Everyone can use a coach. I admit that I’m biased because I’m a coach. But I haven’t always been a coach, and it wasn’t until I started using my own coach that I began to feel this way. I sought out coaching when I was mega stressed. I’d been seeing a therapist but I found the process slow, laborious and frustrating. On top of that I didn’t really feel like I was making any headway. On talking (complaining if truth be known) to a friend about it she recommended a coach she used periodically. I had no idea what to expect and what it would be like, but I trusted my friend, so I tried it.
What a refreshing and exhilarating experience it was. Soon I was making the kind of progress that had previously eluded me with my therapist. I started to feel empowered and confident that I could get back in control of my life again. In fact, I came to believe in coaching so much that I eventually switched careers even though I was relatively happy and making good money in my old career. But I knew coaching was my calling.
Most people would be surprised by how much coaching can help them. And I get it – coaching sounds vague and it can be difficult to understand exactly HOW coaching helps. This is my attempt to shine a light on the benefits of coaching. I’ll share the process with the following caveats: every coach is different, every person is unique, and, like every profession, there are awesome, good, average, bad, and awful coaches. But don’t let this discourage you from jumping in and playing.
Coaching works where general advice doesn’t work. We’re all unique. Each of us has our own special combination of values, blockers (saboteurs), motivators, beliefs and perspectives on life that make the “how” we get from A to Z a unique journey. So, when we read a book, or someone shares what they did and what they think you should do, it may make sense and it might even provide an insight, but it likely won’t produce the desired results. This is primarily for two reasons:
1. We each prefer that information be presented to us in a particular way. This is why, for any given topic, there are a multitude of books. One person’s version of the topic may resonate with some people, but not others. We each have a very specific way that we want ideas presented to us (even if we can’t articulate what way that is).
2. Insight is not the same as results. Advice, books, studies, etc. may provide interesting ideas and insights, but this is useless unless the information or ideas can be applied to our situations and acted upon. We must test these ideas, to figure out what works and what doesn’t, to further our progress. Even if the information that we learned and acted upon does not produce the desired results, this is new information that can then be applied again in a new way of taking action. Knowing is useless without action.
You need to find your own version of the answer that you’re seeking, and you must test that theory out. The cool part is that you probably already know the answer. You just may not realize that you know what it is yet. Or, maybe you do know what the answer is, but you have blockers that prevent you from moving towards it. Regardless, no one knows you better than you.
This is where coaching comes in.
A good coach will help you on this journey without giving you advice and trying to get you to do it “their way”. Good coaches will not force their clients into a set system; a good coach adapts their system to each individual client.
In the school yard, to play was to create games that tested boundaries and skills. There is lot of action in play and a lot of failed attempts, but no one cares because it’s play! That’s also the proper approach in coaching.
A good coach will first do a deep dive into who you are (not for the coach’s benefit, although it may help us to get an idea of what tools or paths to try next). This will include a mix of exercises and questions that clients often tell me no one has ever asked them before. That’s exactly the point.
We want you to explore new areas of yourself and build self-awareness. This requires reflection and a willingness to see yourself from different angles and perspectives. It requires peeling back the layers of societal expectations and other people’s ideas of who you are, which have been laid onto you throughout in your life (by parents, spouse, boss, society, etc).
A good coach will help you dig deeply to bring out your most authentic self. Asking questions, challenging your preconceived notions and having you test out these ideas, theories, or labels regarding who you think you are and, more importantly, who you want to become.
Action is essential, since pondering and pontificating won’t get you very far. These ideas, theories, and labels must be tried on and tested! This is where the fun co-creating comes in since the HOW (method of how it’s tested) will be different for every client/coach combo. Remember that it’s play, and you get to help design the rules of the game.
As you become clearer on who you are, what you value, what motivates you and what impact you want to make in the world, then what you want becomes easier to achieve.
