I talk about coaching almost daily- in leadership workshops, in one on one sessions, in meetings with students, in NGOs, in corporations, in casual coffee talks. Coaching has long ago crossed the border of my professional life and is filling up my existence in surprising ways.
I sometimes get calls from my closest friends telling me: “Alis, I have a problem, I don’t want your advice, I need coaching”. Coaching has also transformed the way I relate to my life partner, teaching me to step back, listen more, talk less and have those earnest and non-judgemental conversations that allowed us, as we like to say, to “learn our lessons and not fight the same way twice”. They helped us become, separately and together, wiser and more self-aware.
My relationship with coaching started in 2008 in bitter disappointment. I was keen to better understand what this fuss about coaching was all about, so I enrolled in a course – one of the few available on the Romanian market at that time. I got a lot of materials to read, I attended a few days’ workshop, where I listened trainers talking about techniques, types of questions, models, standards, ethics, process – concepts which I largely found cold and sterile. They talked more about ways to make money from coaching than about what coaching really was or how one could become a great coach. I was already working as a professional corporate trainer, I loved my job, I had no motivation to learn coaching just to make more money. I was keen to learn because I had an intuition that it might help me to reach people’s hearts and make a difference through my work. I left that course with a bitter taste, but also with a feeling that there was more to coaching than I had been shown thus far – I just needed to get that information from somewhere or someone else.
Then, one year later, I met Sir John Whitmore. The man was a legend – he sadly passed away in 2017 and the world lost this bright star of wisdom. Many consider him one of the founding fathers of coaching, a pioneer who brought this art of conversation from sports (where it all began) to business. There are still videoclips online with him coaching a novice to learn golf from scratch, without giving any instructions, just by asking smart questions. I liked him when I first saw a video of him, but in person I found him captivating. On film his incredible energy is somewhat lost, but live he simply bewitched a room full of managers and consultants. I hanged on his every word for two whole days and never heard him mentioning any techniques or models, nor did he try to convince us how profitable it is to become a coach. Instead, he spoke about mission, values, inspiration, about the treasure that lies hidden in every person, waiting to be discovered. He spoke about coaching as an almost magical dialogue where one person (the coach) helps another (the coachee) discover their own inner gem.
In Whitmore’s workshop I did an exercise which completely changed my life – I discovered my personal values and wrote down my life’s mission. It was there that I admitted to myself that I was a “gatekeeper for self-awareness” – that it is this what I want my life to be all about, this is the role I choose to play in other people’s lives. Since that moment in 2009 this mission has been guiding my whole life, every decision, motivating me to continue whenever I felt it was all too difficult, helping me find my courage when I was too scared. This mission accompanied me when I decided to venture out on my own as a freelance trainer, it helped me choose what kinds of workshops and learning experiences to offer my clients and what kind of relationships I wanted to develop with the people I worked with. It was then, listening fascinated to this man who had been helping others transform their lives for 50 years, that I finally understood what coaching really was.
“Coaching” is just a label for a type of attitude which cannot be faked, it can only be lived. It’s a way of relating. It’s the art of listening to understand, not to dispute. It’s the capacity for non-judgement. It’s about being (the way one of my clients brilliantly put it) “un-dissappointable”. It’s the privilege of joining another human being on their journey of personal evolution, always knowing that the journey belongs to them, not you and your role as a coach is to accompany, not to guide.
On a practical level, coaching is a dialogue in which you help another become aware and eliminate the interferences that limit their potential. It’s a conversation in which someone asks curious questions, meant to generate insights for the other person. The coach’s mission is to become a mirror for the coachee, to confront them with their own limitations and make them aware of inner resources they hadn’t even known they possessed.
Above all, coaching is work with yourself. For me, it meant profound personal transformation. It gave me more confidence in the hidden potential of every person I come across. It gave me the certainty that we can all learn and overcome our limitations. It made me a better listener. It taught me to be present, body and mind, in every conversation. It opened up a deeper and more honest dialogue with myself – yes, self-coaching works! Last but not least, it made me a better trainer, more connected with the people in the room, more willing to listen, step out of the spotlight and to let others shine. In coaching I learnt to leave my ego aside and allow the person in front of me to discover their greatness.
Coaching is not therapy. It’s not meant to take you back to your childhood trauma, it’s not as much interested in the root cause of your problems as it is in helping you become aware of the setbacks and limiting beliefs that are preventing you now, in the present moment, from being the best you can be, and then supporting you to achieve your dream. Anybody can be a coach- managers for their teams, colleagues for their peers, friends for their friends, parents for their kids and vice-versa, husbands and wives for one another (provided they be very aware of the interferences that inevitably appear inside the couple).
In all these years of professional coaching, I have worked with hundreds of clients. Some only needed one or two sessions to achieve their goals, with others I developed a longer term relationship. Every time, I found that the only condition for anybody to benefit from the extraordinary transformation that coaching can provide is to be willing to look within and open to be vulnerable. I had and have the great joy to be able to teach others the secrets of coaching. Those who take the technique further for the long run are always, without exception, those who also chose to live in the spirit of coaching – self-aware, humble, open to inquiry, introspective, motivated to live by a mission and to support others in finding their way.
I have seen managers transforming their teams through coaching. I accompanied parents who redefined their relationship with their teenage children. I had clients who saved their marriages because they became more aware and responsible in their partnership with a loved one. I had clients who changed careers. Throughout all these journeys I never ceased to be amazed by the incredible capacity people have of transforming their lives.
I am absolutely sure that any transformation can come about in many ways. Coaching is but one of them. I do believe it’s a path worth exploring because it’s built on the basic foundation of the most natural of human abilities – dialogue.
Socrates, with his maieutics, was most likely the world’s first coach. Coaching is not just another fad. You, I, any of us can be coaches for ourselves and our loved ones. We don’t need sophisticated courses for that, we just need the honest openness to listen, refrain from judging and assuming we are the keepers of absolute truth and finally, we need the courage to ask those questions that really matter, not for ourselves, but for the other.