Through these three coaching experiences I share below I was again reminded of the power of a coaching environment where a person who wants coaching puts themselves in the best position to be effectively coached by being candid, honest, and vulnerable. By choosing to go down the coaching path the way each of these people did they were able to maximize the coaching experience and positively impact his or her life, and mine too.
I first reached out to Bob when I initially launched Aspire Coaching because he told me in an email exchange that he would be happy to help me out any way he could. I knew I would be a fool to pass up the opportunity to receive guidance from a person I respected personally and who I knew had a history of successfully launching businesses of his own. From that very first meeting, this is what I saw..
It didn’t take me long to realize what a valuable resource Bob was in pressure testing some of my ideas around what I wanted to accomplish with my coaching. Sitting down over a cup of coffee the first time Bob was quick with questions about what coaching was and how I wanted to position myself as a transition coach. Through this first conversation it became clear that the idea of coaching piqued his interest. But honestly, I envisioned Bob being a person to share my thoughts and ideas around my business, not be a client. Little did I know until our conversation concluded that Bob wanted to commit to being coached himself to gain better insight into the process. Doing my best to hide my excitement around his surprise pronouncement, I told him I would send along the materials that day to get started as soon as possible. He thought by being coached he would put himself in a better position to refer me to potential clients. Who was I to argue with an idea like that?
As I excited as I was about the opportunity, the question kept bubbling up in my mind; what would someone like Bob need a coach for? Little did he or I know at that time that we would both benefit immensely from the coaching experience.
Walking Bob through a high level evaluation of his satisfaction with various aspects of his life and having him complete the Energy Leadership Index (ELI) assessment we did uncover some areas of Bob’s personal and professional life that he wanted to explore further. I think even Bob was surprised at some of the areas that surfaced during our first session. As an experienced and accomplished business owner, Bob held himself to a high standard of excellence and was open to seeking and finding ways to continue to improve himself as a husband, father, grandfather, and business leader. Where it did not seem clear initially what area or areas we might focus our time, by asking Bob empowering questions and giving him an opportunity to reflect on how he showed up in various situations in his life, Bob began to more fully realize, reflect on, and then commit to adjustments he could make that would add to his joy and satisfaction.
Over the course of our coaching sessions, we discussed ideas born out of a deep dive into a number of different subjects important to Bob. His values, relevant articles I had read, TED talks I had viewed, and Bob’s past experiences. These resources and ensuing coaching conversations helped Bob brainstorm and land on approaches he chose to take that he thought might benefit him most moving forward. Even though our sessions were all conducted by phone, the energy and excitement were palpable when Bob began to realize that what he was uncovering about himself could be so meaningful for his life.
After we concluded our last coaching session I asked Bob to share his thoughts on the experience. This is what he shared..
“When Andy first approached me about his idea to enter the Coaching arena I was confident that he would be successful. However, if I were to feel comfortable referring anyone to him I felt that I should know more about the process and how Andy would perform within it. With that in mind, I decided to sign up, so that I could “help him”. By the second session it was very clear that, through Andy, I was truly helping me. While I consider myself to be pretty together in my personal and professional life, our conversations brought out areas within me that definitely needed examination. Andy helped me recognize the various stresses in my life and how to effectively manage the accompanying emotions. He helped me recognize ways to improve my leadership skills, even when I am away from the team for months at a time. He helped me with one of the things has bothered me internally for some time, my somewhat frequent inability to appreciate “the moment”. In short, I was actually the real beneficiary of the favor I thought I was doing for Andy.”
Not long after launching my coaching practice my wife shared with me that one of her friend’s husband had just lost his job. When I reached out to him a few weeks later to meet for the first time this is what I saw.
Jim was distraught at that first meeting. You could sense it and see it in every fiber of his being. You could hear it in his voice; his subdued tone and words that trailed off as he shared what had occurred. You could also see it in his posture. Not quite sitting up straight and leaning at an odd angle through most of our conversation. And his facial expression was distant, almost like he was searching for answers through the movement of his eyes.
I mostly listened at our first coaching meeting. Wanting to hear as much of the story and gather as many details as I could. The only time Jim’s energy shifted to anything close to positive was when he was sharing how much satisfaction he took from working in a collaborative, customer focused environment where he got to meet and build relationships with co-workers and customers alike. He also took great pride in being able to provide for his family and be a good example for his three kids over the years. Those brief glimpses into what he enjoyed though were masked by the abrupt nature in which he came to find out he was no longer considered a valued employee at the financial firm he had worked for the past 20 years. The only thing I asked of Jim at that first meeting was to assess the satisfaction of all aspects of his life as well as fill out a short questionnaire about his outlook on life both now and moving forward.
