When you see life coaching on TV, it’s often a source of comic relief. A person who’s down on her luck and desperate for cash puts up a sign that she’s a life coach. After a commercial break, we see her spouting nonsensical and/or obvious advice to a person who’s at the front of a long line of suckers waiting with their checkbooks.
These shows are picking up on a real problem with the field: coaches’ giving guidance that’s incorrect, obvious, or of little value.
On the other hand, some coaches give guidance that’s creative, clever, and based on deep insights. Clients can get ideas from coaches that the clients wouldn’t have thought of on their own and avoid the traps and pitfalls that most people face.
As we look at advice-giving and other coaching guidance services, I recommend that you keep one thing in mind: if you’re getting advice, training, or other guidance from someone, make sure the person has the talent, wisdom, and/or expertise necessary to back it up.
How do you know if a coach has the goods or not? Your gut sense is your best guide. Even if you don’t know a subject well, you can listen to a coach talk about it and get a sense of how comfortable she is with it, how deeply she understands it, and how sophisticated her insights about it are.
Coaching Guidance Services
I’ve prepared a handy dandy list of coaching guidance services for you, so you can get a sense of how coaches help you figure out what to do. As with all other coaching services, a coach may provide all, some, or none of these services. And let’s just put it nicely and say that not every coach who provides these services does a stellar job of it.
Many people think giving advice is the essence of coaching. You come to the coach with a problem, and the coach tells you what to do. Though advice can be a valuable service some coaches provide, I have two major concerns about advice in coaching.
Not any better than yours
Firstly, a coach’s advice isn’t necessarily any more clever, effective, or wise than yours. Sometimes, a coach has extensive experience with or insights about a particular subject. Sometimes, her perspective as an outsider gives her the ability to offer valuable advice. But, much (most?) of the time, a coach’s advice is no better than your ideas.
Secondly, advice can bring awkward dynamics into the coaching relationship. Deep down, people generally want to figure things out themselves and resent advice.
Also, if you disagree with a coach’s advice, you’re in an awkward position. You have three unappealing options:
- You can tell her you don’t like her idea and risk getting into an argument with her, hurting her feelings, or having her get defensive. For people who dislike confrontation, this may be an impossible option.
- You can say nothing and risk having her assume you agree with her and follow up with you later about it.
- Or you can follow the advice, even though you feel like you’re wasting your energy and/or making your situation worse.
Being a role model
The coach has done what you want to do. She’s a successful entrepreneur, a best-selling author, a parent of happy, healthy children. She shares specific advice and guidance with you, but you absorb a lot just from being around her.
You experience her ease with things that may seem impossibly far away to you — having a luxurious lifestyle, being interviewed on national television, a relaxed and joyful relationship with teenage children. Subtle shifts can take place inside you on a visceral level as you spend time with her.
What seemed impossible before you worked with the coach seems possible.
Acting as a business (or other) partner
The coach acts like a business (or other) partner for you. If you’re in business alone, you may appreciate having someone with whom you can solve problems, do strategic planning, deal with crises, share your frustration, and celebrate.
Unlike with a real business partner, you don’t need your coach’s agreement on any of your decisions. You don’t need to make compromises with your coach.
You also get to keep all the profits (and pay all the debts). You pay your coach a set fee.
If the relationship isn’t working for you, you can get out very easily, instead of dealing with the mess of dissolving a partnership.
Role playing is one of the most powerful uses of your coaching time, in my opinion. You coach doesn’t need to be an expert for it to work beautifully, though if she is one, you get even more value from it. The basic idea is that you act out a difficult scenario during the coaching call, like asking your boss for a raise.
A simple role play makes you much more comfortable when the situation comes up in real life.
You and your coach can also fashion the responses you want to give, test them out, tweak them, and practice them so they roll off your tongue when you’re in the situation in real life. You can switch roles and have the coach play you and you play the other person in the scenario. You can play the scene where you get the response you want, the response you don’t want, and responses out of left field so you’re prepared.
The coach is an expert in a skill, like sales, negotiation, or parenting, and she trains you in it. She may explain things to you, give you exercises, give you materials to read and watch, have you practice during the coaching session and give you feedback, or use other training methods.
This is another one of those dicey areas.
Over the years, I’ve seen many coaches teach their clients skills in areas the coaches don’t seem to have mastered themselves. For example, I’ve watched in frustration as coaches push marketing strategies that aren’t effective, reek of desperation, and waste effort and resources. I’ve also seen clumsy teaching and ineffective training methods.
The bottom line is that if you’re getting training from a coach, she knows her stuff and has the skill to effectively tranfer her knowledge to you.
Sharing wisdom/acting as a guru
Coaches who can legitimately offer this service are so rare that I almost don’t want to list it, but it does exist, so I guess I should. The coach has deep wisdom about life, and she guides you on a path to something deep and meaningful, like inner peace, wisdom, or enlightenment. Quite a few coaches say (or imply) they have this wisdom or they can provide this guidance. (I’m not one of them, in case you were wondering.)
These coaches seem sincere, but, from where I’m sitting, they’re nowhere near the level they’d need to be to legitimately make these claims.