Last night, I sat down next to a lawyer in a bar in Alexandria, VA. After he finished telling me that he had spent his entire Saturday in the office (a life affirming moment that ending my law career with the LSAT was the right move), he naturally asked the infamous, “and what do you do?” question. “I work at an ed tech company. And I'm a Coach.”
Cue confused stare.
“A Coach? Like of a tee ball team?”
“No. A Coach. Like as in I work with clients who are overcoming challenges and making meaningful changes in their lives.”
And now the doubtful judgment glare. He was a lawyer after all.
“Oh, you’re like a therapist.”
I could feel my temperature rising. “No, not like a therapist at all actually.”
The conversation continued like this for a while until I finally said, “You know, the easiest way for me to explain this is to just show you what coaching is. Do you have a few minutes?”
And who knew? I actually do some pretty good coaching one glass of wine down in a crowded bar. Maybe not something I want to do on a regular basis, but I was pretty pleased.
At the end of our session, he thanked me, paid for my wine, and said, “I wasn’t expecting to get a homework assignment with my beer, but I think I get this Coaching thing now. And by the way, you really need to figure out how to put this into words.”
And he’s right. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to explain coaching, and while I know coaching may be best experienced, the question is too frequent not to at least attempt to explain.
Let’s start with the technical definition from the International Coach Federation:
Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
Did that clear anything up for you?
Didn’t think so.
So, here’s my best take at it. And this is some version of what you’ll get from now on if you sit down next to me at the bar (and order me a glass of red):
Coaching is a dance and a partnership. It’s two people who are co-creating a relationship in service of deep and meaningful change. A Client comes to coaching because he or she is ready to shut down the status quo and do something different. But that something different can be overwhelming, confusing, or just fucking scary. And going it alone just isn’t an option.
Of course, someone can always turn to a family member, friend, or colleague for support when making a change. But that other person always has a dog in the fight. That person says things like, “Oh I totally know what you’re going through; let me tell you what I did...” or “Yeah, but I don’t think that is going to be the right thing for your family.” We’ve all received and given this type of support. It’s usually well intentioned and often very valuable. But making a big change requires something different.
A Coach enters the relationship without bias and without judgment. As a Coach, I want the best for my Client, and I deeply believe that the Client is the only one who has the answers.
Every Client I take on is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. Every Client is the expert of him or herself.
There’s no need for the Coach to tell the Client what to do. The Client doesn’t look to the Coach to be the problem solver. Instead, the Coach supports the Client’s journey of uncovering values, finding meaning and purpose in all aspects of life, and holding the Client’s agenda.
Ok, I’ll stop there because I just threw out up a lot of coach jargon, so let me break that down just a little more...
A Client comes to Coaching wanting to make a change. For example, maybe the Client is unhappy in her job and wants to change jobs. As the Coach, I hold that agenda – the agenda of wanting to make a shift in position – and I also pry deeper.
What values are most important to her?
Which of those are not being honored in her current job?
How about in her relationships?
What would life look like if those values were being honored?
What’s keeping her from reaching for that?
All of a sudden, we’ve opened new space and have lots of ground to cover. At the same time, I know that she wants to make a career change, so I’m holding that in one hand, while simultaneously allowing her to explore what is necessary to lead a more fulfilling life. As we go deeper these two agendas merge and all of a sudden her decisions around career change (and any other decision points) are more intentional and focused; she has more clarity about why she’ll take a certain path and how to go about getting what she wants.
That may sound a little frou-frou, so let me get just a bit more technical. In our early sessions, we use a variety of exercises to get some of these basics down. For example, we may look at a time the Client was pissed as all hell to get at what values were not being honored. We might rate (this is for you quantitative clients out there) your satisfaction with how a value is being honored and then rate how big the obstacle is to gaining greater satisfaction with that value.
I almost always give homework. It’s like middle school all over again, but this time there’s no grade, and there’s even learning in not doing the homework. I believe that coaching is about learning and growing, and while some of that might happen during a coaching session, much of it actually happens between sessions. My homework assignments deepen the work we do together and hold you accountable for making a change.
Coaching is work... for both the Coach and the Client. As a Coach, I support my Client by listening – really listening, like the kind you long for and so rarely receive – asking powerful questions, brainstorming, and offering my opinion every once in a while. I walk alongside my Clients and hold them naturally creative, resourceful and whole, and I witness and champion their discovery, growth, and leadership. From there, the Client gets it done.
Ok, there it is. It is not clean and neat. You can’t wrap it up and serve it up in a box. But that’s what coaching is to me.
Whether that helps explain it or not, I’m sticking to my original opinion that coaching is best experienced. So, if that peaked some interest, sign up for a free consultation, and get a little taste of what it’s like. Or come sit next to me at the bar and buy me a glass of wine.