To transform others, you have to be transformed

Most people who get into the world of coaching have great intentions.

We want to help others. We want to share wisdom and perspectives that have moved us forward. We want to connect and have meaningful conversation. We want to serve.

But I think many of us have a misconception about the best way to accomplish those goals.

We think that we have to learn as much as possible. We have to be experts in a particular field or way of thinking. We have to know the answer to everything that might come up in a session. So we read, we watch videos, we take courses, we do the “self-improvement” jig exactly the way we’re supposed to. It’s a very logical approach to take.

So imagine my dismay when I discovered that these things have very little to do with actually serving clients.

In fact, the greatest blocks I experienced in delivering effective coaching were all of those things I had learned. Here’s a sample of some internal dialogue that might be present during one of those sessions:

Me: OK, here comes the part where she says the reason why this issue is important for her. Shit, I’m not doing deep listening. OK, listen deep now.

Client: *already said something which I hadn’t really heard, waits in silence*

Me: Damn. Ask them the clarify that last point they said.

Client: *clarifies*

Me: Wow, that is an important issue. I faced something like that. What’s something wise/profound I can dish out to really help them (aka help me sound really cool)? *Says something that’s probably not too profound*

Client: Mmm, yeah, I can see that. That makes sense.

Me: What?! I thought they were going to react way better to that! Don’t they realize how profound that was supposed to be?

You get the idea.

The most tragic thing about such a scenario is that, for all of my great intentions of serving the client, my internal chatter is all about me. That’s not service.

How the Masters do it

Have you ever seen a masterful coach, therapist, guru, or teacher give a powerful session? Or better yet, have you received one? It’s incredible. What strikes me is how simple it seems to them.

Words and wisdom flow out of them effortlessly. They listen quietly and compassionately, and they listen more than they talk. Their questions really make the client pause and reconsider something, as if you can almost see an inner shift taking place by the expression on their face.

On the occasions when I coach to the best of my ability, I take on similar qualities. And this is what it feels like: it’s like I’m not there. It comes through me, not from me.

We really get in our own ways with all of the techniques, skills, and models we use. They’re supposed to be the train tracks that the client rides to a new height. But instead they’re the road blocks that stop smooth sailing.

And here’s the best part about that state of ease, flow, and grace: it’s our natural state. When we forget all of the chatter in our head, what’s beneath is innate wisdom. Powerful questions emerge naturally when we listen quietly without much on our minds. New perspectives arise from the source of creativity that we are all connected to (but that we forget about). Wisdom gets expressed because we’re all naturally wise underneath our thinking.

That’s what makes for powerful coaching. That’s what the masters do differently. And it really is simple. But it can be hard to make it so simple.

Not just for coaches

The source of great coaching isn’t just for coaches. It’s for artists, engineers, social workers, managers, doctors. It’s for homeless people, rich people, babies, seniors, the mentally ill, the disabled, and everyone in between. When we exist in that quiet place, our presence touches and transforms whoever we interact with, even if in the tiniest way.

It’s not about the words or techniques. It’s about the presence. And you can’t get presence by reading about it in a book, positive thinking, or reading a quick 6-step article.

You get it by really seeing the truth. In my experience, what’s true is that each of has innate health and wellbeing deep down. What’s true is that thoughts and feelings don’t have to mean anything that we don’t make them mean. Our experience comes from our thinking about a person, event, or experience, not from the outside person, event, or circumstance. So we’re all connected to divinity underneath the stories we make up about why we’re not.

That’s what masters know, and it’s where they coach, speak, listen, solve, and think from. And it’s the place they take clients to, and that transforms them both.

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