The misperception is that a leadership coach “has it all figured out and is ready to tell you what to do next.” Nothing could be further from the truth!
First of all, leadership coaching focuses on who you’re becoming on a personal level. We trust that you know your situation well enough to know what to do next for your company or church once you’ve established an approach that’s relevant to your values. It’s easy to get off track, even just a little bit, in the day to day grind. The coach keeps you focused on where you’re going and trusts you can find the right road.
Coaching is about walking beside you in the discovery process as you dream, plan and set goals for your future. The coach isn’t going to tell you what your agenda ought to be.
Coaching clients often work on one or two things at a time, such as: work/family life balance (a.k.a. time management); dealing with dry seasons in spiritual growth; vision and mission (what values are relevant); life purpose; and accountability for large projects like implementing new fundraising plans or writing a book.
If I hire a coach and they don’t tell me what to do, what am I really getting?
Barry is a hard-charging type of guy, his organization’s regional leader in their Asia headquarters in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He’s ambitious and wants to do well, and he’s got a huge heart for people. He’s always ready to help someone, but sometimes notices that his “I can handle any crisis” attitude means that people have figured out they can call him when the senior leader is travelling (almost always) and he’ll jump to solve the problems, even in the middle of the night. He also notices that it causes friction with his wife; the last time they had a date scheduled he suddenly went to take care of someone’s problem and the evening was lost. He wants to succeed in his career, but his family is suffering. Barry is not sure he wants to discuss it with his supervisor, so he gets a third-party coach to help him navigate the challenge.
His coach asks “who do you want to become?” After thinking a while, Barry says “I want to be the guy who trains people to tackle the crisis on their own. This will hurt; I might not feel as needed as I was before. I won’t be the hero… but… I can be the hero at home if I do. And that’s more important long term. I just have a hard time remembering that.” His coach invites him for several options for how he might proceed to remind himself that his heart’s at home. When the coach asks him what he could do to change things, Barry comes up with a plan for working with staff to learn how to handle crises on their own. The coach asks him if there’s anything else. Barry says, “Yes. I’ll tell my buddy Carl that if I miss another date night with my wife, I’ll pay him $20.” The coach is surprised. This idea would never have occurred to him, but Barry admits that he’s a terrible pinchpenny. This will be highly motivating for him.
Barry then thanks the coach for fixing all his problems. The coach remarks that Barry has come up with all the solutions based on who Barry said he wanted to become. What did the coach do? The coach listened at a different level than most people do, and asked the right kind of questions which don’t presume a response, remaining supportive.
Three months later, the senior leader notices what Barry’s been doing and asks him to begin supervising a second region. “You’ve done such a great job getting your people to handle problems on their own,” he says. “Do you think you could help the team in Malaysia?”
“No,” says Barry, “Not if it means I’d have to miss date night.”