How to Be a Successful Life Coach
What is Coaching?
If you have already studied to become a coach you already know the answer to this question. If you think you know exactly what coaching is then you can afford to skip a few pages to Chapter 2 and start thinking about how to develop your coaching skills to the point at which you can run a successful coaching business. If you have any doubts whatsoever then read on. Knowing exactly what we mean by ‘coaching’ is not always as simple as it seems.
At the most basic level coaching is a conversation. Only it isn’t the kind of conversation most of us would want to have with our friends when we are out to have fun. For a start, an effective coaching session should be hard work for both the coach and their client. The client has to do a lot of thinking and talking. The coach has to do a lot of thinking and listening. Both have to be 100 per cent focused on the coaching session and 100 per cent committed to bringing it to a successful conclusion. If they are not, then the session will not deliver the best possible results.
None of this is captured by the dictionary definition of coaching. Almost anyone with adequate knowledge of a subject can do what the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines as coaching, which is to: tutor, train, give hints to, prime with facts
This definition barely skims the surface of what you will do in your new business. To be successful in coaching you will need to build a good quality relationship with every client. This is because coaching works by encouraging and enabling the client to take responsibility for their learning and achievements. There is very little teaching involved in a coaching. The process of coaching is designed to help people to learn by drawing on their own resources and resources they set out to find. It is not about spoonfeeding clients with facts or a great deal of information. This is why conversations which form the basis of all coaching work must be quite one-sided. It is the coach’s job to listen and reflect back key points to the client in order to help them focus on how they will bring about change. A coach who says too much is unlikely to be meeting the client’s needs.
Coaching is still not widely understood. Most of us want information and advice to help us change our lives. Lots of your clients will try to extract information and advice from you. Don’t let them succeed. You are not an expert advisor. You are a coach. If your prospective clients do not understand what it is that you have to offer then make sure you have a short, clear way of letting them know.
CREATING YOUR ‘ELEVATOR PITCH’
Take a moment to think about what you will say when someone asks you what you do or what working with a coach will be like. In the film and television business people talk about having an elevator pitch ready. An elevator pitch is just a short, sharp, motivating and engaging summary of their TV or film idea. It is for those moments, such as when you share a lift, when you meet someone you want to influence. You can’t risk boring them and they are too busy to make an appointment to see you. So you briskly pitch your idea whenever you get the chance. A successful coach needs to be able to do this too.
What will your elevator pitch be? Try writing down some options. Then say them out loud. Do they roll off the tongue easily? Try them out with an honest friend or family member. Do they get your meaning? Are they excited by the idea of coaching? The opportunity to pitch for coaching business is there every time someone asks you what you do, so your first attempt should work as an answer to the typical question: ‘What do you do?’
My elevator pitch
I’m a coach actually.
Here’s my card. Call me when I can help you.
This elevator pitch is really important because an excellent coach leads a process that differs quite a lot from the general common sense understanding of what coaching entails. This is possibly because the first ideas that come to mind when most of us think about ‘coaching’ are examples from sport. The sports coach is the most well-known example of a coach in action. When we think about sports and what a team or individual sports coach does we often imagine someone who tells the athletes or players what to do and how to do it. For example, explaining or demonstrating better techniques for running, instructing in the art of the successful tackle or telling athletes what to eat to stay in peak fitness.
We can visualise the coach shouting advice from the sidelines or holding a stopwatch and timing training runs. The coach will probably pat the sportsperson on the back when they have done well and give them a pep talk when they haven’t achieved a hoped-for result or a personal best. We don’t tend to imagine the athlete saying much when the coach is on the scene. In this scenario we invest the coach with the expertise, knowledge, solutions and authority and the athletes just do what is asked of them.
Luckily, this is not how the best sports coaches work and it is certainly not the best way for you to help anyone achieve their personal best. Of course it is possible to assist people to learn new technical skills by showing and telling. For example, an athlete aiming to win a hurdles race will need to learn the best-known way of running such a race. However, the limitations of this approach have been proved time and again. In high jump competitions everyone used to jump by running and executing a scissors-style jump which straddled the bar. They were jumping as they had been told to do. Now nobody jumps this way because someone came up with a better idea.
