Finding the good coach has given me an opportunity to reflect on and share some of my journey to becoming a coach and how coaching has enabled some important differences for me as well as for others.
The main theme is Know thyself and the process of reflecting on this journey is a way of continuing with my coaching – especially of myself!
How Awareness started for me
I guess I have always been a coach and I’ve only come to fully appreciate it in the last few years once I had some formal coach training.
By going on my journey of self-discovery, what I’ve come to learn is that learning, development and growth, are some of my most fundamental and core values.
And those have been with me since school days. I really enjoyed school. I enjoyed university. I enjoyed the acquisition of new information. New ideas and new concepts have always fascinated me.
When I first started work as a trainee accountant, I recall a preference for listening rather than talking and also asking friends questions like “what’s stopping you?” This was one of a list of powerful questions that was part of my coaching training 20 years later!
My awareness of Coaching started when I was living and working abroad and I was invited to a one-day ‘Introduction to Coaching’ course. As a keen sportsman, I thought that business coaching would be a bit like sports coaching (the coach doesn’t play on behalf of the player). The distinction between coaching and mentoring and the idea of coaching being about NOT giving advice was totally new to me. I remember enjoying the course and thinking this is something I want to do more of.
Taking gradual progressive steps forward with this awareness
Some time after that introduction to coaching, I wanted to set up a Twitter account. The name @ChrisPaterson was already taken and I tried @SmileBeCurious and it was available. Since that moment, that has been a call to action for how I wanted to be, almost an identity and it fits really nicely with being a coach. If I can smile and be curious, then what a lovely way to go about coaching.
Starting to practice this Coaching at work & championing the development of others…I had a large team of people working for me and in one-to-one conversations, I was more interested in their career aspirations and how they wanted to develop than the day to day activities. This provided an opportunity for me to take a coaching approach and practice my skills. I enjoyed helping them and they were pleased that I was taking an interest in them.
What I struggled with was the performance management element of leading a large team. I believe I have pre-disposition to see the good in others and some of the feedback I received was that I look at the world through “pink glasses”. I later realised that the ability to hold someone in unconditional positive regard is one of the corner stones of taking a coaching approach. As a coach, I am the sunshine that shines on the brilliance of others so that they can discover it for themselves.
Continuing to build awareness of the Coaching Process … And then when I came back to the UK, I had an opportunity to sign up to an internal coaching training course after which I qualified as an internal coach in a very substantial programme that had been running successfully for a number of years. That took my coaching to a new level, made it much more of a conscious rather than an unconscious thing, and that really started the journey, formally.
Continuing my learning …So I started to notice the difference in my energy levels when I was coaching compared to doing the rest of my day job (leading a Business Unit and team of 50 in sales and marketing). I noticed that I had more energy at the end of the coaching session than the start, a lot of the time. And so coaching was something that energizes me, and something that’s useful to another person and is focused on learning.
So this is really quite a sweet spot for me. It’s also an opportunity to be a human being as well as a human doing, an opportunity to not just be in front of a computer churning out stuff; and with some freedom in terms of where it could happen and when it could happen, so a sense of liberation, as well, came from coaching.
I decided that I wanted to become an Executive Coach for my company and met the head of coaching to find out how to get there. There were 3 things they look for in an Executive Coach:
- Coaching competence
- Business Credibility
- Evidence of the journey of self discovery
I was told that the experience I had gained from working as a management team member and leader in several countries was plenty in terms of business credibility. I was given some recommendations for how to develop my coaching capability and self awareness to the level needed. I thought to myself that I was quite self aware and so investigated a coaching course. It involved several long weekends and amazingly I was free on those dates but I was not able to secure the funding for the course from my manager. Dispondent, I met with the head of coaching again to see if there was a way to get on the course. There was no central funding available, just a reiteration of the advice to pursue the journey of self discovery by enrolling in the Landmark Forum. This was a tenth of the price of the coaching course and funding was no longer a barrier so I signed up without hesitation. The difference between the person who turned up on the Friday morning at the start of the course and how I was on the Sunday evening was startling as I discovered how little about myself I actually knew. The weekend had been the most powerful learning experience I had ever had and changed the way I saw myself and the world. Looking back, this was much more valuable to me that the coaching course I thought I wanted to go on and over the next 6 months I completed the rest of the Landmark core curriculum which has helped me to continue the inquiry into who I am and my journey of self discovery.
Building the Practice of Coaching … As an internal coach, I have had a steady stream of clients, almost as many as I wanted. And over the last year, I’ve probably had about ten at a time. I started quite small with one or two, and then realised that the more I coach, the more I enjoyed it. And the more I coached, the better I got at it and it’s really gone from there.
Continuing to Use all the learning methods …
Keeping Focus on feedback through Results and Output is really important. I have been very lucky to be able to take advantage of regular supervision and CPD events provided through work. These have helped me grow my coaching muscle. Every client is also an opportunity for me to learn and develop as a coach and I routinely ask clients for feedback in addition to the evaluation which my company asks them to complete. Through the contracting in the Chemistry meeting, I make it very clear that the only reason I do this is to be useful to them. So if it’s not working for them, it’s not working for me either and that gives them the permission to be in charge and to call the shots.
I have made use of being observed in coaching sessions by a much more experienced coach and they then give me encouragement and pointers for improvement as well.
Sometimes you get those light bulb moments where the hair stands up on the back of your neck and you really know you’re working with something. For me, that’s the most rewarding feedback, although I’ve learnt not to expect that to happen too often.
Another critical element of my development has come from being coached. I have had 3 different coaches over a 2 year period and I found the experience incredibly valuable on a number of levels. At one level, I was able to watch them coaching me and make a note of what worked well that I could use with my clients. I was also able to do some important work to help me on my journey including finding & refining my purpose in life (to grow leaders by supporting others to discover for themselves), becoming better at identifying my emotions and making the preparations for a great ending to be able to allow a new beginning as an Executive Coach.
At the time of writing I have recently left the company where I worked for 17 years to focus on developing my coaching practice, SmileBeCurious and to set up a charity related to coaching young people (more about this in another blog). This would have been inconceivable a few years ago – coaching has transformed me.
And I think the journey has been as much about me developing as a coach as me developing as an individual, and learning about myself. That has probably been the more powerful element of it in fact. By gaining greater self awareness, I’ve been able to develop as a coach.
As a coach, I’m an expert in not knowing. There’s something about me being able to share that with clients that makes them okay for them to be vulnerable, to be able to open up and to know that I’m not going to judge them for this
You don’t need very much training to start coaching, you can set yourself up, get some insurance and off you go. What makes the difference is less about the training or the hours of coaching experience, I believe it comes down to attitude and this journey of self-discovery which is an absolutely critical component of being a coach which you cannot just sign up and get from a training course.
“What do I need to do to become a better coach?” Then know yourself, know yourself better. And make sure that you’re clear about why you do this and what it means to you, and the rest will follow.
I really appreciate this opportunity to express, and share my story like this. This has been a useful and valuable exercise for me.
To connect with Chris Paterson
Chris is a husband, father, executive coach and founder of a charity. Coaching has changed his life for the better and through coaching he has discovered his purpose in life is to grow leaders by supporting others to discover for themselves. After 20 years working for large multinationals, he has set up his own coaching and facilitation business, SmileBeCurious Ltd. The fact that being a coach allows Chris to learn about himself and the world whilst being useful for others is a wonderful sweetspot. Chris has a fascination for the application of coaching techniques in all walks of life.