Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Halfway through the first lockdown, after exhausting all my other options, I decided it was time to get help. Time to hire a coach. I had been toying with the idea for years, researched this extensively and reviewed all the literature (habits die hard!). The closest I came was to follow some coaches online in an attempt to tease out their methods. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t help. I finally took the leap and signed up for a year-long coaching programme.
Looking back, here are 12 things I learnt over the next 12 months:
Coaching helps clarify your vision, mission and purpose. Coaches are great at holding up a mirror, so we can see ourselves and priorities clearly. Whether you are seeking direction and focus, building a personal brand or honing your leadership style, coaches can serve as sounding boards and thinking partners helping to uncover the whys and to throw light on the inevitable blindspots in our professional lives.
Coaching is great at helping you get unstuck. Perhaps you've hit a glass ceiling at work, reached a career plateau or are simply going through a slow phase - we all have times when we feel stuck in a situation. Coaching can help get things moving again faster and more efficiently than you can do on your own.
Great questions have the power to draw out great answers. The best answers are always found within and learning to ask the right questions is a foolproof way of finding the right answers in any situation. Coaches are masters in the art of questioning. It was months before I could fully appreciate the non-prescriptive, non-directive way in which my coach made sure I arrived at the solution to any problem.
Coaching taps into sources of creativity you didn't know existed. In my first year working with a coach, I experienced the inevitable ups and downs and times when I felt unmotivated. What was consistent though was that I left every coaching session feeling much more resourceful than when I arrived. Coaching stimulates and challenges, and has the potential to revitalise both individuals and teams.
We need to question our models of reality from time to time. We are driven by our beliefs - the unique ways in which we make sense of the world - more than we care to admit. The coaching process is great at questioning these mental models and examining where an upgrade is needed. A coach can help you get out of your own way.
Many coaches are experts at behaviour design. Coaching helps us look clearly at our daily actions and throws light on areas which are not aligned with our goals and our values. Good coaches know how to break down performance into its critical individual components and understand the importance of details and systems. They are able to point you to the tools and strategies most suited to your needs.
A coach is neither your boss nor a friend! Which is partly where the magic lies. Friends and superiors, however wise, well-meaning and skilful, lack the objective clarity of someone on the outside. Great coaches have no preconceptions about you. They have your best interests at heart while remaining firmly on the outside. They see you as you are and as who you could potentially be.
You can be completely yourself in a coaching relationship. For many people, coaching may be one of the only adult relationships where they are expected to be completely themselves. It is not only ok, but it actually helps to arrive as you are when you work with a coach.
Coaching skills are leadership skills. When I first realised this, I was surprised, then it seemed obvious. With the increasingly complex, ambiguous and disruptive nature of our technological innovation, organisations have no choice but to move away from old-fashioned command-and-control practices. In recent studies both Google & HBR concluded that the top skill among high performing leaders is their ability to coach.
External coaching is the norm in business settings. As I explored the world of coaching, many of the people I met were entrepreneurs; there were few exceptions. Why was this the case? Perhaps because coaching makes sound business sense. Businesses see coaching as an investment, not an expense. And as investments go, it’s a great one. Coaching can result in 7x the ROI of your initial investment, according to the International Coaching Federation's 2009 Global Coaching Client Study. The ROI might be a bit harder to assess in academic settings, but the results are clear. Coaching has an impact far exceeding the investment of time, money and effort.
Coaches provide structure and accountability. Perhaps you are thinking ‘This all makes sense, but I’m already self-aware and pretty good at hacking behaviour and making changes’. I certainly did. What I found however, was that having someone provide structure and accountability made a world of difference.
Getting help (from a coach) is not a sign of weakness, it is the intelligent thing to do. Why settle for the good enough when you can have a shot at the great? Whether it is for us or for the teams we lead, the stakes are too high to go it alone. Partnering with a coach might be the smartest move you can make in your career yet.
In the year and a half since, I’ve taken a break from science, trained as a coach, met dozens of inspiring people along the way and founded a coaching network.
What would you like to be doing three years from now? Take a minute and really visualise that outcome. While you hold that vision in mind, it might be a good idea to ask: What is that vision worth to you? What would it take to get there? And would you like some help with that?