In 1968, Dick Fosbury decided to try a different style of jump which he believed would enable him to clear greater heights. Dick Fosbury invented the Fosbury Flop, a technically more efficient means of jumping which enables athletes to use their body weight to help their feet clear the bar. Presumably it took quite a lot of guts to run up to a bar and throw himself over it backwards when everyone was doing it differently (especially before special padded landing areas were introduced once his idea caught on), and this is exactly why coaching is also about supporting clients. Our clients are often trying to do something new, different and challenging. Everyone needs support when they decide to push themselves to achieve more or achieve things differently. Trying new things isn’t easy, and even with the laws of physics on his side Dick Fosbury probably had his moments of doubt. The point is he wanted to jump higher. This was his goal and he worked out a means by which he felt he could achieve that goal.
HELPING PEOPLE FIND OUT WHAT THEY WANT TO DO
Helping people find out what they want to do and how they are going to do it is the essence of coaching. So if someone asks you what you do as a coach try telling them this: ‘I help you find out what you really want to do. Then I help you work out how you will do it and when.’
The ‘when’ is the golden key in coaching. It is only when the majority of your coaching sessions end with your clients knowing what they want, what they will do to get it, how they will do it and when they will do it, that you can ever really claim to be coaching successfully. And never forget that real success is defined by goals achieved. Good intentions are the starting point not the end point of effective coaching.
TOP FOUR COACHING RULES
Coaching successfully is a thrilling, engaging occupation. It is also highly challenging because so much of the success of every coaching session depends on you. You cannot achieve goals for your client but by abiding by some clear coaching principles you can ensure that you maximise your client’s ability to set and achieve ambitious goals as a result of your coaching. For your coaching to be successful you must be working with a client who has the will to make change happen. Your job is to inspire them and help them find the motivation to take the first step and follow through to the end.
There are four key principles which must always inform your behaviour as a coach. As a coach you should always:
1 Build your coaching relationships on the basis of honesty, openness and trust.
2 Accept that your client is responsible for the results they achieve.
3 Always focus on the client.
4 Always believe in your client’s ability to achieve more and better results.
The skilled coach makes putting these principles into action look easy but it is challenging work. If you hold to these four principles you will create a sound basis for effective coaching.
When your clients trust you enough to open up and begin to share their innermost thoughts, their dreams and their nightmares you have the raw material for making your coaching work effectively. Clients will always open up to you if they firmly believe that you are listening to them and have their best interests at heart. The trick is to make this happen quickly. Clients want to feel they are moving forward. You do not have the luxury of lengthy sessions for building trust. Clients want progress from the very first session. And why not?
So, you can build relationships quickly by sticking to the very basics of coaching.
- Never dominate the coaching conversation. Let your clients do most of the talking at every stage of your interaction. This is where your elevator pitch comes in handy too. You need to explain what you do very quickly to allow space for clients to talk.
- Don’t play the expert. It is often useful if you ‘give hints’ and coaches may well ‘prime with facts’, as suggested by the dictionary definition of coaching. However, it is not your job to dominate the conversation or assume the expert role in the relationship.
- Show quickly that you trust your clients to find the best solutions for them. Trusting your client includes trusting them to set their own challenges and find their own solutions. Start by responding to their concerns with a phrase that lets them know you believe in their ability to make changes happen. Sounds hard? Look at the examples in the box. How hard can it be to come up with your own phrases along these lines?
- ‘You probably know what would be best in this situation. Tell me what you’ve been thinking so far.’
- ‘It sounds as if you know what to do. Tell me what you want to do next.’
- ‘You’ve obviously thought about this a lot. What would make it easier to reach a decision?’
- ‘I’m impressed by your insights. When will you make a decision?’
- ‘You’ve obviously worked hard on developing these skills/ideas/ options. Tell me what your next step will be.’
Every time you show you trust your client you will boost their confidence. Confident people find it a whole lot easier to place their trust in others.
Remember, the importance of trust in the coaching relationship applies to every party. If you do not trust a client, particularly when this lack of trust takes the form of doubting the client’s ability to succeed in their chosen field, you should not work with that client. Coaching is based on the belief that goals are most likely to be achieved when the clients set them for themselves and work out their own ways of achieving them. If you are cynical about a client’s ability you have no useful role to play in this process and almost certainly risk undermining your client.
You will limit your client’s achievements if you hold limiting beliefs about them and their abilities. However good you are at covering your true feeling they are likely to leak out during your contact with a client and have a negative impact on your client. If you do not believe in your client’s ability then your client will pick up negative signals from you either consciously or unconsciously. This will undermine trust. A client who does not trust you is unlikely to achieve their full potential with you as their coach.
What are limiting beliefs?
A limiting belief is an untested idea about yourself which prevents you from taking certain actions or believing in certain possibilities.
