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The 3 most important things I learnt from being coached

Explaining to someone what coaching is can be challenging, it is far easier to show someone what coaching is, by having them experience it. It’s not mentoring, it’s not therapy; it’s not telling someone solutions, offering advice or directing them down a specific path. Coaching is about holding space, really listening, highlighting blind spots and walking with someone as they discover and learn about themselves, for themselves. It’s so hard to quantify and for results orientated people (my clients!), that can be a big trust pill to swallow in the beginning. And yet I have had more than one strong minded, no nonsense, corporate executive describe the coaching process as magical.

Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them. John Whitmore

Being the client is what ultimately brought me to train as a coach – I wanted to share this process with others. And it has, undoubtedly, influenced and informed the way that I coach and who my target client is. My clients come to me deeply frustrated and exhausted from exerting energy, pretending everything is rosy in their garden. And on paper it usually is, successful achievers who appear to have it all sussed, but secretly are deeply dissatisfied, unhappy, their confidence in tatters and feeling ashamed and bewildered by the feelings.

These people are my clients because that was me, and that’s why I reached out for a coach. I’ve now had several coaches; each one has brought their own style and has built on the work of the former. I have discovered so much and continue to do so, I could fill pages and pages – but I have limited myself to the top three things that, through coaching, have altered my career and ultimately my life.

1. Choose how you want to show up.

We can’t control everything: even though we think we know this as true, it’s surprising how many people, deep down, think that they are the exception. I certainly did. I was convinced that if I cared enough, if I worked hard enough, I could alter anything and everything, including other people.

At the time I was surrounded by negative ninnies, they always saw the glass as not even half full. Everything was a problem; everything was a chore; the world was against them – the poor mes. And it rubs off, as a generally positive person I started to become very cynical and in turn demotivated, as my confidence in my own abilities plummeted. I battled on for months convinced I could change them and the situation, and when I kept failing, I called in a coach.

What I learnt next altered how I managed a team, how I self-managed my thoughts and emotions and how I communicated in the workplace and most surprisingly at the time, at home. I was asked what I could control – and after must protesting and reflection I arrived at the answer of me – just me.

So here I was with a new found awareness that the only thing I have control over is myself. And from awareness comes choice. The next question was how do I want to choose to show up? I love this question. At the time it stopped me in my tracks. I was fed up with how things were, and I didn’t have a long-term plan, up until then I had assumed that until I had the answer nothing could change. My coach helped me understand I could choose to change me in the interim.

What followed was improved relationships, a lighter atmosphere. More patience, less frustration. It made for a significantly improved environment and bought me a lot of time while I continued to figure out what I wanted and needed.

So, when feeling trapped and stuck and in a place where everything feels out of our control – ask yourself how you want to show up in this scenario – who do you want to be?

2. Notice your energy

It’s a bit of a coachy thing to say isn’t it – notice your energy, but it provides vital information that perhaps we haven’t yet consciously observed.

It came up for me when I was describing my career plan. I was a group leader at this stage and my next promotion would be to general manager – it had been in my plan since the year dot and I had been working incredibly hard for many, many years.

So here I was explaining what was next for me, the timescales I had derived for this, my action plan to get there and what it would look like when I had got it.

And coach says, “notice your energy levels as you describe this”.

Bugger. Because in that moment I acknowledged the absolute undeniable fact that I just didn’t care about it, I was so bored by the prospect that my body language, the tone of my voice, even the language I was using was screaming this to anyone who would listen – but I hadn’t listened myself until that point.

It was a massive spanner in the works for sure – because if not that, then what? It was a scary time, few people enjoy ripping up a long-held plan, especially when they have nothing to replace it with. But it was absolutely necessary and a pivotal moment in recognising that I did need to discover something else. I had outgrown the old plan.

Self-awareness – noticing how we really feel about something, what clues our body is giving us – how we hold ourselves, the upset stomach, the clenched jaw (one of my favs), tight shoulders. If you sound bored about your “dream” be curious; what’s that about?

3. What does success look like for me?

My answer to this question has changed so many times and I am sure it will change many times yet going forward.

Working through with my coach what success is, what it means, how it feels and what it looks like has offered up countless clues, images, opportunities, experimental paths, new connections, and networks.

BC (before coaching), I had a clear description of success, and it was largely based in ego. For me it was all about recognition, achievement, social standing, hierarchical position, and material wealth – me feeling successful was entrenched in others perceiving me as successful. Ironically, I think I was perceived as successful by others – and yet I continued not to feel it personally.

When asked by my coach was success looked like for me really, I just got this image. There is no rhyme or reason why success for me is a coffee under a tree, but it was a persistent message my mind kept bringing forth. As I explained last week, that image has been a north star for decision after decision (read last week’s blog: Visualisation – does it work?).

My coach helped me join the dots. We had worked on my values – what was most important for me, my purpose – what was driving me forward and what this gave me, what I was able to let go of – the persistent urge to please others. I understood more about my inner critics and how they were driven by fear and with all these dots I was able to answer that success, for me, was freedom. And a cautionary note that that word – freedom – means something very specific to me and it will mean something equally specific, and possibly very different to each individual. The vital point is that we have the meaning for ourselves and what this can mean for us going forward.

It's a big question to sit and reflect with, and for me it came after much other foundational work, but it was an important enough question to make it to my top three because it altered my perceptions of what a career could look like for me. It became more about how I wanted to feel, as opposed to how I was seen.

Coaching is a personal journey. It’s about awareness and choice, direction, and commitment. I was recently listening to Simon Sinek speak on a podcast and he was saying that we aren’t designed to tackle life alone – we are tribal creatures. We need the support of friends, family, and colleagues to navigate every aspect of our lives – and yet we are not necessarily taught how to ask for this support explicitly and worse are often made to feel that asking for it is a weakness or a failure. A coach is simply one element of a support network who walks next to you while you navigate a specific period of time. I remain ever grateful that I invited a coach into my world – they did not solve my problems, they did not answer all my questions or give me solutions, but they did walk with me whilst I learnt and as a result, they gave me an immeasurable gift.

If you are asking yourself, do I need a coach? And you what to learn more, may I direct you to my blog of the same name: Do I need a coach?

If you are curious about how I can work with you , you can speak to me directly, you can book a free initial 30 minute coaching session with me here and there's no hassling from me if it's a no thanks after that.

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