Subsequent meetings over the coming weeks and months had Jim sharing more about what he valued in life, what motivated him, what caused him stress. Additionally, he shared specific details and progress he had made in researching targeted companies and upcoming interviews with those targeted companies. Through the process of coaching, Jim showed more vulnerability and gained confidence in how he was approaching this period of transition. By asking empowering questions and exploring what was blocking him, Jim brainstormed more fully, shared insights into his feelings and emotions about being unemployed as a 52 year old. This exploration exposed a level of uncertainty and anxiety about what his future might look like. We spent significant time talking about what a future employer or next job might look like through the lens of what he had shared with me in conversations about when he was most satisfied at work.
Despite the tireless effort to network, follow-up on leads, and talk to many companies across different industries about a variety of opportunities, Jim still had not received a job offer. The rollercoaster of emotion was coming through loud and clear in our coaching meetings. We focused on the process of positioning yourself to the best of your ability knowing that often times in candidate selection it is not about you when another candidate is chosen for the job. We talked about balancing the work of finding a job with finding release points to celebrate the free time which he did not have with his past job and would likely not have when he returned to work. Jim became more intentional in doing things he enjoyed, like playing golf with his sons and traveling with his wife to help keep his spirits and his outlook as high as possible.
Our coaching relationship was interrupted due to summer travel and ultimately came to a close after six months of working together. I continued to reach out to Jim as he continued his job search in earnest. Early this fall I received a call from Jim. He wanted to let me know he had landed a job with a real estate development company and wanted me to be the first to know. He was ecstatic about the next steps in his new career. I asked him as a favor to pass along his thoughts on what the coaching experience had meant to him. And this is what he shared.
“The coaching experience has been extremely beneficial in multiple ways. Andy has been instrumental in helping me approach the next chapter of life after a long working career, as well as raising a family. With the opportunity to step back and ponder what's next, Andy has helped me think about things in different ways I would not have considered. Having someone to challenge me, motivate me, and keep me accountable has been invaluable during my transition process.”
As a coach, the person being coached is the expert. I will continue to embrace opportunities like the one I had with Jim who desired coaching to help relieve the anxiety and the unhappiness that often times goes along with a person who is in job transition or unfulfilled. Jim came to the table with the ‘want-to’, the commitment to see his hopes fulfilled.
Jack and I had initially met in a cycling group. I had told him about my transition into coaching a couple of months prior and when I received his e-mail suggesting we sit down to talk about an idea he had I was pleasantly surprised he remembered. As he had said in his e-mail, “let’s get to work coach”. That first meeting was a discovery opportunity for both of us. This is what I saw.
When Jack sat down in the booth at the coffee shop he was excited and quick to share that he had been considering quitting his job for some time. As a conversation starter this was a bit of a surprise. I knew he had been in a sales position in the transportation industry but didn’t know much else. I told him that he was potentially taking a rather bold step without knowing what was next. Turns out I was premature in my own thought. He went on to explain that he thought it was time for him to move away from working for someone else and open a similar business as a “solopreneur”. He thought he could find more satisfaction as well as greater income by virtue of being the business owner rather than just another employee. With Jack’s understandable excitement about the prospects of owning his own company, it was important that I became an engaged listener to fully understand his vision without judgement of him or the situation.
In those first coaching conversations, we went on to discuss a number of things about Jack. None of which were initially directed at his business. I asked about his family, I asked what he valued, I asked what he felt his strengths were and what his areas of opportunity might be. I also asked Jack questions to gain a better sense of why this was an important step at this point in his life. At the same time he was clear and confident in what mattered to him and the possibilities of making this leap as a business owner, I could also sense a tempered feeling in the tone of his voice and the measured way in which he shared his thoughts. My intuition was spot on as Jack expressed concern with being able to manage all the back-office, administrative tasks that would be required throughout the sales cycle. He had mastered the sales side of the business but knew he would have a steep learning curve to manage the other critical elements of the business. We slowed down to challenge Jack’s thinking about these doubts.
Over several months of coaching conversations we discussed everything from his doubts and fears about starting the business to his excitement when he officially launched the business. We reviewed business plan drafts, discussed strategic plans, the importance of setting goals, bank meetings, and the timing of completing necessary license training. As a coach it is important that I provide support in the ownership and accountability that Jack had to take to move forward on his vision.
To mix up the coaching interactions Jack suggested we meet at a local park rather than at his office or a nearby coffee shop. That turned out to be an excellent change of venue for Jack to open up about challenges he was facing, doubt creeping into his ability to clearly believe he could be successful, and how his family would be impacted by his decision.
Jack is now fully immersed in all aspects of running his new business. From what he has shared with me, it is not without its fits and starts, but he could not be happier or more proud of taking the initial steps to go it alone. I asked him to share his thoughts on what it meant to have a coach through this period. This is what he shared;
“In a time of great personal and professional transition Andy has provided valuable guidance, feedback, and resources to me. Most valuable of all has been having someone to talk to that has been a good listener throughout the process.”
As in coaching as in life, we all have opportunities to be both teacher and student. This showed up in a big way throughout this coaching relationship.