observations on what it means to coach & be coached

While I was struggling with “stuck” in my dead end (officially now) job, I can remember saying to my mom, “Maybe I should get a life coach.”

It was around 2007 and life coaches were being featured everywhere in the media but, as of yet, I still didn’t know any. She told me I didn’t really need one (mom, you know I wouldn’t change anything… but I’m going to say you were probably wrong on this one!). And I left it at that.

Although it was about this same time when I also had a conversation with her about being a consultant. I had no idea what that meant other than forming strong opinions and telling others what to do. This sounded gooooooood.

Once I started working towards my own business, I realized that coaches & consultants were everywhere (and are not at all the same thing). Some offered to work with you in the short term, some in the long term. Some offered to coach your life, others your business. Some offered complete packages, others more nebulous outcomes. Some were accredited from various organizations, some were not.

As my business grew & evolved, some coaches became my very good awesome friends. And more & more, coaches became a part of my audience.

And then it happened… coaches wanted to be coached by me!

This. freaked. me. out.

How do you coach a coach? Honestly, I’m still not sure. I just do what I do – and I love every minute of it. But I’ve learned a lot through coaching coaches (and many other types of creative business owners!) and I thought it was time to share some of that learning.

Demystify this whole procedure a bit.

Note: for the purposes of this post, I’m using the word “coach” to describe anyone who offers a service that involves working one-on-one towards the purpose of making what you do better & more fully you and who doesn’t just tell you what to do.

My own brand of coaching is interrogative, right-brained business strategizing. Yes, I just made that up. You’ll see what I mean if you keep reading! I am not a life, career, wellness, marketing, or brand coach. I coach business owners to find a) their passion-driven purpose and b) the profit in that purpose. Other coaches do other things. And I love them for it!

Without further ado, observations on coaching & being coached from a coach with no credentials other than success (her own & others).

Third party perspective is one of the most important things you can invest in.

I know a lot about myself & my business. I know most of the things I should be doing, even if I don’t do them. I have a good idea of where I’m headed, where I’ve been, and all the steps in between.

However, what I don’t know about myself & my business is what it looks like to someone else. I’ve learned through being a 3rd party perspective and from hiring 3rd party perspectives, that there just is no way to objectively look at yourself or your business “outside your self.” Our assumptions, inner dialogue, expectations, and past experience will always get in the way of seeing things how others see them.

The job of a coach is to help you strip those things away.

For example, I did a one-on-one Firestarter Session with Danielle LaPorte in February. Through a series of questions & then sharing her observations, Danielle helped me understand a core belief of mine was no longer true. In this case, I believed that I was synonymous with my other website, Scoutie Girl.

At another time, with a different course of action, that might have been true. But it was true no longer. Scoutie Girl is a product of this business of “me.” All of my other goals (regular speaking gigs, book deal, more coaching clients, etc…) wouldn’t happen until I owned up to “me” as my brand, business, and full package.

Of course, once I had that realization, I saw that this was how others had been seeing me for a very long time. I was late to the party. My party!

The second half of this realization – lest you forget – is that 3rd party perspective is an investment. Good coaches cost good money. They will also give you much of their time & demand yours in return. You will also invest a good bit of emotional capital with them. If you’re not willing to invest, you’re not ready to be coached. And you probably aren’t really ready to reach that goal you have in mind.

It’s okay to not have the right answer. My client always has a better one.

When someone gives you their money, it’s easy to allow yourself to think it’s because you have the answers. Heck, I love to have the answers and I love to dole them out.

But the clients who get the most from me and scare the pants off of me are the ones for whom I have no answers. They’re the people who are already rocking what they do, who have a good idea of where they’re going, and know who are they are. But something isn’t clicking.

My job isn’t to “click it” for them. My job is to help them click themselves.

I ask questions they’ve been avoiding. Or questions they haven’t even thought of. I challenge their assumptions. Then all at once – or sometimes much much more slowly – they realize an answer for themselves. And I think to myself, “why didn’t I think of that?” Then I remember, it’s not the answer that’s my job, it’s the question.

