I was asked a question last week for my career advice column at the hot BettyConfidential.com. I love being an advice columnist — some of the questions make my jaw drop (I’m a career columnist, not Dr. Ruth — or Dr. Ruth’s twisted evil twin sister). Most questions, gratefully, are from people just like you and me who are stuck and need to figure a way out.
The writer asked, “What do coaches, such as you, actually do?”
A great question. Which I answered by saying this: “A good coach will help you understand yourself and your objective. She will help you identify and overcome any self-imposed boundaries that hold you back. She will help you find strategies and workable timelines to do what it is you want to do. But… the coach will not do the work for you.”
It’s funny how often clients start out with the idea that if they’ve hired a coach, then SHE’LL do all the work. “From the get-go, I expected Woodward to tell me what to do and how to change. But she didn’t.” wrote Julie A. Evans in her May 2008 Better Homes & Gardens article called Saving Time For The Soul .
Think of it this way. At some point, Michael Phelps had to learn how to do a flip turn. Ever tried to do one? Kinda scary at first. It’s all about timing. Start your turn too early and there won’t be a wall to push off against. Start too late and your bottom hits the wall, and your legs are all outside the pool, you’re skinned up, bleeding, got a wedgie and you feel like a jerk. Yes, that was a personal antecdote…
A coach works with a swimmer to figure out his or her rhythm, and how to time the precise moment a flip turn should start. And, let me point out, this rhythm is completely unique to each swimmer. Someone 5’6″ naturally takes more strokes to cross the pool that would a 6’5″ swimmer. A good coach takes these differences into account and helps the swimmer find his or her absolute best connection with the wall and maximum compression away from the wall. The coach gives constant feedback or correction to the swimmer based on the coach’s expertise and insight. That way, the swimmer continues to improve and grow as an athlete.
So it is with the kind of coaching I do. I work with my clients to get them absolutely clear about who they are and what skills they bring to their objective. We develop a plan full of tasks and goals, designed to bring the objective closer and closer. We brainstorm, we experiment, we look at underlying beliefs that may have become roadblocks — and get those out of the way.
But just like Michael Phelps has to execute each of his own flip turns, so does each client have to execute his or her own plan. As I said to Julie Evans in Better Homes & Gardens, “we’re more likely to carry out solutions when they’re our own, rather than directives foisted upon us by someone who thinks she knows better.”
I’ve found that people who want a coach to do all the work are often people who have had issues around authority. These are the people I feel so protective of — because I know that when they can learn to be self-reliant, self-directed, self-authored, their lives will change mightily.
Coaching is the best job I’ve ever had. I love watching my clients get promoted, learn new skills, find that great job, work out a problem, figure themselves out. Those are the moments when my clients stand on a figurative medals podium, laurel leaves on their heads, and medals around their necks, a happy future ahead of them.
And like Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, it’s enough for me to stand on the pool deck, watching, and bursting with pride. Because you did it. And I knew you could, all along.