The hardest thing about being a coach
There are four things I find difficult about coaching.
The first one is that there are many misconceptions about what coaching is and what it entails. The second is navigating those misconceptions to help people know whether they would benefit from coaching.
Third is that coaching is a weighty interpersonal responsibility because it involves holding space for other people's hopes, fears, frailties and aspirations.
I would also add that I found coaching training mentally and emotionally challenging.
Training to be a coach
When I first started coaching it was 2008.
Coaching (which was usually called Life Coaching or Executive Coaching) wasn’t the big thing it is now, and there wasn’t that much evidence-based research then* into its efficacy.
I could see that it worked, but I couldn’t read much stuff that backed that up.
That was my first challenge, because I am person that needs proof, not just observational evidence (that’s a little insight into my psyche, and it’s both a good thing and something that can hold me back).
I was thinking maybe I’d do a masters in coaching, but coaching master’s courses were prohibitively expensive. So I did a series of training courses instead.
The first one I did was an internal training course at the Co-op, who are a big employer in Manchester, where I lived, that offered cheap places on their two-day programmes to organisations with charitable status.
I enjoyed it and felt it reflected my values and attitudes. It made me want to get properly accredited.
That course also opened my eyes to quite how miserable I was at work and with my overall lifestyle, and I handed in my notice when I got back to the office. Just like that. (I wouldn't recommend this approach btw. There are better ways!).
Then I did an accredited training course over 3 months which involved learning the principles of coaching, various techniques and tools, and practicing a lot with the other people on the course and anyone else I could get to be a guinea pig.
I didn’t find the formal learning hard, but all the other stuff was intense.
There was a lot of self-reflection and showing vulnerability in front of strangers.
The whole experience was like looking in a mirror with your skin removed. It’s fascinating in a way, but you just want to look away: it’s so painful.
I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about why that was such a challenging time for me: but that analogy sums it up I think.
That was the hardest part of the work. I’ve done other coaching courses since that have been much easier because I was more used to the format. And I’ve had so much coaching and therapy since that floodgate was opened that it doesn’t scare me anymore.
But, be warned, if this is a route you want to take, there’s some intense internal work involved in being coached. It's not a cosy advice session.
The Responsibility of the Coach Client Relationship
After feeling very exposed and vulnerable in training, the second thing that’s been hard is learning through working with clients.
Everyone has to start at the beginning, a bit clueless, and learn though their mistakes. I always feel that coaching is a position of massive responsibility because you are asking people to enter into a covenant of trust with you.
It’s not just that you want them to trust that you’ll be discrete. It’s also that to be coached you need to be vulnerable. So as a coach I am asking people to trust me with their feelings and their thoughts and their flaws.
I want them to open up about things that they often suppress or compensate for in everyday life.
I need to be able to get to know people so that I can work with them to identify their strengths and help to maximise them. I need to help them to put their vulnerabilities into context.
At the start, I was much less confident with, and maybe even less mindful of that.
With experience I’ve learned that rapport and trust take different amounts of time for different people.
So if it doesn’t happen immediately, that’s ok.
And if it doesn’t happen at all, I think it’s fine to call it quits if that’s what feels right to both parties. Early on that would have panicked me. Now I see it as a healthy part of the process.
Coaching is not Quackery
I sometimes read depressing comments online about how coaches are all quacks and con artists.
That can be a challenge. Existentially. Ego-wise.
But I think it's worth remembering that sure, there are probably people out there that you should avoid. Purveyors of snake oil and magic bullets promising to transform your ills and make you the recipient of endless riches. Avoid those people: they prey on a desire for a quick fix. But that's not what coaching is.
Coaching is a powerful interpersonal process that can focus, energise, re-acquaint you with forgotten skills and talents, and support you through making challenging changes.
Coaching and Therapy are Not the Same
People often conflate coaching and therapy. They are distinct, despite having similarities.
It’s really important to draw a clear line for clients about the differences between therapy and coaching. Clients learn what coaching is through the process of being coached. But there's also a challenge in creating clear expectations from the start. Coaching isn't a metal health intervention.