There are few things more powerful than an unexpected question.

In a coaching relationship, your job as the client is not to ask questions but to provide true answers.

Of course, asking questions is good too! Just be prepared to get answered with another question!

Sure, I can strategize & tell you what to do with the best of ‘em. As a business coach, we will come up with ideas & realizations that require me to set aside the coaches hat & put on a strategist or consultant hat. But that part of my job is really secondary to helping you discover the truth about your business for yourself.

Coaching isn’t fast.

Because so much of what I do as a coach is stripping away tired assumptions and helping you find your own best direction, it’s not a fast process.

Of course, I value my clients time & money very, very much so I never waste time. But it’s entirely possible to start with one outcome in mind and, several sessions later, have a whole new, invigorating outcome in mind.

It’s also possible that the true breakthrough from a session comes days or weeks after the fact. It took me weeks to really understand what was going on in my Firestarter Session. It’s taken me equal time to digest the Pitch Perfect session that I did with Dyana Valentine. I worked with Tara Mohr on some more general life coaching and I’m still feeling my way through the questions she asked me.

Yes, I try to give my clients something really meaty to take away from each session with me. But it’s the things that linger and ripen that end up having the most impact.

When you enter a coaching relationship, it’s important to be open to that fact.

My experience with coaching & being coached is my own. It’s also an ever-evolving experience. While I wholeheartedly believe these observations to be true, your experience may be different.

It’s also important for me to say that I wholeheartedly believe in accredited life coaches, like Michelle Ward. The purpose of this post isn’t to say I have all the answers (that was clear, wasn’t it?) even though I am self-taught & experience-driven, it was to share my observations.

Have you been coached? What are your observations?

Are you thinking about hiring a coach? What are your questions?

Continue the conversation...

11 comments on “observations on what it means to coach & be coached

  1. Jen says:

    I love this!! I have been coached a while back and will connect with a coach for my business later this month.

    In my experience with being coached, what you said is 100% spot on and valuable…it was my job to provide true answers. The other piece I found helpful in being coached was to act when I said I would act. Coaching doesn’t work if you say you will do something and then don’t do it. If after trying it, it needs to be modified, that’s makes sense, but to just not try suggests that you might not be ready for any number of reasons…and that maybe there’s a different starting point than initially presented. I did that with one issue. I avoided and had my reasons for why I did it. We talked it through and I got to see that I was too afraid of the issue to do what was best for me. I hated that feeling and so I went for it. My coach didn’t tell me to do it. She gave me space to choose, while presenting her observations. It wasn’t drill sargeanty either, just honest and direct.

    The other thing you mention, that I value is the time to absorb the questions and feedback you receive. As they ripen, those questions and feedback can become tools for to be able to work through some things on your own. You learn how to ask yourself your own questions and you also know more keenly when it’s time to bring someone else in.

    I’d loooooove for you to dig in to the time piece, why some choose shorter timelines and others choose longer!

  2. Great stuff! Insightful read.

    I find myself coaching more creative friends lately and I would say the listening and questioning part is what “coaching” is all about. I love helping people see things from another perspective. So fulfilling to see their eyes light up.

    I haven’t thought too much about hiring a coach, per se, but I do know a mastermind group would benefit me greatly. Working on finding some others right now!

    I’d love to eventually find a mentor, which is yet again different from a “coach” or a “consultant”.

  3. dan mckinney says:

    I learned a lot on coaching from a book on Zen Golf. Please excuse the sports analogy but I apply it to all coaching situations.

    No one wants to have some one say to them during a game or practice, “I can fix that hitch in your back swing. Let me help you.” Terrible “coaching.”

    A person can only be coached if they ASK for the coaching.

    But here is the unique twist that I find helpful. A person seeking help cannot ask the coach to fix their problem or to offer advice (7 steps to Success, etc.) The person being coached must simply ask, ” I am trying to keep my head down when I swing. Please watch me and tell me if I am doing that.” The coach provides the feedback, “Yep, you sure did.” The coach is like a video camera that observes and can play back for you exactly what you did.”

