Here are some ideas for you if you might want to become a certified life coach.

Before you jump in and sign up for a training that looks good, take yourself out for coffee and ask yourself ‘What do I want to do this for?’ Take a piece of paper, and jot down some of your key thoughts or words. When you’ve done that, here are some ideas to think about before you go further.

First of all, what’s your motivation? If your answer uses the word ‘help’, then be careful. Coaching is about being an equal, a sounding board, a thinking partner, if you like. You’re not so much there to ‘help’ people, because that implies they need (your) help, and you are in some way in a position to help them. Potential clients aren’t needy, they are ‘creative, resourceful and whole’. Your job is to ask them what they want to achieve, elicit their resources and keep them on track to achieving what they said they want to achieve.

Next, if you want to be a coach, what do you believe coaching is? The International Coach Federation offers this definition: ‘partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential’. How close does that come to your own thinking of what you want to be doing? The idea is that people are able to do their thinking for themselves, and they already have what they need to answer their own questions (or at least they know or can think of places where they can go and find answers). What the coach therefore does not do is share their own life experience or give handy, helpful hints. Coaching is all about the client, and not the coach. The coach manages the process (makes sure the conversation is going in the agreed direction) and does not contribute to the content.

Then, what about the term ‘life’ coach? There are all kinds of coach, business, transformational, life, executive, etc. Personally, I think that ‘life coaching’ is a pretty good term.  It implies that you want to coach people on their lives, so what you would offer is a generalist approach rather than a specialist. I think that’s great, there’s no statement of quality or ability in ‘life coach’, and no grandiose claims of skill or expertise either. And after all, everyone you work with in whatever context has a life (or wants one)!

Choosing a training course. Before you get lost in choices, ask yourself a couple of things. How serious am I about becoming a coach? If you seriously want to become a certified life coach, then you’ll need an accreditation. The market place knows that there are many coaches out there, so you’ll need to be different and serious enough to be attractive. Short courses won’t help you. To gain the ICF’s (www.coachfederation.org) Professional Certified Coach status, for example, you’ll need more than 125 hours of training. Note that other associations such as the Association for Coaching (www.associationforcoaching.com) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (www.emccouncil.org) have different requirements.

  • Pick a training body which is widely accredited.
  • Pick one which offers theory, practice and experience.
  • Go along to an open day.
  • Ask yourself how you feel about learning from these people.
  • Ask the trainers what their philosophy of training is and
  • Ask the trainers what their own qualifications are.
  • Ask to speak to previous students.
  • What status does the course have with accrediting bodies?

Ask the hard questions. Make sure you get clear, concrete and sufficient answers, especially around formal accreditation. After all, you’re buying a product.

On a similar note, courses train you to do certain things. Do you want to ‘do coaching’ to people, or do you want to ‘be a coach’? There is a huge difference.

  • How much attention do the courses you’re looking at pay to your personal development as a coach?
  • What opportunities to they offer you to practice your coaching skills during the programme?
  • What opportunities do you have to be coached (even by your peers)?

A last point on training courses in coaching. Business development is not coaching. No association regards business development training as coach training. So be aware that if a course offers business skills, it is not offering you coach training. To learn about building a business, join one of the associations and go to their webinars. There are also a lot of other places you can go to get proper advice and sound information on how to develop a business, such as the British Library.

Finally, the future. I think the future for life coaches is bright. We face an increasing social isolation, and people need someone to talk to. Family and social structures are changing and we no longer have the relationships which give us space and time to sort out what’s important to us. The world is changing so quickly that the ways we used to do things don’t work any more, and we need a place to go and sort our lives out. We need people who can help us access the wise parts of ourselves, untainted by well-meant advice from outside. Social media doesn’t help us think deeply about who we are and how we can create a life that is right for us. Life coaches can do these things. To become a certified life coach can be personally very fulfilling.  In the years to come, I believe life coaches will be in demand.

Crafting successful communications


Interestingly, considerable thought and effort are put into crafting messages to external stakeholders, but not so much into internal communications, which can be radically different in tone and content from external ones. However, it is these internal communications which influence the atmosphere at work, which in turn feeds posts on social media. These are often posts of discontent, disillusionment or of the ‘real’ story from the employees’ point of view. These posts can, of course, be damaging to the organisation - and yet they reflect the employees’ lived experience.  What does this mean for those responsible for internal communications?

Omilion-Hodges and Baker (2014) suggest that a major influence on organisational culture and the organisation’s public persona is the type of conversation which employees have with each other and with the public. Their main proposition is that ‘engaging with, informing and dialoguing with associates in a strategic, purposeful and authentic manner’ will have a strong influence on the way staff talk about the organisation, and that these conversations will in turn impact the way the organisation is perceived. The strategic internal communication which they are suggesting is ‘the thoughtful and proactive framing of messages tailored to meet employees’ temporal, informational and affective needs’ (p. 436). In other words, give them more information, and think about the content and tone of what you communicate.

