Space Mountain. The scariest unknown in the world. FWIW, coaching is way, way less scary.
So what is coaching? Wikipedia says that, “Coaching is a form of development in which a person called a coach supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training, advice and guidance.” That’s great! Yes! That’s what we do. Sort of.
But what does that mean? The definition is accurate (at least, it’s accurate as far as the statement I quoted goes. Wikipedia goes on to say that coaches work on specific goals, where mentors work on overall development, which isn’t at all accurate; many coaches I know (including myself) work on both specific and more general objectives), but in no way does it give you a clear sense of what coaching is like. And that’s what’s really at the heart of the issue here. What’s it going to be like when you and your coach are actually doing the work?
And the problem is that I can’t actually tell you what it’s going to be like. No one can.
Fact: every coach is different – in style, in training, in personality, in tone…Some coaches will meet with you in person, while others work via phone. With some coaches, you might do most of the talking. With other coaches, it might be more even. In some cases, you’ll have homework in between sessions. Some coaches will use one set of techniques, others will use a completely different set. There are coaches who will push you, coaches who will confront you, and coaches who will stick solely to asking you perceptive questions. In short, today’s market is flooded with as many kinds of coaching as you could ever possibly want.
Plus, every client is different. My conversations with each of my clients differ radically from one another, because I tailor the way I work to the needs of each client. Coaching is not one-size-fits all, so describing “what coaching is like” is almost impossible.
So how do you find out what coaching with a particular coach will be like?
I believe that to truly find out what coaching with a specific coach is like, you have to try them out and experience coaching firsthand. That’s the bottom line. So hunt around, find someone who seems like they might be a good fit. Look for hints in the kinds of things they talk about – many coaches specialize in particular types of people and subject areas.
For example, I specialize in working with executives, business owners, and high-performing women. I work well with women who have big goals and big ideas, who are suffering from imposter syndrome, who are experiencing high-level career transitions, who are introverts, who are seeking clarity, and/or who need to improve “soft skills” (here’s more on who I work with and how I work). Other coaches specialize in working with men, clients with ADHD, people who are grieving, teenagers, etc.
The best place to start is to ask yourself, “What kinds of things could I work on that would make my life better?” and/or “What do I want out of life that I don’t already have?” The answers to those questions should help you figure out what kind of coach would serve you best. And if, after thinking about these questions, you find yourself without clear answers, that in itself should be information that gives you guidance – you might need help unlocking the answers, and a coach can help you do that.
Now you’re ready to assess who to look for in a coach and schedule a conversation.
I believe it’s so much better when you can have a relaxed, pressure-free conversation with a coach, and know that how you and I are talking right now is how it’s going to be as we work together for the next year. And maybe it’s a good fit, or maybe it isn’t, but at least when we finish the conversation, you’ll know what it’s like to work with me, and you’ll know if you want to continue, which means that, assuming it’s a good fit, you’ll have very little doubt or fear with respect to moving forward, and I’ll know if I can help you or not (yep, I get to choose, too).
Just because that’s how I work doesn’t mean it’s how all coaches work – in fact, most of them don’t work that way at all. Coaches today often make it hard to actually try a coaching session to see what their work is like. Sometimes it’s because they’ve been told that they have to hold “sales conversations” instead of showing people their work. I completely understand this idea, because I did it for years myself, thinking it was “The Way To Get Clients.” The truth is, most people seem to expect it.
And I’ve even come across a few coaches who have implemented a system where you don’t even get to talk to them, not even in a sales conversation, before you pay them a vast sum of money for a long term contract. I know a couple of coaches who will only let you talk to their assistants, unless you’ve signed their contracts and paid for a year in advance, which I’ve never understood, because it creates an uncomfortable situation for everyone – how can the coach know if she can help you, and how can you know if it’s a good fit where you feel comfortable? (Reality check: the lack of availability is usually an artificial barrier intended to create the illusion of exclusivity and success; in reality, very few of these coaches are successful.)
Having said all that, if you come across a coach that won’t extend a coaching conversation to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not a good coach. It just means they’ve come from the “don’t give away anything for free” school of thought. In that case, the next best thing is to read their writing. Does their website content come across as genuine and honest? Have they written a book, and is the tone of the book authentic? Do you get the sense, when you do have a conversation (even if it’s a sales conversation), that you’d have a strong positive rapport with the coach? Do you feel comfortable and safe with them?
What you should be feeling when you experience a conversation with a coach:
When you talk to a coach for the first time, you might feel nervous – that’s completely common and normal. But a good coach will be able to put you at ease and help you feel safe. To quote one of my clients, after a month of working together, “I can’t believe I’ve only really known you for a total of five hours.” Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing things you’ve never told anyone else – it means you’re talking to a coach who has made you feel extremely safe and comfortable – and that’s a good thing.
The best thing you can do to see what coaching is like is to try it. If you don’t like it, the worst thing that’s happened is you’ve given up a bit of time. The best thing that can happen is that you find someone who can help you transform your life into the one you really want.
Coming up tomorrow: Reason #6 Why Coaching Makes You Nervous: You’re Not Sure You Need Coaching.