    So, if I am seeking coaching (remember totally different than seeking advice or instruction) on my WordPress posts it would go something like this, ” Tara, I am trying to keep my “voice” the same in each post; Please review my site and let me know if I am accomplishing that objective on my new revamped site.” Or, “Tara, I want my Brand to be consistent in all my channels and publications. Please take a look at my ETSY Store, My WEBsite and my Facebook Page and let me know if I am, indeed, doing that.”

    The WHAT you might be trying to do comes from an instructor. The HOW well you are doing comes from a coach. They may be the same person but the two roles must be distinct.

  4. gwyn says:

    Great post Tara!

    I worked with a life coach 10 years ago when my Mother was dying. It was a life saving experience for me.

    I trained as a creativity coach and helped one of my clients kickstart a successful painting career in mid life. What I came out of that with is I might be a good creativity coach, but what I really wanted was to work with one. Stubbornly I refused to ask, to believe I deserved it and I moved onto something else.

    I am at a place again where I have taken my story as far as I can on my own. I love that you admit to not always knowing but trusting the process. I love that you coach people to access what they already know. I love that you work on your self as much as your clients.

    On Monday when the fund raising is done I have some decisions to make. I expect you will be hearing from me ;-)

    @Barbra Ignatiev I have also been thinking about a master mind group but finding the right people!

  5. Andrea says:

    I am one such coach who is already struggling a bit with why I started up this business in the first place–thank you for posting this today! I launched the business with my BIG idea and quickly learned I am in a very saturated market. Although I know what I offer is a very different perspective for small businesses it’s hard to stick to your guns when wildly successful ladies are doing it a tad different.

    I will hold my own ground and continue to do what I know best.

    -Andrea of brand & bloom

  6. Ming-Zhu Hii says:

    Ah! This is a really great & fascinating post, Tara.

    You know, one of the most interesting things that I find when working with clients, is that a lot of the time there is an initial, tiny, lingering expectation that as a coach, you’re going to be able to provide that elusive silver bullet – the one that will instantly transform everything.

    The amount of ensuing deep-work that gets done usually cancels out such expectations, by virtue of working with a different paradigm; and it’s always very wonderful to hear from, or see clients a little further down the track, having glorious, self-discovered “Ah hah!” moments that were catalysed by something that we did in a session.

    The work is layered, challenging & not for the impatient. But, oh man – the rewards are profoundly worth it.

  7. Soooo interesting- thanks, Tara. I’ve been wondering about hiring a coach for a while, but it’s kind of a confusing world out there of coaches and consultants and therapists and whatevers, so this helps clear things up a bunch. Okay, actually, it’s still a bit confusing to weed through all the different terms being thrown around, but I am definitely keeping this on my to do list for this year.

    I enjoyed reading the other comments as well…

  8. Lisa says:

    I’ve been wondering about coaches for awhile now, and this really helps! I’m still wondering if I can benefit from a coach- and which coach- because there are so many. Plus I don’t know how to get past the money issue- I mean that because my business is really flat right now, I’d have to take money from personal finances and we don’t spend money that we don’t have.. thus no debt! But I realize as I write this that I don’t want money to be a factor in my decisions, and maybe it might take longer than others, I’ll get the money even if I have to save my looney’s! I’d like to know how others get past this issue.

  9. Ellie Di says:

    I’m in the process of taking the first steps on the path to starting a coaching-style biz, and this article is just what I needed to hear right now. One of the nebulous, scary things I’ve been thinking about is how to deal with clients for whom I have no answers. You’ve totally reaffirmed my purpose by letting us know that you *don’t* always have the answers and that continuing to ask questions is the best way to serve both you and the client. Thank you so much.

  10. This is why I refer to my work as “coachsulting”. Mostly, I’m pulling the smartness out of you, but sometimes I’m saying, “You need this doohickey.”

    The coaching part is generally the one that I do most, that is the most fun, and gets people saying, “Holy crap you’re a genius.” Which is funny, because it’s truly the other person who is a genius.

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