What makes great coaching?

When I had my first inkling that I could become a coach, I faced a lot of internal resistance. I held a lot of negative connotations and cringe around the whole idea of “life coaching.” It felt like social media was littered with all sorts of coaches claiming to be able to transform your life, so often offering false promises and adorning their speech with buzzwords that to me felt hollow and even manipulative. I didn’t want to be in any way associated with that game.

Ultimately, I realized that coaching, like any field, certainly has its fair share of grifters and people who promise more than they can deliver. But it also has so many people operating from a place of genuine service, humility, and integrity. Coaching can be and very often is a powerful and noble support system. In order to allow myself to follow the coaching path, I simply had to make a steadfast commitment to myself to operate from this more noble place.

Here’s what noble, high-integrity coaching means to me.

Promises vs. possibilities

In my mind, coaching is most powerful and honest when it’s a practice in possibility. A coach ideally helps you see, acknowledge, and move toward the untapped possibilities in your life without making any assurances. In contrast, lower-integrity coaching makes big promises about unrealistic future achievements and too often leaves you hanging once you’ve paid.

As a coach, I rarely, if ever, make promises about outcomes. The reality is I have limited control over what comes from our coaching relationship. Yes, I can be a guide. I can help identify the beliefs and behaviors that hold you back from the life and career you most want for yourself. I can open doors and pathways. And I can help you plot a path forward. But it’s always on you to decide if you will walk through those doors down that path.

Ego and grand visions vs. the self’s true callings

Some coaches encourage prospective clients to hold an almost impossibly bold and ambitious vision for their lives. While this can be a helpful exercise at times, it is often more about pleasing and motivating your ego that is so desperate to be seen as impressive, successful, great, etc. It’s often simply a tactic for convincing you to fork over your money.

Most of us have self-imposed limitations that disempower us and hold us back from the life we most want for ourselves. When we work through these limitations in coaching, often a “bigger” vision for your life will emerge. But that isn’t the goal per se. The goal isn’t greatness. Coaching isn’t for your ego. Coaching is for the most authentic you that lies beyond it. The goal is to set it free and let it sing so you can be whoever you really are. Often, that is something quite humble and “small.” And that is just as wonderful as something “big.”

Buzzwords vs. timeless virtues

Much of what I find cringy about some coaches’ social media marketing is that it’s littered with buzzwords, unnecessary adornments, or silver-bullet solutions. They have some novel framework or system that they claim will make complete sense of your life. They use a lot of words that sound meaningful, but are often not quite fully explained. They offer a feeling of depth and profundity. But when you really press them on it, there often isn’t much there.

Of course, many coaches create frameworks and systems, myself included. That’s all well and good. But interrogate it. Search for the deeper meaning beyond the buzzwords. Powerful coaching doesn’t actually require any of that. It usually boils down to cultivating the timeless virtues: wisdom, courage, creativity, authenticity, and peace.

Them vs. you

A coach of mine once told me something to the effect of: “A good coach makes the client believe that the coach is amazing. A great coach makes the client believe that they are amazing themselves.” Your engagement with a coach, whether in person or through social media, should put YOU at the center. If a coach seems to be centering themselves and their own desires to be seen as talented, impressive, insightful, noble, great, etc., be careful. Ultimately, a coach’s core goal should be to get you into reflection about YOU. And this usually happens by letting their own personalities, values, beliefs, etc. take a backseat so that you are front and center.

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