Thursday, 9 October 2008

To coach or not to coach?

The other night I had a phone conversation with an old friend who is considering leaving the corporate rat-race to set up a coaching business. I had deja-vu. It reminded me of my own position seven or eight years ago when I left my Project Manager role to strike out on my own into the scary world of business ownership.

Here are my nuggets of advice:

1) Be clear and comfortable with the accredited nature and status of your coach training provider. While the profession remains unregulated - except for the work of the International Coach Federation - many coaching schools can get away with touting coach training with very little accreditation. If you are uncomfortable with the sales style or ethics of a training provider tread carefully.

2) Be aware that the majority of money being made in coaching today is in training others to become coaches. Get clear on what percentage of their coaching revenue comes from true coaching - how many clients do they have who aren't coach trainees? This will also give an indication of market demand for your services as a coach.

3) Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater - if you are considering making the transition from corporate employment to full-time coaching, you are unlikely to be able to replace your current salary immmediately. Much of the discussion within the coaching profession recently has been about "how can I make money out of being a coach?", and there has been a glut of courses and resources claiming to give coaches the key to kick-start their business. Once again, while no doubt helpful to coaches setting up on their own, this trend also reveals where the real money in coaching is being made.

4) Consider what other income streams are at your disposal as a coach. This could be as straightforward as holding down your full-time role and doing some supplementary coaching on the side - or even negotiating a change in your current role to give more in-house coaching opportunities. Alternatively it could mean a radical shift towards making money out of a creative talent, plus coaching, plus contract work or another more reliable wage-making opportunity. "Portfolio careers" have become all the rage in recent years, and seem to provide people with a fulfilling variety of work, with multiple income stream opportunities.

5) Keep a healthy perspective. Selling coaching is like selling anything - it helps if you completely believe in the product, and are able to demonstrate the tangible benefits that you and others have experienced through coaching. What difference has it really made? It will pay to regularly reflect on these types of question, so you can always respond to market need in the most effective and productive way.

6) Self-awareness is key - coaching that becomes "techniquey" is extremely off-putting and will be neither convincing nor helpful. It is vital to continue reflecting on your own personal development and experience in order to be most authentic and "useful". AND you need to get out of the way completely when you are coaching others.

7) Do you have a practical skill that you can combine coaching with?

For myself, coaching has become much more a way of life and an attitude than a business. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had to learn and practice coaching, and I have met some remarkable, extraordinary, beautiful people along the way. I would like to see the coach approach practiced more widely within the world of education - and for the principle lessons of self-awareness, listening to and respecting others, busting self-limiting beleifs, trusting our intuition and being curious, all of which coach training delivers, to be of more central importance within our educational curriculum.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Scribblers are go!

Last night saw the first meeting of a new writing group - the Highworth and Blunsdon Scribblers. It was fun! Six of us turned up at the Saracen's Head on High St in Highworth, to have a drink and share our thoughts and ideas on what we're currently writing, what we're interested in writing, and what we'd like from a writing group.

The interests of the group are varied but complementary. Children's books, novels, short stories, radio plays and non-fiction are represented by the members so far. Some are extremely keen, others less certain; some need structure, others feedback, everyone encouragement and inspiration.

We intend to meet every month for a couple of hours to share readings, do writing exercises, seek advice and have fun with words. The group even felt comfortable with homework! Everyone was very honest and open, and it felt like a safe place to be.

Our next meeting is on Thursday 6th November, 7.30 at the Saracen's Head. Can't wait!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

"What have been the most powerful prompts or questions in your life so far?"

This question turned up as a topic thread on the coaching network. It intrigued me. Many of the responses to the thread quoted very coachy questions - like "Where do you give away your power?" and "What's the thing you want me to dare you to do?"

All no doubt valid questions, and powerful in their way, when you've hired a coach to make you think and give you a new perspective.

And while I can remember asking people questions like this when I've been "performing" as a coach, they didn't really sound like the kind of questions I have experienced in my own life as mould-breaking or delusion-shattering. I started to get curious about what those questions and comments have been, the ones that incited me to something, and that still resonate with meaning for me today.

I came up with a little list. Some of them are questions I asked myself, others aren't even questions but observations made by others. The circumstances of my hearing them are still very clear in my mind. Each one evokes the room where I was sitting, or the dress my teacher was wearing, the rain lashing, or the sunlight glinting on the fruit punch bowl in the Munro Room.

These are pivotal moments, containing information which mines deep and well.

"Why don't people just listen?" I asked as a frustrated eight-year-old, afraid of having my truest account of myself dismissed. I was standing next to my guinea-pig's cage at the time - the smell of damp, soiled saw-dust still comes to mind.

This has become such a mantra for me in recent years: the importance of listening to each other, especially to children, who have their own channels of wisdom and so much to teach us about ourselves.

These days I can turn this question into something meaningful, which stops me in my tracks and makes me think again - "What if I just listened?"

"I'd like to see the outcome of that little venture," spat my French teacher, in her knitted pink tube dress with a cowl neck, when I announced I wanted to go to Cambridge and do languages. I so wanted to ridicule her sarcasm and prove her doubts totally unfounded. I did.

These days I ask myself "What will I prove someone wrong about?"

"You are a diamond in the rough and you will go far." I wrote to my former university supervisor about 8 years ago to thank him for this comment he made 10 years before. We were making small talk at the linguists lunch after finals. I struggled to attribute any kind of sympathetic personality to this man whom I considered to be no more than an enormous brain, so at the time the comment didn't hit home. I'm sure the fruit punch didn't help. Years later I felt a great surge of gratitude for his generosity, so I wrote to him. He wrote back and told me that my letter had meant more to him than all the accolades he had received during his academic career.

These days I want to know "How am I shining and where am I going?"

"Do you want to come to a Quireboys concert?" Little did I know that the rugby yob striding towards me through the rain outside the porter's lodge was destined one day to become my husband. He'd chased me - unsuccessfully - for months, usually plucking up courage to speak to me only after consuming an inordinate amount of alcohol down the Mill on a Thursday night. But this was a Tuesday. He found himself asking the question, and I found myself replying "OK".

These days I ask myself "What new opportunity will I find myself taking today?"

"Will you marry me?" This question came exactly 5 years and 7 days after our trip to the Corn Exchange to see the Quireboys. He smuggled chilled champagne and 2 flutes into the anniversary suite at the hotel, then was irked when I switched on the TV to catch up with Neighbours immediately on arrival. But eventually he got my attention and went down on one knee. There was no ring - he wanted us to choose it together - but I remember lying in a bath full of bubbles sipping champagne and allowing myself to imagine the most beautiful wedding ever. I was committed, and blissfully happy.

These days I ask myself "What am I committed to?"

"So if you want to be a writer, write!" I was in awe of the woman from Logistics Planning. Not only did she know about warehouse picking and haulage companies, she'd just been telling me that what she really wanted to be was a novelist. She was working up a few ideas and had actually made a start on her book. I was probably salivating, hanging on her every word, hoping that some of her drive and ambition might rub off on me. I was probably wibbling about how I really wanted to be a writer, how that was a real childhood dream, that I'd even receieved a commendation in the WH Smith Young Writers' Competition when I was 11. And now here I was a Management Traine at WH Smith instead. Then she asked me what I was writing currently. And I probably mumbled "nothing really". At which point she uttered the line which still has the power to make me pick up my pen and write morning pages at the absolute minimum.

These days I just say "Bloody Well Write!" Sometimes there's no room for reflection. Sometimes you've just got to get into action. These are the most powerful kicks up the backside I can remember.