Life Coaching as Leadership
Emmanuel (Noel) Villarivera
About ten years ago, I left a church that I was pastoring to continue to pursue my counseling career. What I missed the most was leading the congregation to what God wants us to do in our community. I also missed guiding the church members from where they are to where God wants them to be. I thought I was no longer functioning as a leader.Then one day I saw these words flashing on the sign in front of a hotel: Leadership is action, not position. Had others been with me, they would have seen that I was visibly shaken. I can’t describe the impact, but I felt jolted by a charge of hope. It was true: I could still be a leader even apart from the organization I had left. I could be a leader apart from any organization.
What now seems so obvious was at that time a powerful insight. It is possible to be a leader even without an office, an assistant, a public platform, a leadership job, or a title. For the first time, I realized that I could lead through writing, speaking, teaching, parenting, or one-on-one mentoring. We can lead through the way we live, and certainly we lead through coaching. More than that, if you are a coach, you already are a leader. The two go together.
Good leaders are people who have learned how to think, see situations clearly, and be creative even as they are flexible. Their ultimate success as leaders is marked by both their ability to produce new leaders and the effective performance of these leaders when they are on their own.
How Life Coaching and Leadership are Related
As coaching grows in influence and as more people understand what coaching involves, how will we see coaching and leadership tie together more closely? The following are a few observations.
1. Coaching and leadership are about experience.
In teaching others to coach and to lead, I have learned one core principle: Life coaching and leading are skills that are learned through experience and practice.
2. Coaching and leadership are about relationships.
Life coaching is a special kind of relationship. It is a partnership with a purpose – a partnership marked by honesty, respect, trust, and movement toward mutually accepted goals.
3. Coaching and leadership are about character and competence.First, the coach must take the lead in building a partnership that will persist and keep the client engaged over time. Second, you need to be clear about the assumptions that you and your client bring to the relationship. This includes clarifying what coaching is and what it is not. Coaching is guaranteed to stall if you try to move forward with unclear or different assumptions.
Third, near the beginning it can be helpful to explore the issues that the client wants to discuss. All of this will enable you to evaluate the client, including the pros and cons of working together. Finally, at some time you will need to have an agreement about how the coaching will take place. Together these five issues become the core of the coaching relationship.
4. Leadership and coaching are about community.
Coaching is an alliance between two equals that exists for the purpose of meeting the client’s needs and goals.
This coequal, coactive focus is what sets coaching apart from counseling, mentoring, consulting, and other more top-down relationships. Coaching begins with the development of a trusting relationship characterized by mutual respect and commitment.
Assumptions about Life Coaching
- Is a collaborative partnership between the coach and the person being coached
- Involves dialogue rather than advice giving, discipling, or therapy
- Is built on trust, integrity, self-discipline, and accountability
- Is results-oriented, focused on reaching goals
- Discusses weaknesses and obstacles but emphasizes strengths and positive change
- Assumes that people are resourceful and able to set goals and reach them
- Lets clients define and move toward their goals with God’s help and the coach’s assistance
- Helps people reach their peak performance
- Assumes that life is integrated – we cannot assume that one’s work, family life, personal history, spirituality, or lifestyle can be put into neat compartments
- Embraces change as something that is always occurring, sometimes confusing, often positive, and usually growth producing
It’s a core assumption of coaching that the client sets the agenda and that the coach is nonjudgmental and as nondirective as possible.
Types of Listening Used by Life Coaches
Life coaches use at least three kinds of listening skills: informal listening, active listening, and intuitive listening.
- Informal listeningThis is most common. It’s the way we listen in our everyday conversations. Often it involves listening for facts or information.
- Active listeningActive listening is different because the listener concentrates on what is being said, pays close attention, shows awareness of the speaker, and sometimes makes brief comments or asks clarifying questions.
- Intuitive listeningThis entails a high level of concentration and awareness. The coach listens for inconsistencies that the client may not notice in the conversation, attitudes and emotions that come out with the words, topics that resurface at different times, values and beliefs that can be discerned from what is being expressed, dreams for the future, frustrations, and self-sabotaging behavior that prevents progress.
The Miracle QuestionIn the 1980s, de Shazer suggested a simple but provocative question that has been used by coaches and many therapists ever since. Here is what now is known as the miracle question: Assume tonight you went to bed, and before morning a miracle occurred so that when you woke up, your problem was solved and everything you wished for had taken place. How would things be different?
This powerful question lets the client imagine and visualize how things could be different. It clarifies possibilities and can become the basis for creating specific goals toward which the client can work. The miracle question loses its power if it is asked too often. But it is a question that can jolt people out of their feelings of being stuck and can stimulate creativity, hope, and possibilities for action.
Common Life Coaching Process
- AWARENESS: Where are we now?
- VISION: Where do we want to go?
- STRATEGY AND ACTION: How do we get there?
- OBSTACLES: What gets in the way?
You will notice that none of the questions in the above list start with the word “Why” (like “Why do you want coaching?”). This is because “Why” questions tend to encourage analytical thinking, excuses, defensiveness, or trips to the past. It is better to ask questions that start with What, When, How, Who, or Where.
Coaching is not about giving advice or telling people what to do. Coaching is about asking powerful, thought-provoking questions that stimulate fresh thinking, lead to new insights, clarify issues, and challenge clients to explore innovative possibilities.
Good questions pick up on the language, terminology, and metaphors the client uses; poorer questions often miss what the client has said.
One of your greatest tasks as a coach is to help others uncover, face, and get past the self-defeating behaviors and mental self-talk that hinders progress.
Every coach and everyone who comes for coaching has a mindset. Some call this a life perspective, a mental model, or a worldview. This is an inner set of beliefs and assumptions about how the world works.
Values are difficult to define and hard to identify. They are the foundational beliefs that anchor our lives, the things that matter to us, the non-negotiable characteristics that most clearly define our identities.
The same is true for effective coaches. You will never reach your maximum effectiveness as a coach until you are aware of your values. People being coached will never move forward until they deal with the issue of values. A clear awareness of values can help in determining one’s vision for the future and can guide the process for achieving goals.
Most coaching is not about changing values; it is more about clarifying values and helping people recognize values, live with them, and then build on their values as they move toward their goals.
As a personal inner force, passion drives us forward. But most people also need a mental picture of where they are going. They need a vision of what can be possible. Vision pulls us forward. Once that vision clearly is in mind, we can deal with the practical strategy steps of getting where we want to go.
Even so, there are general characteristics that coaches are likely to discover in their cross-cultural coaching with next-generation, postmodern leaders:
- Values and experiences are more important than vision casting and reaching goals.
- Images and stories are more valued than words and facts.
- Building community may be more important than building individual success.
- Active participation and ownership are preferred over passive submission to authority and professional expertise.
- Spirituality is valued, religion is not.
Take the Next Step
If you’re looking to invest in personal life coaching to help you take the next step forward in your life, I invite you to contact our office today to schedule an appointment or visit the counselor directory to find a life coach to meet your needs.
“Consultation,” Courtesy of Nik Macmillan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License “Difficult roads…beautiful destinations”, Courtesy of Hello I’m Nik, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “You Got This!”, Courtesy of Sydney Rae, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Journaling”, Courtesy of Alexis Brown, Unsplash.com, CC0 License