I’ve been a career and executive coach for 30 years. By now, you’d think I’d be able to easily describe what leadership coaching really is and how it works. But honestly, I still struggle. It’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing or believe it its value—believe me, I do. But it is hard to talk about in ways that truly communicate what it’s like. Here’s why:
It’s easy to talk about the outcomes of leadership coaching (e.g., clarity and alignment between individual and organizational goals; deeper awareness of strengths, weaknesses, and patterns that help or hinder the ability to lead; accountability to practice new skills; improved execution on key initiatives; results and outcomes that are sustainable over time—to name just a few).
It’s also easy to list what I do as a coach (e.g., listen, offer empathy and compassion, reflection, challenge, support, and new perspectives). I can even describe the typical process of coaching—raising awareness, setting and committing to goals, and practicing new skills (although these concepts can be described in many, many ways!).
Essentially, what I do as a coach sounds relatively simple, but it is not. It has the potential to be so powerful that it could be considered a life-changing experience. Boiled down, coaches listen like others do not. They really listen, not just wait to talk. And what we listen for is how you feel, how you think, and what your beliefs and assumptions are about yourself, others, and the world of work. And while we do offer advice and suggestions, we only offer it once you are “ready” to hear it. A question I often ask people is “when was the last time you took the advice of someone who offered it to you unasked?” If you’re like most leaders, the answer is probably never.
If you’ve never had a coach, you probably believe that others do this for you already. You’ve had plenty of individuals listen as you talk through an issue, understand what you’re going through, and provide feedback and insights. But the critical difference is, are your friends, family and/or co-workers unbiased, or do they have a stake in what you do or not do? Is their view of you who you “really are” inside, or is it based on who they have come to experience and know over time? Yes, they love you (and your coach likely doesn’t—though we respect you!). But sometimes love and loyalty from others only helps us strengthen the belief that we are right, and others are wrong. And that won’t solve work issues.
Due to their psychological distance, coaches can be more objective. I honestly have little personal stake in what you choose to do or not do. That’s up to you, and it will be fine with me. My goal is help you gain clarity for you to KNOW what you want to do and gain the courage to try it. Even when the outcome is unclear and likely risky. That is fairly uncommon right there!
Coaches come to know you—your strengths, your weaknesses, and your vulnerabilities. Great coaches see you—all of you. And they accept you—ALL of you. I have no interest in changing YOU, even though I understand that your behaviors might not be working for you.
I think one thing I do as a leadership coach is “normalize the human work experience”. After 30 years, I can safely say I have heard, seen, discussed, and experienced through others just about every kind of work experience imaginable. I am no longer easily shocked. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate how unique and impactful these experiences are for you. My motto, learned from a colleague some years back, is to make sure I communicate to you, in whatever way you need to hear it, that what you feel, think, and/or did, “happened, and it mattered, so now what?”
Am I perfect? Heavens no. I make the same darn mistakes you do. I am biased, driven by my ego sometimes, and I look at situations in a very skewed manner. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I do know that you are okay. You are “incomplete” as a leader, and your behaviors may need to change. And I believe you will change when you see the need to and are ready. My job is to help you get there quicker than you could on your own.
I love this work, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I have learned and honed skills over many years, and I have seen it work—leadership coaching provides new outlooks, new possibilities and new successes to those who are brave enough to engage in it. And that ain’t easy either. If you’ve considered a coach in the past, but have hesitated, give me a call or send me an email. If I’m not the right coach for you, I promise to help you find the right one.