Though there may be incidental emotional and mental wellbeing benefits, these are not main purpose of coaching. Coaches are not trained therapists.
I have had clients that find this difficult to grasp, because there are aspects of coaching that look like therapy and aspects of therapy that look like coaching.
Sometimes I find this hard, and again it comes down to the weight of responsibility. Just this week, one of my previous clients who experienced mental health benefits from coaching with me was suggesting that they recommend me to a friend suffering from debilitating anxiety. I discouraged it. Working with a coach could help anxiety because it can provide insight and new thinking patterns and problem-solving skills. It can enhance someone’s sense of control over stressors.
But, it can also make anxiety worse if it’s used irresponsibly, because unlike therapy it doesn’t look at root causes or diagnostics. Its tools aren’t specific to mental illness.
Moreover, coaches aren’t trained to recognise or diagnose mental health problems. Coaching is future focused, and the way that I do it, is solutions focused, so a lot goes unsaid in terms of mental health, and rightly so.
I sometimes communicate to a client that they may also want to seek therapy. This isn't a diagnosis, but based on an observation that they may be grappling with thought patterns or emotional responses that aren't the purview of coaching.
I mostly subscribe to the view that everyone would benefit from therapy, so why the hell not?
Coaching might impact mental well-being by improving skills around: boundary setting, problem solving, positive self-talk, self-acceptance, developing insight, and improving optimism. Coaching won't: diagnose or treat specific mental health problems, heal past wounds, or provide therapeutic interventions.
Coaching can improve wellness by facilitating your ability to enact lasting lifestyle change or career change.
Mindset + Time + Understanding change processes = feeling more positive, hopeful and fulfilled.
Finding the right fit with clients
I run a small business, so it could be tempting to work with anyone that expresses an interest.
But I definitely have an ideal client in mind. This is about who I enjoy working with and who will benefit most from my approach.
The benefit of this approach is that I feel excited about who I’m working with, and they are more likely to benefit from working with me rather than with someone else.
So, who is my ideal client?
Typically aged between 28-55 though age matters less than life stage: which is that they want a change in their lifestyle or career, or are already experiencing a change that they want to get the most they can from.
They are proactive and energetic, and are prepared to go out and make stuff happen (even if they don’t have the skills or confidence quite yet).
They are interested in how they can develop their autonomy rather than expecting a coach to provide a magic bullet: it’s surprising how many people think a coach is a fixer that will provide life changing advice. It just belies reality to imagine that anything works that way. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? But change isn’t just about making the change happen. You have to change too because you have to start thinking and acting in new ways, and that’s the hard bit that your coach helps with: that's the bit that's most challenging to do without support.
I wouldn’t say it’s too hard to ensure I get the right fit because I have processes in place to make sure that the client is right for me and I am right for the client. These are pre-coaching questionnaires, a free chemistry call, a coaching taster session, and checks and balances during coaching. But it has been a learning process for sure.
As long as you believe in what you do... the rest will follow
So, there you go. I’ve been coaching for a long time, and it's a gift to be able to facilitate people’s learning and growth. I love seeing other people succeed, and playing a part in that is a privilege.
The biggest challenge is not the coaching itself, but getting clients through the door. So to make it easier for you I coach online using Zoom. And I offer a full length free coaching session because I think it's important that you know what you're getting before you make an investment.
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*The modern literature is ever expanding drawing on methodologies from the field of psychology. For a quick overview:
Bennett, J.f & Bush, M. W. 2014. Coaching for change. New York and London: Routledge
Grant, A. M. (2003). The impact of life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition and mental health. Social Behavior and Personality, 31, 253-264. doi:10.2224/sbp.2003.
Grant, A. M., Passmore, J., Cavanagh. M. J., & Parker, H. (2010). The state of play in coaching today: A comprehensive review international Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology , 25, 125-167. doi:10.1002/978047066
I'm Jodie Lamb and I have been running Trevnee Coaching since early 2020. I've been an accredited life coach since 2008. I focus on Careers and Change. I work with people that are either thinking about changing things in their work and want a plan and support with acting on the plan; and people that are experiencing any kind of change in their lives and need help to make the most of it.
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