My Long, Winding Road to Coaching
It is officially International Coaching Week. This is the week designated by the ICF (International Coach Federation) to highlight coaching and spread the word across all media platforms. As a good advocate for the profession I will do the same, but instead of providing you with yet another blog on the benefits of having a coach, I wanted to let you guys in on what coaching has done for me.
You see, I did not start out as a coach. I wanted to be in a band. That was the goal. Make music, play dirty bars, hook up with even dirtier girls and drive off into the sunset on my Vespa (if you are judging me right now, make sure to continue to read). After maturing a bit, I decided that being in a band may not be a reality. Especially because I am a horrible musician. So, I decided I still wanted to be somewhat in entertainment and went after the advertising and marketing career that only Don Draper could imagine. Once in school for advertising it was pretty clear that even though I was creative, I wasn’t A creative. That pushed me into account management work, building relationships and executing plans. That is where I found my niche. Pardon my modesty, but I was a rockstar account person (yes, the correlation with my original career choice is intentional). The reason I excelled was because of the relationships that I built. The idea of “being of service“ to your clients came naturally to me. So naturally in fact, that in just a few years I was promoted to a supervisor of my business unit. That is where the wheels came off.
When I became a supervisor I was, quite frankly, terrible. Not because my intentions were wrong, I just didn’t know what to do. Yes, I had leadership training, I was even in a rotational program where I got to shadow other leaders. However, my mindset was wrong. I still was treating my leadership position as an individual contributor position. My approach was the following: I knew the best solution. I directed, not developed. I pushed to get ahead. I only cared about what I needed to do, and not what the team needed. One time, one of my direct reports told me her aunt died, and I still delivered her some constructive feedback. eelings be damned!! I told you, I was a horrible, horrible boss.
That’s when I moved into a hybrid position at work where I still held a leadership position, but as a business leader with no direct reports. My approach needed to change, because I was now leading by influence, and not by title. It was about that time that my father gave me a book he used as a business coach for IBM: John Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance. It was the first time that I was really introduced to the concept of coaching. To the idea that as a leader, your goal was to cater to your team, not to be the head decision maker. The idea that in order for people to develop they need to come up with their own answers. Most importantly, I figured out that it was not about me. In order to be a great leader, you need to be selfless.
Now trust me, for an egomaniacal, spotlight loving, wannabe entertainer, that did not come easily. However, whenever I applied coaching techniques, I got further. My relationships got stronger and I was able to build trust with my teams. Even the business results got better. There was definitely something there. So I started to study more about coaching. I did some 1-1 coaching on the side, applied for official coaching training through an accredited school and eventually started my own business. Through it all my mindset changed. I became comfortable with the leader I wanted to be, and the one that my people (now clients) needed me to be. Here are the lessons that resonated with me the most:
IT'S NOT ABOUT ME
Look, I know it sounds counter intuitive, but if we fight the demands of our ego and truly focus on the empowerment and development of others, we end up gaining more than we would on our own. Coaching is first and foremost about partnership. It is the concept that 1 + 1 will equals three. Once I learned how to shut up and focus not on what I am getting, but what I am giving, things started to shift. First, things became more rewarding. I started to be happy about other people’s achievements. Even if I wasn’t coming out ahead. Instead of focusing on my career, I started living vicariously through others. The crazy part is that it was ten times more rewarding than anything I have achieved on my own.
CREATE A JUDGEMENT FREE ZONE
Remember when you snickered when I said that I wanted to ride into the sunset on a Vespa. Well, that is my truth. Regardless of how ridiculous it may be, it is what resonates with me. The same way that something might resonate with you, and I might not understand (except for liking Trance music, no one understands that). The point here is that everyone has their own thing. Whether it is the way you may approach a problem, the way you lead or even what you like to eat. Regardless of our preferences, we should be treated with respect, and be seen as people with value. In coaching we are taught to clear our filters. Imagine a disgusting, lint filled, clothes dryer filter. If that filter in not cleaned regularly, the dryer does not operate efficiently. That lint is our preconceived perceptions and assumptions. How can we be good leaders if we are being affected by this? One of the first lessons I learned from coaching was to leave my assumptions behind. Start fresh. Listen. Give people a chance. Once I started doing this, it was amazing how much I learned when I gave people the opportunity to surprise me.
SET GOALS AND DO THEM ALREADY
Finally, coaching allowed me to be more focused. Although I have always been driven, I tended to go through life casually, not purposefully. That meant that I waited for the universe to provide me an option and I would take it. College in the US? Sure, why not. Job at a promotional products company a friend of mine worked at? I’m in. A Colleague started a new job in a great organization? Sure, I’ll follow suit… Don’t get me wrong, this approach worked for me. Until it didn’t. I kept expecting more and more from the universe and did not go after what I truly wanted. This only led to frustration and missteps. Coaching taught me that no matter what you are doing, you should define what you want, and how you are going to get there. That does not mean that you need to stick with that plan but having a roadmap for where you want to go will help you focus on what YOU can affect.
So, there you have it. Those are the main lessons I learned from coaching. However, I am still learning every day. From my mentors, my coaches and my clients. No matter where I end up I know that these lessons will be with me and I will be better for it. Happy International Coaching Week.
Andre Mello is a Business Coach and is in the market for a Vespa. He has been in marketing and leadership for over 17 years. If you would like to connect with Andre, please visit www.wysecoaching.com.