What makes a coach great?
During an Awaken Your Life class this year, a few of my students brought up that they don't know how to describe the work they're doing. Are they coaches? Transformation leaders? Guides? Practitioners? All of the above?
I joked that I still don't know what I do. (Yes, even I still struggle with knowing what my "thing" is.) But that I also feel this pull to bring great coaching and the power of this work back into rightful perspective.
Is this my job or even my responsibility? Not really; no one elected me to, but through all of my iterations of this work I come back to ONE constant over and over - I love being a coach. I love it fiercely.
But what does it mean to be a "great coach"? Can we really define this?
Yes. And we should.
This is an interesting time to enter this work and be a practitioner in this field. It wasn't too long ago that you chose counseling, consulting, or coaching but certainly not a combination. There was a clear divide to both differentiate and to help practitioners stay within the lines. I believe this is shifting.
Coaching has quickly populated our world and stands as one of the largest service industries grossing more than $12 billion annually. While the industry of helpers and healers is becoming more saturated, it doesn't lessen the needs of people to seek a witness to their life, their growth, and their goals as well as the parts of themselves they'd prefer to not take forward.
Life Coaching today is defined by the International Coach Federation as “Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today's uncertain and complex environment.”
In traditional coaching we help an individual move forward through a co-created relationship based on the agreement that they are creative, resourceful, and whole. This is the primary tenet of coaching and one I hold strong to.
However, I would also add that to be an effective coach and a holistic practitioner who can support individuals in moving forward, we must support individuals by understanding with deep appreciation and compassion where they come from. This is crucial to the success of the work.
I do my best to be lighthearted in this work and I am passionate about it. I am passionate about people and bringing as much unconditional compassion to the table as I possibly can. The word "unconditional" is important to me. It means that I am in constant contact with myself, and aware of if I'm ever overly invested in my clients' version of success.
It means not assuming that I know "the way" or the right way for a client to go. And it means letting go, big time. Despite our strong belief in healing, there is nothing wrong with the people I work with. Nada, nothing, zilch.
"A masterful teacher will do this in such a way that the discovery will appear our own."
- Donna Farhi
It is common in our culture to assume someone outside of ourselves can solve our problem or fix us. Just look at the western medical system: it is founded on the idea that there are the ill and there are the saviors of the ill.
This is prevalent in many areas of our life - finances, health, love, career, happiness, and basically anything we want. It is so easy to assume getting it is an "outside job" or that someone has the answers to our woes.
There are many (many!) coaches who fall into this category and who coach from the perspective that they themselves are the solution to their client's ailments. When a coach chooses this mindset they do one of two things:
1) They play Guru and present a perfectly scripted path for a client to walk down to be "magically" cured, which is dependent on the coach.
2) They think they have to BE the solution and get attached to their clients having a specific outcome that is predetermined. And if the client doesn't get there, the coach assumes either they failed or the client just didn't want it bad enough.
As a coach I am a master of a process that a client can climb inside of to do the work, take personal responsibility, and be their own healing. And if a client comes to me who is working on something I am also in the midst of, I have to remember these two simple points:
No matter how similar it looks, it is not the same.
This is an opportunity to convey empathy and compassion.
If we know what good coaching is not, then what is it? How do we spot it? When I posed this question about what makes a coach great to my Awaken Your Life students, they said a good coach...
...shows up and meets you where you're at.
...asks the uncomfortable questions, those questions designed to stretch you.
...allows for someone's deepest and truest self to be revealed.
...really sees you and hears you.
...does their own work and is in touch with their own life.
I truly believe it is this simple.
Coaching is predicated on exploration. Exploration that is unpredictable, creative, and personal to the one being coached.
This is why I fell in love with the process of coaching all those years ago. To bring such simple tools to something like a conversation, and witness over time as that person sees more and more of their true self, believes in themselves maybe for the first time, and begins to love themselves - it captures something for me.
It captures the raw truth tucked inside the human heart: that we all just want to be valued and seen.
This is what a great coach leaves space for. So while I don't always know how to describe what I do and sometimes worry what someone conjures up if I say, "I'm a life coach," I also don't care. Because it isn't about my title or some definition that makes it easier for someone to "get me."
It is about the gift of unconditional and compassionate space at the moment someone decides they are ready to go within and awaken something that has been dormant. It never gets old. Almost 5,000 conversations later...it never gets old.