Assuming that words do indeed create worlds, or that reality is created through dialogue, the things that people say will create an atmosphere, a perception or even an identity. What then are the opportunities for organisations to begin to create an enabling atmosphere at work, a perception that people are important and that their contribution counts or that the company is a great place to work?
The proposition is simple: Communicate with employees as if they were stakeholders. This would contribute to creating a positive culture which in turn would encourage employees to talk about and represent their organisation in a more positive way.

But what shapes our communication styles? The way we communicate is shaped by our beliefs. If we believe that people need to be controlled and cajoled, then the style of our communication will be commanding, terse and parental, and the content will be restricted and monitored. If however the senders of internal communications believe their employees to be partners in business, co-creators of success or collaborative colleagues, then the style and content of their messages will reflect this.

Summarising Omilion-Hodges and Baker’s work, communications which are perceived as positive create a sense of belonging which strengthens a shared sense of identity. Identifying with our place of work promotes positive affect (makes us feel good) and a virtuous cycle of positive communication is created. This positive communication in turn will reach the public through tweets and posts on Facebook and the public eye will view the organisation more positively.

Positive Psychology gives a similar message. Writing about Positive Communication, Kim Cameron points out that the communication patterns of teams significantly impact the quality of their performance. In ‘Positive Leadership’, Cameron (2008) refers in particular to the ratio of positive to negative comments, the ratio of inquiry as opposed to advocacy, the ratio of a focus on others as compared to a focus on self and about the measure of connectivity. He explains these as follows.

Positive statements express appreciation, support and gratitude, while negative ones express disapproval, cynicism or disparagement. In the top management teams of high-performing organisations, the ratio of positive to negative is 5.6 to 1. Cameron underlines the importance of the frequency of positive statements by referring to the communication theory of Gottman. Gottman’s work with newly-weds spanned several years, and suggests that for a marriage to last, there needs to be a ratio of about five supportive statements to each negative one.

Cameron’s research also suggests that there needs to be a balance between inquiry statements that ask the other person’s viewpoint, or ask questions, and advocacy statements, such as telling, or sticking with one’s own point of view. Unsurprisingly, low performing organisations have more advocacy statements than inquiry statements.

On the self and others scale, a 1 to 1 balance is found in high-performing organisations, while low performers have a ratio of 100 to 3! This means that for every 3 times a manager in a low-performing organisation refers to others, he refers to himself or his point of view, etc., 97 times!

Finally, Cameron also reports on connectivity (engagement, participation, information flow) and indicates that high-performing teams have a 2 to 1 ratio in this area when compared to low performers.

The evidence which Omilion-Hodges and Baker and Cameron present is compelling. Thinking about what we want to say, and how we express ourselves, can have a noticeable impact on how employees perceive and talk about their organisation. Checking the frequency of positive to negative messages, and asking more than telling, and focussing on the other, can create and sustain positive relationships in the workplace.

WORDS CREATE WORLDS.

 

References:
Cameron K. (2008), Positive Leadership, Berrett-Koehler
Omilion-Hodges L. & Baker C. R. (2014), Everyday talk and convincing conversations: Utilising strategic internal communication, in Business Horizons (2014) 57, 435 – 445.

 

I wrote a Master’s thesis on Positive Psychology Interventions, and this is one which can have a profound effect on your relationships at work, at home and with yourself.

First of all, it is a pro-social intervention – one which makes other people feel good, and therefore one which makes you feel good, too. Secondly, it’s a fascinating possibility for getting in touch with a part of your internal narrative – the story you tell yourself about why you do and don’t do things. Finally, it’s easy to do, but it invites you to do something unusual, which is one reason why it’s worth investing time and making it into a habit.

The idea is that you give someone a gift of your time. Thinking of the workplace, this could mean that you hesitate as you walk past one of your team, and unusually for you, just have a quick chat. Be interested in more than work topics, ask about weekends, hobbies, families and football. Give the person (rather than the team member) some time and attention. You could also invite someone to join you for coffee (which you normally wouldn’t do). Again, think of also talking about them personally, rather than talking shop as usual. An even larger gift of your time, if circumstances allow, would be to have lunch with someone you normally don’t have lunch with.

Two words of warning here: people notice when we change our habits, so your team will notice that you are spending time in an unusual way; make sure that they don’t think you are creating favourites. The other warning is don’t force yourself to do more of this than is comfy for you. You’re meant to be investing time, not doing time (‘Oh God, may this pass soon!’).

At home you could show your kids a bit more interest than usual, or spoil your partner by taking them out for dinner – no agenda, just wanting to spend time with them. Or you could really up the stakes and tell them that you’d like to spend a chink of time with them (an afternoon, an evening, a weekend day), and what would they like to do?

