Executive, Life, Performance, Career…Nope. Really, really Great Coach!

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Executive, Life, Performance, Career…Nope. Really, really Great Coach!

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I was with a prospective client recently. I noticed something new. When I mentioned “Executive” coaching, there was a subtle shift. It was a slight change in body language. I’ve come to learn to enquire about these.

“What’s this?” I asked, mirroring the movement.

This opened up something I had not expected. The word “Executive” in “Executive Coaching” created an image of stuffy, older gentlemen around a boardroom table. 

What happens in the here-and-now is gold dust in a coaching relationship – even a potential coaching relationship. Ever curious, I made a mental note of this for later.

So what to do?

The ‘fixer’ part of me was very keen to solve this. Perhaps get a bit defensive. Convince the person opposite me that they were mistaken. Explain this riddle for them. Yes, this part of me wanted to ‘win the client’

The ‘compassionate’ part of me was wondering what it was like inside this persons organisation. Perhaps male dominated. Perhaps complete with unconscious

bias. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps. OK, I do not know. So let’s hold those lightly. This part of me wanted to ‘help’.

There may have been other parts which make up who I am… what I recall is that the ‘curious coach’ took over. This was accompanied by a deep breath and silence. 

What happened? 

They filled the frame with more colour. Enabling me to see more of the world through their window. Giving this ‘time to think’ (as Nancy Klein’s lovely book puts it), enabled the person to decide the direction of the conversation.

Then, they simply asked me “What is the difference between life and executive coaching?”. A great question to be asked by a prospective client. 

So what’s the answer?

My rather cheeky response … Marketing!

There is so much out there about finding your niche and labelling yourself so that you can attract clients. When, fundamentally, what underpins any type of coaching – at its best – are very similar, core skills. 

Top of the list? The relationship between the coach and client. This is the #1 determining factor for successful outcomes. Beyond that, it’s a wonderfully human endeavour which often takes wonderful twists and turns.

Yes, all coaches are unique as they are unique people. The same is true for clients. It’s what happens in the space between them which is often the difference which makes the difference.

Therefore, the labels which precede “coaching” are as likely to say something about the coach as the prospective clients. As this is about identity. Who does the coach identify with? Who does the client identify with? What potential impact is each seeking to project if they have/seek the label “executive” or “life” or “performance” etc.?

Personally speaking, I believe I am able to coach anyone who is open to coaching. I love variety and I learn from every single one of my clients. I have realised that focussing on labels creates a false belief that I somehow have all the answers! My starting point is always that the client has the answers. I believe in them.

I believe in myself to work side-by-side to support and challenge the removal of any obstacles in their way.

The secret of great coaching is that it’s in the here-and-now. It is a symphony where the coach and client are working together in the moment. Where the coach can access a range of technique, tools, models and personal experiences in service of the clients agenda.

Whilst I am qualified as an ‘executive coach’ which, for me at least, means I tend to work with people who have a job and I take into account their broader system. This means the relationships with their team, business and wider circles such as family and friends.

My clients are senior leaders. Emerging and transitional talent. Meaning seekers. Transitioners in/out. Even unemployed. Many different industries, cultures and backgrounds. This is what I love about coaching! The variety and uniqueness of people. Their inner worlds and their outer systems. The simplicity and the complexity.

Quite often, the client is not paying for the coaching. It is their company. If this is the case, then the individual has a responsibility to their system for ensuring an alignment of objectives. Even if the individual is paying themselves, the system is ever-present. Typically this involves a personal, performance or transformation element. Sometimes those and more!

This means that no topic is off limits. As coach, I have an ethical responsibility to the sponsor (and client) to notice if we are straying away from what is in service of the individual AND their system/objectives. So why limit myself or my client to a label?

When I coach, I always coach a person. I understand that they do not exist in isolation outside the coaching hour. Therefore, sometimes it’s important to bring those on the outside, inside the room. This does not mean they are invited to observe! This can be done in a variety of creative ways which invariably deepen the emotional impact for the client. 

This is where the options and choices for the only change they are in complete control of can emerge. The change of their own behaviour. Their own mindset. Their responsibility to choose.

As an ‘executive coach’, does this mean I only coach work issues? Absolutely not. I believe that the false dichotomy of “work vs life” is often creating issues. My clients invariably seek integration of their whole selves and their whole life. 

How to be themself when there is so much pressure to be everybody else.

How to know what you want and to communicate this. Rather than to want what other people want you to want and wonder why you feel unfulfilled.

I have come to learn a very important truism in coaching. If we (and I include myself!) are avoiding some major issue, then quite simply… no other issue will be addressed effectively. As I write this, I realise how true this is for me in my own life. 

So when I heard this interesting insight about my “executive coaching” label, I wondered. What if? 

Imagine dropping the label. Would we (I) and could we (I) be brave enough to say who we really are? To believe in ourselves.

I’m James. I’m a really, really Great Coach. I coach really, really Great People.

Wow. I notice a flutter of butterflies in my chest as I write that. This is telling me many things. Which is a story for another time.

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