Which Way is FORWARD?

As a coach, it is my job to help people move FORWARD.  Some have defined forward as a good paying job that suits their skills.  Some have defined forward as starting a small business.  Still others have defined forward as climbing the corporate ladder.  In all of these cases, people traditionally expect me to tell them WHAT to do in order to move FORWARD.  The career seeker wants me to review their resume, give them a skills assessment to see what they’re good at, and then tell them how to act in a job interview.  The new small business owner wants me to give them a business plan they can use to start a business that is guaranteed not to fail.  The ambitious corporate executive wants me to give them sage advice on how to lead people so they can gain more responsibility at work.

I’ll Tell You WHAT

The natural tendency for some coaches and all consultants is to simply give you advice on what to do.  There are thousands of experts who can draft a business plan, review resumes, give interviewing advice, and give leadership training.  They will charge you a reasonable amount of money to give you their expertise which has been packaged into a one-size fits all system.  Depending on how good of a student you are, you may retain a lot of what you’re told; mimic these experts and actually make progress in your attempt to move FORWARD.  Unfortunately, just like the next fad diet, most of this sage advice is used for a short time; and then you find yourself right back in the same place you started.

As a business consultant, I’ve written several brilliant business plans.  These plans contained amazing market research, financial forecasts, Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) analysis, staffing plans and pricing studies.  I would give these plans to my clients and they would fail.  The first feedback I would get is “your plan doesn’t work!”  As I’d question my frustrated client further, I would learn they didn’t follow the plan; or they had failed to adjust their course when the market environment changed.  I quickly learned that I couldn’t help small business owners by simply giving them a workable plan.  And they couldn’t afford to keep me around to tell them what to do all the time.

WHAT is Coaching?

Contrary to popular opinion, a coach doesn’t tell you what to do.  The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is considered the authority on coaching:

The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

You see, there are two forms of moving forward for anyone who wants to make a transition in life.  There is the academic learning required to gain skills to pursue a career, or run a business.  This is the training that most people are used to receiving from a college professor.  The college professor tells you what you ‘ought’ to do; you  learn from this person; and then move forward in your knowledge of how to do something.

The second form of moving forward is quite different.  This is where coaching plays a role.  A coach will identify what things are keeping you from achieving what you want in life; and work with you to remove barriers; change your cycle of self-sabotage, help you clarify your vision and help you move forward in your new way of thinking.

How does Coaching Work?

The problem with marketing a coaching practice is that few people understand the value they will receive in coaching before they engage in the process.  Let me give you an example of a coaching client.

A client came to me to help her with her work/life balance problems.  This person was a mom who was also an owner of a small print shop.  She indicated that she spent all of her time at the print shop and would miss important family events like anniversaries, kid’s games, etc.  She wanted to be a good mom and wife; and also improve her business.  She didn’t see how she could do both.  In our second session, my client discovered that she was doing several tasks at her print shop that she could have hired a minimum wage helper to do.  She also learned that she was a problem solver; telling her employees what to do instead of empowering them to come up with their own solutions to problems.  She hired more help and empowered her employees and now has a growing print shop and an active home life.  I didn’t identify her problems or offer her solutions.  As a coach, I merely expanded my client’s thinking to solve her own problems.

The result of coaching is a sustained change in how my clients act and not a one-time course correction.  As a consultant, I would have spent weeks evaluating my client’s business.   After this brief interaction with my client, I would have guessed at her business problems and given her solutions that worked for me in my experience as a small business owner.   I would have then drafted a cool-looking report that told her all of the stuff she was doing wrong; and that she needed to fix it.  She would have followed some of the advice; and ditched the rest.  The sad result of the consulting effort is that she would most likely not have changed anything about how she acted as the manager of the print shop; because the last thing a business owner wants to change is themselves.

So What?

If you are tired of getting criticism and advice that gets you nowhere; chances are you could move FORWARD in a big way with a quality coaching relationship.

Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster.  I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”.  I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace.  I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013.  I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.

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