If you believe you cannot learn to drive you are unlikely to take lessons. If you take a driving lesson and do not do very well you have not tested your belief. To test the belief you would have to stick at driving lessons for quite some time. You would need some objective proof of your assumed inability.
If you believe you are too ugly to find a lover you might think you have proved the fact because you don’t have a special person in your life. What you have probably proved is that people who don’t socialise a lot, ask people out or try Internet and other dating services have fewer dates, fewer lovers and fewer successful sexual relationships than people who do all these things.
Limiting beliefs stop you from making changes in your life because you don’t see the point. They:
- & undermine confidence
- & stop you from acting to change your situation
- & make you unhappy
- & affect the way other people relate to you
- & keep a vicious circle going in which not trying leads to not
- succeeding which is interpreted, wrongly, as objective proof of inability.
Coaching is about removing limiting beliefs and keeping the client convinced of his/her ability to make positive change happen.
WHAT COACHING IS NOT
- & Coaching is not therapy.
- & Coaching is not counselling.
- & Coaching is not advice-giving.
Many people would describe their experience of being coached as highly therapeutic. What they might mean by this is that the coaching has helped them to satisfactorily address what they perceive to be problems in their lives. They might mean that coaching has helped them to feel happier or less stressed. They might even mean that coaching has led them to feel healthier and more energised than they felt at the start of the coaching process. All of these things can fall from coaching. There is absolutely no doubt that coaching can help improve a person’s physical and mental well-being. BUT COACHING IS NOT A FORM OF THERAPY.
Understanding the difference between coaching and counselling
So what’s the difference between coaching and counselling or other forms of therapeutic intervention? Some counsellors would argue that the difference between coaching and some forms of therapy and counselling is too slight to be defined. Some coaches would also say that there are so many different forms of counselling and therapy, and that some resemble coaching so closely that it is meaningless to try to define the ‘difference’ between them.
There is no real need to strive to define the difference between coaching and counselling and therapy, but it is really helpful if you remain clear about what coaching is and what it entails. Coaching makes demands on your clients and you have to work only with those clients who are sufficiently robust to respond to those demands. You cannot tailor your coaching to make it more like counselling. It is what it is and should not be watered down when you suspect a client is not coping with life very well. Use your listening skills to work out what is going on for a client and help them set goals they can achieve at this stage of their lives.
Coaching and mental health
It would be absolutely wrong to insist that anyone with any form of mental illness was unsuited to coaching either as a coach or a client. Depression is a mental illness, a very common one which most people experience at least once in their lives. At the same time it is unfair to engage with a client who you believe to be too vulnerable or distressed to benefit from coaching and unethical to pretend that coaching is an adequate means of addressing serious mental ill health. You should NEVER work with clients who manifest obvious signs of serious mental ill health without ensuring they are being adequately supported and/or treated by others. Even if you suspect that a very mild form of depression might be leading your client to be unhappy or to fail to achieve goals, you should encourage them to seek appropriate professional help. You should give serious consideration to suspending your coaching until they are feeling better or getting the additional help they need elsewhere.
There is more information on this important topic in Chapter 10.
WHAT COACHING ENTAILS
Before starting work with any client you should be clear about the following.
- & Coaching focuses on results and outcomes The coaching session might be described by the client as having cheered them up or made them feel better but the session is never an end in itself. Every session should result in goals having been set by the client.
- & Coaching focuses on the future The client might want to explore why they behave as they do but the coach should always push for action rather than diagnosis. The objective of every session is to move through reflection (if this is useful for the client) and towards action. Coaching is about what a client will do rather than why they haven’t done it yet.
- & Coaching requires the coach to believe in the client’s capacity to achieve
- There are no conditions which are exceptions to this rule. The only variables are when and how. There are no ‘ifs’ in coaching.
- & Coaching will be terminated if the coach is confident that the client does not have the will to change This should always be done with sensitivity and include referral to a more appropriate service if the coach believes the client needs help.
- & Coaching will not continue if the coach suspects there are serious mental health issues affecting the client and which are not being addressed by other means. This is vital. Successful coaching requires a degree of toughness and insistence on achievement that could be damaging to a person made particularly vulnerable as a result of problems with mental health. However, it would be discriminatory to suggest that coaching is never appropriate for people with a recognised mental health problem. Many people who are accessing appropriate support for their particular illness could also benefit from good quality coaching.
Now you know what coaching is at its best you need to work on your coaching offer. In Chapter 2 you will have a chance to assess your own coaching skills, work out how to keep on developing as a coach and start thinking about how to keep your skills constantly updated.