“I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable.”
—John Russell, Managing Director, Harley-Davidson Europe
I’ve been coaching for more than a decade and it’s changed my life for the better. Watching my clients navigate their successes and obstacles has been an amazing gift. But the gifts I myself have received from coaching are even greater. Not only have I developed skills that make me more effective in my work and personal lives, but I’ve gotten to really engage with others around universal truths about how people make positive changes and achieve greatness in their lives. Let me elaborate a bit further on these gifts.
The Gift of Personal and Professional Growth
My first coaching client worked in a sterile, gray cubicle in a call center located in the basement of a large office building. One of the things she was looking for from coaching was opportunities to inject some color and beauty into her life. “There are so many beautiful things available to us,” she said. “Why should we spend any time in environments that are less than that?” Another early coaching client was working on leaving her current job, but, she told me, she wanted to focus part of her coaching on an examination of herself. She didn’t want to start a different job and to have the same issues surface. She wanted to make sure the problem with her current job was actually about the job itself, not about her. A more recent client reminded me how setbacks and disappointments—like not getting the funding for his start-up—can cause people to examine their very identity, not just the situation at hand. “I thought I was meant to create and run a company,” he lamented. “When I didn’t get the funding, it made me question if I really am an entrepreneur.” As a result of these clients, I pick the beautiful office supplies over the standard ones, I examine what I’m bringing into challenging situations so that I’m not simply running from them, and I know to unravel identity from the circumstances at hand. These are just a few examples of the wisdom that comes from my clients in every coaching session. Some of these truths are themes that run throughout my experience coaching others; each and every time I hear a client reveal or discover it, it reminds me of how to be and how to behave in the world.
Then there is the literal learning that I do when I’m coaching. For example, if a client is struggling with running effective meetings, creating psychological safety on her team, or time management, I’m reading up on those topics. Sometimes, if she’s game, I’m suggesting that my client read the same books and articles that I am reading, and we talk about what she’s taking from those materials. Sometimes, I’m asking her to try out a tool or exercise that I find in those resources. As a coach, I’ve also found it helpful to stay up to date on some perpetual topics like motivation, how we learn, and how we change that will help me to be a better coach. Of course, the other topic to stay on top of is coaching itself. I attend workshops, recertification events, and read articles on the changing field.
Not to mention that as a coach, I am constantly pushing myself to be at the top of my game when it comes to reflective listening, relationship building, and being present with people. I am so thankful that having coaching clients gives me the opportunity to hone in on these skills on a regular basis. And I push myself by purposefully coaching individuals who are different from me and different from my prior clients.
The Gift of Learning to Trust Your Intuition
It’s hard to practice being a coach. You sort of have to coach in order to practice. You can’t prepare in advance as you would if you were giving a presentation or running a meeting. You can’t plan for possible requests or arguments as you might do in a negotiation or debate. You need to “meet your client wherever she is;” to respond in the moment to wherever the unique individual in front of you goes. And for that, you need to use—and trust—your intuition.
Until I was a coach, I never really considered myself an intuitive person. That was something only the very special people were. But I have come to realize that because I am intuitive—meaning I understand things quickly without conscious reasoning; I make pretty good choices based on my natural inclinations. What I’ve learned through coaching is that most people have that intuition; it’s just that some stifle it more than others. Coaching will help you release yours.
The Gift of Vulnerability
Neither you nor your coachee enters the relationship without some level of vulnerability—uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. So what’s the gift in that? Simply that, as shame researcher and author Brené Brown, writes, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”
As a coach, you get to share and model vulnerability with another person. In other words, you get to share these benefits—and to experience them. If you’re not willing to fail—and you will fail—there is no innovation. If you can’t be seen, you can’t be truly loved. When you’re vulnerable, you are creative, appreciated, and courageous.
The Gift of Understanding the Power of Transparency
I can’t say enough about how transparency works for a coach. When you embrace transparency, you never have to question what you’re doing during a coaching conversation, you never get stuck worrying about what to say to your client next, and you never have to worry that you sound unprofessional. All of these are blocks to listening. With transparency, you can completely listen to what the client is saying and respond authentically.
For example, authentic responses could be when I say:
• “I was so intrigued by what you were saying, I didn’t think at all about what I was going to say next.”
• “You just said so much I can’t sort out where to go next. Let’s both take a few seconds to process that and then you tell me where does it send you?”
• “I heard what you said. I’m just so touched/surprised/impressed that I don’t know what to say next.”
• “There are three ways we can go based on what you just told me, and I’m not sure which is the best route to take. Shall I share with you where I’m thinking we might take that?”
I could go on and on, but the idea is this: Narrate what’s happening for you and you become quite present with the other person, what might have been your problem is now a shared problem, and you can face any daunting conversation.
And, if you can do this a coach, you can do it as a manager, a parent, or a friend, because being transparent is being authentic and building bridges from one human being to another.
The Gift of Letting Go of the Illusion of Control
As a coach, I can put some suggestions in to the world, and I can help guide people, but I cannot do the work for them. I cannot ensure they follow through. They have to do that. In essence, I have to give up control and let them learn their lessons in their own way on their own time. That’s hard for an efficient, risk taking, somewhat impatient person as I am. Being a coach helps you experience handing control over to someone else and being OK with wherever they go from there. You realize that not all situations will go the way you think you they should and that that’s really OK.
I have clients who say they want to find a new job but really just want their current job to be more engaging. Some clients say they want higher positions in their organizations—and even start applying for them—when in reality they doubt that they could do the new job and are only applying because they think they’re supposed to want to advance in the organization. I had a client who mourned the demise of a business plan she’d created. But when I asked her if she truly would have wanted to devote the next phase of her career to that business, she realized it wouldn’t have been a fit with her strengths, and it would have become a burden.
Many of my clients don’t achieve the goals they initially contact me about—and I’m proud of that. Instead, almost all of them tell me they live their day-to-day lives more happily, more aware, and more purposefully. Many of them come to realize that the things they initially thought they wanted weren’t actually what they wanted (only what had been expected of them), or that they really hadn’t thought through what they wanted and were only reacting to circumstances.
So, know what you want and be willing to accept another alternative—another astute thing my clients have taught me.
• • •
I hope that coaching will be as meaningful and fulfilling for you as it has been for me. You’ll be opening the door to people expressing themselves and experiencing themselves in new ways. You’ll be giving people experiments to improve their work and personal lives. You’ll be increasing awareness of people’s own strengths and desires. You’ll be helping them become positive forces in the workplace and in society. And while you’re doing that, you’ll be amassing a number of gifts yourself. Congratulations on embarking on your coaching journey.