Executive Coaching and Life Coaching Explained
Learn how coaching works before deciding to work with an executive coach
Working as an executive coach in Dublin for over 18 years, I am fully aware of how people create their own perceptions and maps of how the world is and what it means to them. Their perceptions are just that, subjective perceptions of external events, people and experiences. This holds true for coaching as for anything else.
I have often met some clients whose starting point is a perception that coaching can be slightly “abstract”, perhaps aspirational rather than practical. It is anything but; entering a coaching programme can really challenge how you perceive yourself and your world around you. One of the creators of NLP , Richard Bandler often challenged his students to the ‘wheelbarrow test.’ If you cannot put something into a wheelbarrow it is not an object, it’s a nominalization. Let’s simplify this; it’s not the coaching that is abstract, but the way in which a coach uses the tools and skills they apply when working with a client can be the challenge. So here are a few points to understand what coaching can offer you, whether you want executive coaching, career coaching or general life coaching.
What is coaching?
Many coaches specialize in a particular area of business or life, believing that this will allow them to apply their expertise to their client base. You will find coaches who specialise in life coaching, relationship coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, financial coaching. The list in endless. The question I asked myself at one point in my coaching experience was.“ With expertise in one area, does it preclude a discussion of other areas because a coach is not an expert in that particular area?” The answer is ‘No.’
A coach is an expert in the skill of asking questions that change how you think about you
A coach is not always an expert in the content or subject you have in mind, but may have extensive knowledge of business, finance or the area you want to be coached in. This is where I make the distinction between coaching and consulting. You can find a business consultant who may have limited skills as a coach, but knows plenty about how a business operates and what should be done to improve it. They can tell you how to make it work, but not necessarily how it will work for your style of thinking or modus operandi, when they are not around to support you. You may find a coach who has limited knowledge of the subject matter, but their skill in coaching can more than help you explore those areas extensively in a way a business consultant or subject matter expert cannot.
After some time, working as a coach in Ireland, I realised that you don’t have to be an expert in the subject matter to coach someone really well. You must be a coach that can ask penetrating questions to get to the heart of what’s going on for the person being coached. The person being coached is already their own expert in their business and personal life. That doesn’t mean a coach should work without an appreciation for subject matters being discussed, whether you are talking about business plans, career change, business development or relationships.
Coaching is a Conversation
So now to demystify what a coach can actually do for you! Coaching is really about a conversation that gets to the heart of what’s going on inside you in at a contextual level. A coach should work in a very systematic way to help you get to a desired outcome. It is a conversation that explores and probes. Coaching is not always about “goal-setting” and achieving per se. It can be, but it is always about a result and an outcome, whatever you decide it is that supports the goals you have set yourself. A great coach can get right into the heart of a conversation and unpack your thinking styles and reflect it to you in a way that gives you a better insight into yourself to generate the change you are looking for.
Coaching is about getting into your higher level of thinking, where you store your meanings and values. It is is about helping you explore how you think about what you think about, what motivates you, why you don’t do what you want, how you could do it and the action that can be taken to achieve it. It can also be about behaviour change, perception change or changing how you operate in the world. The possibilities are endless.
Coaching is about many different types of conversations
There seems to be a typical pattern to the type of conversation that can emerge as you work with a coaching, according to Michael Hall, a gifted trainer in the field. One of the most obvious ones is the clarity conversation. This is about getting clear on aspects of yourself that you were previously unaware of or needed more understanding on. There is the decision conversation, where you explore an aspect of your life or business and make a decision from the coaching session. There is the planning conversation which could be about career change following the clarity conversation about what really motivates you. There is the experiencing conversation, where you may wish to try out and practice internal resources needed to reach your goal, for example, confidence, conviction or assertiveness. Then there is the change conversation, where you want to work on changing aspects of your thinking to become a higher performer or to improve your social and emotional awareness of what is going on inside you. And for those who love a challenge, there is the confrontation conversation, where you can be coached on your blind spots and resistance to move forward.
Coaching is systematic and VERY structured
A quality coach should be able to track the many layers and patterns of your thinking and raise it to a whole new level of awareness about ‘how you think about what you focus on.’ A coach is an expert in the process of coaching to an outcome, using a range of quality tools. I happen to use a range of tools to uncover thinking styles and perceptions of experience, values and meanings. They help me to uncover the motivation to change, explore levels of performance operating and the blocks to higher performance. It is highly-systematic and when combined with a flexible style of coaching it can really transform how people perceive external events and behaviours.
Coaching is about asking questions that you don’t ask yourself
The greatest skill a coach needs is the ability to ask quality questions like nobody else. A quality coach should be able to ask you multiple-layered questions within one question, to activate you unconscious thinking. When done elegantly it can create moments of insight that wake you up to a new way of thinking and perceiving. At the heart of the questioning, a coach is helping you navigate your thinking, showing you how you think about what you think about and tracking your thinking and reflecting it back to you. A question asked in the right way can change a person’s perception for ever. I was coaching a client on career change when I asked them “What if the job you want hasn’t been invented yet?” That question cracked open their thinking to a whole new set of possibilities where they were not limited to the job out there, but could create the job from the inside out. Questions are powerful and even more powerful when somebody else asks you them.
Coaching is a process of reflection followed by action
Coaching is always about thinking things out in a way that makes progress and where you take action on what you have discussed with your coach. I have coached people on career change, business decisions, overcoming challenging experiences in their lives. I have helped them explore how they can improve their relationships with people, their business, their career, themselves, money or whatever is presented. I have coached them on changing self-belief and building confidence across many areas from work relationships to presentation skills and communication skills with those around them. It is always about exploring the inner game you play and you attend to that on the outside.
The coaching is the process. The subject matter may be life, business or relationships. They are all interconnected and cannot be coached in isolation, because they are all aspects of who you are. They may or may not emerge during a coaching conversation.
As you can see, there are many layers and aspects to doing this work. If you decide to hire a coach, you will discover much about yourself; your way of thinking, how your inner game plays itself out in the external world and how you can adjust it if you want a different picture.
Coaches are not experts in your life, business or relationships. Being human, of course they have experience and awareness of many areas of life. At the heart of coaching, the coach is an expert in the process of the conversation and can offer many levels of coaching, be it life coaching, business coaching, career coaching or executive coaching. For you, it’s about getting a quality outcome from a conversation that allows you to make change and get better results in your life. It’s about the coach facilitating a healthy exploration of the subject in the conversations and then probing the gap that exists between where you are and where you would like to be. This is a complex and highly-rewarding experience, and with the right coach, it can be the most enlightening, enjoyable conversation you will ever have about yourself.