And then there’s yourself. We live pretty busy lives, and you’ve probably muttered to yourself about wishing you had more time. So, rather than buy yourself a present, give yourself a gift of time. Take yourself (perhaps with a good book or a friend, or perhaps just you and you) out for coffee, to somewhere nice. How would you invest one whole long afternoon in yourself (and your well-being)? How about planning an away-day for yourself (what would you actually do if you had a whole day for yourself? Seriously, think about it: what’s your perfect day?)

This is where a gift of time can teach us something about the way we think about people, ourselves and the world. As you read the above, what were the ‘yes, but’s…’ in your mind? These justifications for not getting what we want stand in the way of us being more fully functioning versions of ourselves. Coaching invites us to dis-cover and rethink these beliefs, and to change them slightly. The next two paragraphs have some ideas about what these beliefs might be.

With regard to learning something about our attitude to others, what do you say to yourself when you think of giving someone some of your time as a gift? That they haven’t earned it (do you believe that simple things really have to be earned or can they be freely given?), that they don’t deserve it (under what circumstances do you make people less valuable than you?), perhaps that they’ll take advantage of you (this might mean that in your mind you tend to give people power over you, and that you do not have the right to say ‘no’). What’s your un-thought ‘reason’ for not giving someone some of your time? And – what if you did?

With regard to learning something about yourself, what do you say to yourself inside when you think of giving yourself a gift of time? What would be your reasons for not doing it? Some common themes are that we have to earn things before we can have them (and clearly haven’t earned this!), that something will go wrong if we indulge ourselves (as if we can have a good time now, but something bad will follow), that we have to look after others before we look after ourselves (noble sacrifice) or that we can never get what we really want (and who is it that makes sure that that is the case?!). What we are actually saying is that we aren’t worth our own time – and the coach in me wants to challenge that belief. Especially if you read the above and thought ‘yeah, yeah’.

I was working with Steve, who led his whole life as if he was a full-time executive. His family life was somehow incidental. Steve told me that he wasn’t feeling fulfilled and wanted more meaning in his life. I introduced him to the Gift of Time – he winced. Some days after our conversation he got home, and his four-year-old son ran up to him and wanted to show him his drawings. Steve caught himself about to say ‘Daddy’s busy, not now’, but he didn’t. Rather than take out his iPad and continue with work, Steve gave himself a gift of time with his son, and gave his son a gift of time with his Dad. 15 long minutes. ‘How was that for you?’ I asked. There was a short, moving silence. ‘Lovely,’ he said quietly, ‘Just lovely.’

So what is there in this idea for you?

I’m reading Reinhard Stelter’s book about the different generations of coaching. It’s made me think about why coaching has continued to grow in scope and effectiveness, particularly in organisations. It’s also sparked my curiosity about where coaching is going – what is the next generation?

When coaching started it was mainly about goal setting. Sport was a major influence at this stage, and the developing coaching profession borrowed the concept of setting goals and moving purposefully forward to achieving them, with someone at your side cheering and pushing you on. This translated nicely into an organizational context, and coaching became useful as a way of focusing attention and effort on specifying and achieving goals. Coaching became the methodology for putting outcomes thinking into action. ‘What do we want to achieve and how can we do that?’ was the main piece of work in the coaching conversation.

As coaching began to establish itself in organisations, managers, leaders and executives recognized its value as a developmental process, rather than seeing it as a deficit-based intervention. Coaching took its place at the boardroom table and invited those present to clarify their thinking about the future: executives began to think more clearly about ‘where to – and how?’ This type of thinking demanded a protected time and space, and so second generation coaching was born, in which time to think was to the fore. Coaches learnt to hold silence and not to interrupt executives as they discovered the value of taking time and reflecting deeper and differently than they had done before. This luxury, time to think in the workplace, enabled decision makers to think more systemically and to give a finer consideration to the reasons for and the impact of their decisions. The question developed into ‘What’s all this really about, and what if …?’

Then, as executives took the time to think, and to reflect on their thinking, they also began to wonder about themselves, and how come they thought this way (while others clearly didn’t!). That question led on to other questions, such as what their roles were, how they fit in to their own system, and how all this did or did not bring fulfilment.  Their coaching conversations began to include questions about why they did things, why they saw things in a certain way, and why other people seemed to see the organization significantly differently. This shift to wanting to understand oneself became the third generation of coaching, in which meaning making was the theme. Our perceptual framework became the focus and gave rise to the core questions of ‘How do I see the world (my organization)?’ and ‘What’s typical of me in the way I perceive?’

I think we are now heading into a new generation. With the loss of familiar organizational roles and structures, an awkward acceptance of a VUCA future, a fundamental shift in traditional values and with new ways of relating, people in positions of influence are faced with questions about how they cope to the best of their ability with the unprecedented demands that the universe is presenting them. Added to questions about their identity and purpose (‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’), they are beginning to ask the vital above and beyond questions, such as ‘If my organization were a person, what would it ask for from me?’, ‘How can I serve?’ and ‘How is my future calling me to be in the world?’

 Reference: Stelter R. (2012). A guide to third generation coaching: narrative-collaborative theory and practice. Springer Verlag.