Some people may know what they want (or think they know) but are not sure why they struggle with getting it. This brings us to another HUGE part of coaching: your saboteurs, also known as blockers, inner critics, gremlins, self-limiting beliefs… these are all labels for the self-talk and stories that hold us back from realizing our dreams and desires.
A good coach digs into your stories, because she has an understanding of the brain, especially how it LOVES creating stories to make sense of the world.
Our brains categorize A LOT of information in a short amount of time by connecting dots that don’t necessarily belong together. If we don’t “know” the answer, then our minds are well adapted to fill in the blanks. We are so amazing at this that we don’t even know we’re doing it. In fact, this filling in the blank method of story creating feels so real that the stories we create become OUR reality. Furthermore, our brains LOVE to be lazy, ahem, I mean efficient, so they will accept as reality the first version of a story that comes close enough to fitting.
It is only when we consciously bring our self-image into our creative brain (which works more in the conscious) that we are able to start gaining a truer sense of reality. As we see new ways of connecting dots that make more sense, deciphering the differences, and moving towards the most resonant option, our story of ourselves may change. Unfortunately, we are often so emotionally connected to the previous version of our story that it may not be easy to see more realistic versions.
A good coach will help to interpret the stories that a client has created about himself, the stories that he thinks are so real, and work with him to see new possibilities and new perspectives. This way, a story that honors the client and is more “true,” can be told.
As humans, we have an immunity to change, and each of our habits and strongly held beliefs fight change. We simply don’t want to move on from what we “know”, even if it’s not good for us, to something that we don’t know. The knowing is comfortable. The unknown is scary. It also takes more energy and more resources to do something new or to change a habit.
A good coach knows this and will create accountability and continuously try new things to move her client towards his goals and dreams, and closer to honoring his true self.
What else can a coach help you with? Lots! Of course, it depends on the coach, but a good coach is a learner and is constantly developing new ideas and techniques, often trying them out on herself first. A good coach is not perfect (by any means) but will walk the talk.
Often the coach’s past has included many of the same issues her clients are currently facing, and this helps us connect by having insight into the struggle, so we can offer tools to try. We are all unique in our struggles, so even if we don’t have the answer for you, we probably have a roadmap of things to try so you can find the right answer for you while building self-awareness.
The areas where a coach can help are limited only by the client’s imagination, but some examples are: creating balance, building confidence, reducing stress, transitions, difficult conversations, mastering leadership, cultivating happiness, health and well-being, and how to thrive in whatever area that motivates you.
All you, as a client, need do is to fully show up, do the work, play and not shy away from the tough questions.
Here are a few tips for finding a good coach:
- Chemistry – this is the most important aspect of choosing a coach. You need to connect with your coach and feel that you can be completely open and honest with her and that she will be courageous enough to both speak the hard truth and to be your biggest advocate at the same time.
- Certification – I’m sure that there are good coaches who are not certified, but I haven’t met many. A certification does not guarantee that the coach is good, but it is a quick way to weed out many not-so-great coaches. A certification demonstrates that the coach has been trained in best practices, is committed to continuous learning and has put the time and effort into this calling. I recommend the coach be ICF certified in addition to any other certifications she may hold.
- Experience – It is not necessary for a coach to have worked in your industry to be a good coach. Depending on your goals, you may find it helpful to have a coach with some specific technical expertise. For example, if you are about to experience a career transition, it helps to have a coach that understands the different aspects of the process. For example, I will try to help a client edit their resume, prep for an interview, negotiate comp packages, and create a development plan when they start with the new organization – my HR expertise comes into play here (even if resume writing is not my favorite). Although, keep in mind, offering this expertise is often considered consulting or advising and not true coaching.
Ready to test drive coaching? Feel free to reach out for a complimentary, no obligation, intro session to explore how coaching can benefit you. If we’re not a match, I’m happy to refer you to some awesome coaches in my network as well. If you want to learn more, check out my Coaching FAQ.