Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International July 24, 2013
Takeaways: What are life coaches? Why get a life coach? How do I get a life coach? When should I start or end a life coach relationship?
Have you ever heard of a “Life Coach”? Basically it’s a person whom you know well, who either knows you well or will get to know you well very quickly. Like a baseball, football or basketball coach, or maybe a tennis or swimming coach, they deal mostly with broader life issues rather than the particular sport. What kinds of life issues? It could be anything, from dating, to choosing a career or a college, to how to improve specific skills like public speaking, math, languages, business skills, etc. Or your life coach may help you figure out how to perfect skills for your hobbies or sports, and guide you on where to get tips and ideas.
A good coach doesn’t really tell you what to do. As a college student you are likely tired of being told what to do by your teachers, brothers, sisters and your parents. Sometimes the advice you seek is delivered as a solution, sort of “here is how you do this” which may not actually tell you why it’s a good idea or better than another idea. Rather than ask you questions, they offer solutions and ideas. Does that sound familiar?
While in my early 20’s I asked my godfather, who was a very successful businessman, about possible career choices. He started to tell me the various things I could explore. On the surface they were good suggestions but if he had some coaching skills, he might have started by asking me probing questions about what I liked to do and how I did things. It wasn’t until my early 40’s that I found out that there are people out there with some special skills at asking really good questions of me to get me to focus on what I do best, what interests me most, and what sort of work I could really love to do.
I got into banking because that’s what my father did, and began a decent career in that line of work. During graduate school I ran into a couple of people that kept asking me what I liked about banking. I discovered there was a lot that I did not like about banking, but also a lot that I like that was related to finance only more with manufacturing businesses that actually made things. That led to my dream job after finishing grad school. I became a regional credit manager for a division of Rockwell International. I thought this would be a fun and exciting job because of the international finance aspect and the opportunity to travel throughout Latin America in my job. I was responsible for arranging loans our company made to nearly all the daily newspapers in Latin America.
What I did not consider was something my godfather brought to light when I told him what my job was going to be. He said: “WOW! What an amazing opportunity to meet people in a business who shape opinions and are invariably at the highest level of business leaders in their countries! You are going to have an incredible time talking to those people when you meet them!” That thought had not ever crossed my mind and he was so right. Movers and shakers in Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Chile and Argentina were my regular contacts. As were the Chamorro Family of Nicaragua with whom I had some very interesting conversations at one of the newspaper industry’s largest trade shows one year.
That little bit of unintentional coaching by my godfather not only gave me a different perspective about the work I was about to undertake but has influenced my ability to look more deeply and broadly into everything I do. In fact, it spurred my curiosity to better understand how organizations and teams of people can work together, and become skilled at helping them to work better. Now that is my work and I love it.
Why get a life coach
So why consider getting a life coach, or two, or three? Honestly we have coaches in our lives all the time, we often just don’t give them enough of ourselves to really get back the kind of help that can really help us – our parents, our close family members (siblings, aunts and uncles), our close friends, our teachers and sometimes those folks at colleges who are called career counselors. What is important here is to recognize that all these people really do want what is best for us and are willing to devote some time and effort to helping us. Often we don’t feel very “helped”, but frankly I think if we dig deeply into why this is we would figure out that most likely it is because we did not know how to share and communicate what kind of help we want; and our “coaches” may not have had good coaching skills to know how to help us. By that I mean, we may all have been more focused on getting to a quick answer rather than being guided to find the right answers that we could come up with together. This is critical because when we participate in solving the problem, the solution is much more precise and lasting.
So having a personal life coach for a short while, for a few years or for many, many years can actually be extremely beneficial to us. Sometimes having more than one coach helps even more, because those extra opinions can always help and can never hurt. Getting someone to be your coach may not be easy. Some people may think of it as a job and some may know there are professional coaches that charge considerable sums of money to be life coaches. There are others whose fees are very reasonable and there are many who might be willing to coach you long term for nothing in return but your friendship. The most important ingredient in a good coaching relationship is that the apprentice, you, always be extremely candid and honest with your coach. Do not hold back. A good coach will not judge you. Of course, your coach should have a code of ethics similar to that of an attorney who cannot, and will not, share private information about you with anyone else. The more you share with your coach(es), the more they will be able to help you.
A good coaching relationship is also enhanced by documenting your conversations, at least the action items you agree are worth pursuing, and then using them as a checklist to help you both stay on track. It’s also good to have a set schedule for meetings, in person or on the phone, or via Skype or email. But have a schedule and stick to it, setting an appointment and agenda for the next meeting at the end of your current meeting.
Everyone needs a coach
Everyone needs help from time to time to fine tune what we are doing in life. Not all the time, but certainly sometimes. Maybe you are after a promotion at work – your coach can help you identify how to best promote your skills that match the job or help you fine tune them to ensure the promotion. Maybe you are trying to take a particular course in college next year and getting into it is becoming a challenge – your coach might help you uncover a new approach to get into the class. Maybe you want to see how theatre plays are created and put on – your coach might know someone who works at a theatre company who would love to have an unpaid intern alongside to help with routine tasks, giving you the chance to live the whole process including attending a number of actual shows at no charge. Maybe you are having a problem in a relationship with a friend or a family member. Not the kind that requires professional therapy, just someone who knows you and can help you think it through and maybe suggest choices other than the ones you have come up with on your own. Possibly you are trying to figure out what you can be really good at, where your highest aptitudes are – your coach might be able to suggest people to talk to or assessments you can take online that will help you really understand what you do best and more importantly, why you do those things so well.
When is a good time to start a life coaching relationship? Frankly, anytime! However, the sooner you start, the more you will get out of your coaching relationships. I suggest you get started in college and remember, you don’t always have to pay a life coach. The sooner you get started, the better you will be at it when it might matter the most, such as, making good job choices; making good partner choices for your marriage; selecting good accountants and attorneys for your life and your business; or making good choices for neighborhoods to live in and to buy a home. These are all things that will work better for you if you have someone in your life that can coach you without having a stake in what you do nor judge what you do. You can always change coaches or have more than one. Just start and end those relationships with a high degree of integrity and honesty. If you are paying someone to coach you, make sure both of you understand what is expected of each other. Highly successful people in business, acting, sports and education have coaches they don’t pay and coaches they do pay – sometimes a lot of money – and the results they get are truly extraordinary. Many have written about their coaches in articles and books they have authored, so there is plenty of proof that this works.
The one other thing that is extremely important in working with a coach is to keep him or her informed along the way of your successes and your failures. This is part of being honest with them and it will be invaluable in keeping the relationship on an even keel.