When I meet new people and tell them that I do life coaching, every once in a while, someone voices the opinion that I get paid rather well just to have a ‘nice chat.’
They totally miss the point that during a coaching conversation, I’m actually bringing my full attention, focus and skill to bear. Additionally, most people I’ve met are reasonably uninformed about what those skills might be.
As someone who trains coaches, what bothers me most is the suggestion that reading a book on coaching is as good as having a life coach. It isn’t.
In my opinion, the whole ‘little life coach in your pocket’ turn of mind is sloppy thinking disguised as convenience and self-sufficiency. And it sells really well.
Several years ago, I participated in an international survey about coaching. Coaching clients were also part of the survey and the findings revealed several key facts.
Firstly, life coaches were most valued as a sounding board for their clients. As human beings we’re designed to work best around people, in that many of our thought processes are focused purely on interaction. We talk, share new information and bounce ideas off each other.
It’s difficult to bounce ideas off yourself, as the whole point of the process is to reinterpret the same information through different filters, in comparison with a different set of reference experiences and feed back the result. It’s fairly obvious then that anyone who suggests that such perspective can be achieved through a simple step-by-step written process is kidding themselves.
Another key characteristic of an effective coach is that they make you aware of your own ‘blind spots.’ While you’ve probably heard the term, I define a blind spot as something that other people know about you that you don’t know about yourself. It takes a lot of awareness and skill in directing the ‘conversation’ to knowledge of the blind spot or sensitivity in delivering the news. You can’t do it yourself by the very definition of the term and a book will not change that.
A further important feature of the coaching process is that the ‘conversation’ should be provocative and challenging in a way that opens up new awareness of possibilities. To do this, one must spot and challenge faulty thinking, test perceived limits and coax, cajole and persuade them to greater awareness.
The top 1%
As a further convincer, let’s look at the really successful people – the top 1%. Life coaching is the distant cousin of sports coaching, so it’s time to talk about athletes. The cream of the crop are Olympic athletes and every last one of them has a coach.
The smart people at the high-performance end of the spectrum know that the extra insight, feedback and motivation that only a coach can provide is the difference between success and failure.
And they value that difference. How about you?
Books and goals
Coaching reveals the hidden things about our thinking or our perceptions. There are plenty of things we don’t know about ourselves. To take a mundane example, what does the back of your head look like? You can’t know by yourself. You need the help of a camera or mirrors.
Why has it all become so popular? What these ‘coaching’ books do is not life coaching. They deal with goal-getting, which is a process that can be done from a goal getting book. There is a big difference between coaching and goal-getting, which I’m sure you’re beginning to appreciate.
Who finds coaching useful?
There is always room for improvement. What is 100% anyway? The truth is that nobody knows. Goal-getting is like a journey. I’ve seen old signs made during the Second World War that say “Is your journey necessary?”
That wisdom applies here too. If you really want to achieve something, know yourself and know your limits. Then you can decide when you can help yourself and when you need help. I think coaching can get you there far more quickly and easily.
You decide.Why you shouldn't be your own life coach by firstname.lastname@example.org