Notes from an anti-coach

It’s 1993. There I am watching an American TV coach on the Oprah show. He’s motivating and challenging 2 people in a fascinating sparring session and I have a light-bulb moment. I had never heard nor come across the job title “coach” before but felt I had found a label for what I had been doing up to that point. It was the 1990s, no endless coaching courses, weekend retreats or mentors to choose from. I decided to get trained up. Three years later I came out qualified and embarked on a degree in Psychology. Still, few people understood.

For the last 22 years I have coached business owners, entrepreneurs, celebrities, professionals, managers and anyone who has been at a crossroads in their careers. Whether helping with a transition, or a longer project, I’ve loved being a sparring partner, expert, confidant. But lately I struggle to say what I do for a living. Because who’s not a “Coach” these days? Who’s not done an intensive two-day training course to come out an expert in life, business, stress, health, communication or burn-out? And if you’re not a coach yourself, surely you have one?!

In the process coaching got mixed up with therapy, counselling, esoteric readings and a Sunday confession with the priest. Throw in a dollop of popular psychology, some Americanisms and an always-think-positive attitude to complete the mix.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love coaching as a skill, and art. I also know there are some very talented, well-trained coaches who didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I just have a problem with the jargon.

This is perhaps why I like to call myself an Anti-Coach. I like to practice anti-jargon. Plain English or straight Dutch works most effectively. My success comes in reaching the client in a way that makes them think and act. Conversely, jargon, like cliche, shuts down the brain and makes people glaze over. Over time I have also become anti tests. People and their problems cannot be captured in a table or a graph, especially not when they are being compared to the “average” score of hundreds. People are unique not average.

You might also call me anti-passive: I don’t believe in just listening to the client, nodding in the right places and asking, “is that really true?”. How can I not be actively involved if someone pays me to give them clarity, to help them achieve their goals, to fast track their progress, to hold them accountable, to learn and develop? I help my clients get ready for action. I will give advice if I have some, ask provocative questions if they need asking and reflect back plainly what I have heard, using practical metaphors, because pictures do speak louder than words.

Yes, the coachee has many of the answers already, and I will let them lead the way, but before they turn a corner I might say “why?” or “didn’t’ you tell me earlier you didn’t want that?”. I make the internal dialogue heard and test it. This is a short-term process. I am anti-long-term and pro results.

So maybe I am the Anti Coach, as shaped by my own irritations and evaluations in a time where coaching seems to be the Holy Grail. But I do believe in progress. I don’t think everyone needs a coach, but I am able to see what many people are capable of if they can unlock their own answers. A coach can quite simply be a guiding hand to help cross a bridge.

Are you ready to reinvent, re-shape, innovate and transition your life, your career, your business?

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