As I process questions about the efficacy of coaching, handle push-back, or even take criticism, I like to test myself against what’s said and tweak or refine. It’s a little like a ‘living code of conduct’ and one of my most fundamental tools for growth.
In no particular order:
(1) Be responsible. First, last and foremost – do no harm.
As simple a baseline as this is for any coach, it’s still one worth noting. I find this one grounds me when I read it as I do from time to time – and helps me take a light touch in sessions.
Have you asked yourself lately, how responsible (or irresponsible) are you being in your coaching? Are you going out on a limb and taking unnecessary risks? Even if they’re just words to you, what you say and do, how you ‘are,’ in your sessions can have a lifelong impact. So these are words to live by – even if you think ‘you know.’ First, do no harm.
(2) Come to understand all clients will be ‘done’ one day.
There are short client relationships, and long client relationships. But no client relationship is forever. I like to look into the future a little and ‘wonder’ when a certain client may be ‘done’ and ready to move on, having grown out of our relationship. Not anticipate or force, mind you, just wonder…
Or, if I don’t sense a feeling of ‘completion’ forthcoming with a client, I ask what’s going on in the coaching that’s lending us such a degree of ‘comfort.’ I don’t doubt it’s possible to have a coach-client relationship that’s alive and awake after 5, 10 or more years, but I feel strongly these are in the minority. For everything there is a season, and all that… so yes, I look forward to witnessing great milestones in my clients’ lives, and to saying a happy adieu.
Ask yourself “Are you in any way making efforts to keep your clients coming back?”
Do you know how to say goodbye to a client when it *is* time to say goodbye?*
(3) Cultivate self-sufficiency always. Be a no-addiction zone.
There is a huge world of a difference between marketing your services successfully, then securing a client as a result and ….creating an addictive relationship. Yet sometimes the differences can get blurry.
This is one of the reasons why it’s critically important that coaches are never desperate for a client…the dynamic is instantly manipulative if that’s the case.
I remember a mentor coach who I shadowed at the very beginning of my introduction to coaching. I had a visceral aversion to the way he seemed to revel in his clients’ dependency…he would answer emails at all hours, always return phone calls, sometimes within a few minutes, encourage clients to be in touch very frequently…
On the face of it, this may seem like a strange thing to dislike…but I’m a fan of drawing out more self-sufficiency in a client. So I set it up that way – clients know I won’t always reply quickly – they get a chance to think over their own questions. My answer comes more as an affirmation or addition to their own thoughts – but this way the key result is: they learn to think more assertively for themselves, and I’m the environment that supports that.
How might you be creating – even in a tiny way – a dependency on you in your clients? How can you embody tough love – the kind of love that creates strong individuals who don’t need anything outside their own inner strength to continue on the path they’ve discovered? How might your financial situation be influencing how you relate to your clients?
(4) Focus on results, not just methodology or process.
Although results don’t have to be money, or a promotion, relationship or other tangible thing, do ask yourself what intangible results you are creating. The best way to do this is still (only) to request your clients’ self-assess.
Many clients may not realize they have the right to always be assessing your coaching relationship. You can help them by making sure they know they can always ask for tweaks, more focus, greater intensity or, indeed, whatever it is they want more of.
Coaching is not a ‘holding pattern.’
(5) Encourage critical thinking.
Have you ever wondered why so many of us use our brains as storage facilities not thinking facilities? We go to conferences, listen to tapes, even read books with the goal of retaining as much as possible. This is not the original purpose for the human brain.
So first, think about how you might have stopped thinking critically about things, instead of just trying to remember things. And then, up the ante and ask how you can support your clients to think for themselves.
Most clients, as they articulate what they want and make choices about their lives, may not be thinking for themselves. Instead, they’re thinking what everyone around them is thinking. Or perhaps even more frequently, thinking what people around them are telling them to think.
So obviously you as their coach have no agenda for what they ought to think, but you are asking them to think. Make sense?
(6) Be aware of your own persuasive powers. Triple check your marketing.
Although I don’t remember the precise incident, I do remember the feeling – it thudded into my physical body. I realized that with the way I try to live my life, and the things I try to stand for, when I try to sell something, I need to be careful.
I realized, if I were to try hard enough, I could probably sell almost anything to anyone. And I do believe that’s true of many, many coaches, just because of how ‘in integrity’ most of us live our lives.
That’s not arrogance, it’s just a reflection of the kinds of relationships we create – we care, and it usually shows, and people feel they can trust us. So while I would never intentionally sell something inappropriately to anyone, this is important – I triple check my marketing. (1) I make doubly sure I’ve told the truth. (2) I ask myself if I’ve overpromised anything. And (3) I make sure what I’m selling is something that will add value.
After all of that is done, I usually dial back my marketing language by 5-10%. It’s just something that ‘feels right’ to do because there’s enough marketing noise out there and I’m not interested in having to market anything ‘hard.’ It’s kind of like a commitment to making sure anyone who purchases something from me is doing so with as clear a head as possible.
Note: For a portion of the coaching population, this one won’t apply because you’re actually having to learn to market enough – so don’t hold back if that’s you. But you know who you are – if you seem to be able to sell most anything to anyone – take a moment now to ask why, and if your conscience is clear about this ‘talent.’
(7) Very few things are all good or all bad. There’s really no such thing as all black or all white.
Over the years I’ve lived through some tough business situations where some pretty big tomatoes were thrown. It would be easy even now to think horrible things about some people. But the truth is, after my emotions are cooled off, I know that no one is all good or all bad, least of all me.
So instead of using up energy ‘hating’ a person or situation, or soaking in upset, I try to pull back and recognize there’s no such thing as black or white. No single person, place or thing is all good or all bad.
Practically speaking then, how can you apply this to your life as a coach? Let’s say a little criticism comes your way.
When someone hurls an insult at you, try to divide it by three before letting it in.
And conversely when a compliment comes, multiply by three and repeat the words to yourself before letting that in too.
(8) Contribute to a body of ethics or standards of conduct.
I’ve been asking myself this question more often lately, especially on creative hiatus this month. Within the self-help and coaching professions, how can I help forward the idea that we can hold ourselves accountable? There is more and more activity being done under the ‘name’ of ‘coaching’ some of it not so great.
So in an unregulated industry, how can we seize the singular opportunity we have, to hold ourselves to the highest level of integrity?
Whether it be at our industry associations such as the IAC and/or the ICF, or on our own through our own professional codes of conduct or even personal lists like this one, how can we answer to the critics in a positive way?
As the answers emerge, we become more equipped to calmly and intelligently answer any positive push-back that might come our way.
I hope this list of things I try to live by, helps you create your own.
Overt criticism or no, I can think of nothing more useful and comforting – invigorating and energizing – than to know where I stand and how I feel about these 8 things (over and above coaching skill, technique or experience.)
For better or for worse, when it comes to serving my clients, this is what’s going on in the background. And what I try to live by as an active practicing coach.