked with the coach before;
- check their qualifications and maybe read up on the type of coaching they do (all the good coaching schools will have a website) and see if it fits your style;
- make sure you like the person and have good chemistry with them – you don’t have to become best buddies, but you do want to look forward to the sessions, not dread them!
Some people are adamant that they “cannot be coached”, to which I can only quote Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right”. I think that’s especially true for coaching, because you as the coachee should be doing all the work – this is about you finding your own solutions, remember? But really, I’ve seen it work and it’s pretty cool, so maybe don’t diss it till you’ve tried it?
A coach, I see…What kind?
Again, an excellent question, because there are all sort of coaches out there. Leadership coaches and executive coaches and life coaches and weight loss coaches and even divorce coaches (about 9,880,000 results in 0.48 seconds, just in case you were just about to google “divorce coaching”…)
As its name implies, the Neuroleadership Institute (NLI – my coaching alma mater) is pretty involved with leadership, so many of the tools that we are taught have to do with career advancement and professional life: productivity, conflict management, decision-making, work-life balance etc. But here’s the thing: even in your professional life, everything is personal. Even if the goal is, for example, getting a promotion, getting there will probably include at least a few steps that will require you to get up close and personal with yourself and your emotional habitat: establishing habits, understanding your emotional triggers, dealing with conflict, understanding what motivates you, what energises you, and what leaves you depleted. These tools and steps will be as relevant to personal goals as they are to professional goals. The thing that I really liked about NLI, and which really drew me to it, was their emphasis on basing their methods in neuroscience research and adapting them to what we now know (which, by the way, is still only a little!) about the way in which our brains work.
So, in short, I’m a “generalist” coach, if such a thing exists. That being said, I absolutely love working with people who want to live lives that are fuller, braver, richer, more fulfilling and more in tune with their own values – because that’s what Spring Mind is all about! Working mothers tend to be prime candidates for this, because the career – parenting combo forces you to take a long hard look at how you allocate your time, and to ask “why” a lot more. But you don’t have to be a woman, or a parent, to start asking yourself what you really want in your life and working on making that come true. And that’s where the magic is.
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