This is our second article in the What Is Coaching series. Our first short article “What Is Coaching?” was recently published.
Subject Matter Experts & Coaches
At some point in their career many subject matter experts acquire professional coaching skills and certifications to work with others, to help them grow and develop their potential in specific domains. These “experts” are professionals who have acquired meaningful experience through years spent working in many fields (business, sport, nutrition, health, music, dancing etc.). It is with such advanced knowledge and expertise that they coach and provide guidance and advice to people or businesses.
People who choose to become Coaches (life coaches) come to the profession from many different backgrounds. They aren’t subject matter experts, because they do not focus on coaching based on a field of expertise, rather, they bring the intuitive skills and personality traits of attentive listening, observing, goodwill, altruism, compassion and other attitudes that are important to a coaching practice, and a desire to help people move towards their desired outcomes.
We believe that both, coaches and subject matter experts have their place in the coaching conversation. It is important to consider though that to have a qualitative coaching experience, you may not necessarily need a highly experienced subject matter expert to figure out what you need and improve your performance. All depends on your goals and expectations, and what you are looking for in a coach.
Relating to psychological concepts similar to the Pyramids of Needs (Maslow) or the Logical Levels (Bateson, Dilts), some coaches are more comfortable working with their coachee in the Doing context (environment, competences and skills, behaviors and attitudes), and some will focus more on the Being (values, beliefs, identity, mission). In order to differentiate themselves to potential clients and illustrate their approach, coaches often market themselves using terminology that emphasizes Doing – working at the lower levels of the pyramid with performance based language, whereas others will be more focused on the Being – working with the higher levels of identity, purpose, mission, etc. An ongoing coaching relationship generally requires looking at both aspects of an individual’s lived experience. At times a coach may prefer to begin the coaching conversation from the Doing or the Being perspective but integration of both dimensions is generally the desired outcome of the coaching relationship.
Coaching from personal experience.
Some coaches come to the profession through their difficult personal experiences. They have faced adversity and challenge and found a way through and forward. Their experience motivates them to help others in similar situations. Through their own journey, they have developed great sensitivity, deep understanding and have a desire to be of service, they are very well placed to help and support people in comparable circumstance.
With the different types of coaches and expertise available, how do we choose?
Coaching is a large and rich ecosystem where you can find different kinds of coaching professionals – individuals like you – with different personalities, stories, expertise, experiences, philosophies, worldview and depth in the coaching activity. As you may have a specific area of interest, passion or preference, coaches may also choose to put their focus on some specific domain (sport, nutrition, wellbeing, health, business, education etc.). You’ll find holistic and global approaches (all subjects and situations) as well as focused and subject-oriented approaches.
We believe you will base your choice mainly on your feelings and preferences. Checking on a coach’s certification is good (even necessary) to do, but it will not help you make the best choice, since what matters most in coaching is the relationship that you have with your coach (do you feel good when you are with him or her, or not). Important also is the level of neutrality that the coach offers you (not pushing you towards specific topics, commercial materials, services, products, or other groups of people that you don’t know or didn’t seek out). When looking for a coach:
- Take the time to ask for references from people you trust
- Talk with more than one coach, perhaps two or three if you can or more
- Ask questions to understand the coach’s background and vision
- Talk about yourself and get a sense of the coach’s listening skills, empathy, goodwill, and check if you feel you can trust him/her or not
Finally, if and when you feel a good match with a coach, make your decision and go into the relationship with no questions and no expectations. A good coach will know how to adapt to you and help you move towards your goals or vision.
To conclude, what we observe and believe is that all good coaching leads to the same outcomes: it helps people feel better, develop confidence and supports them through their life transitions and challenges, helps them step back, create more opportunities and embrace their potential. Keep in mind that coaching may be short for some people, and it may be longer for others. It depends on two main factors: what you want to achieve and how motivated you are, and your coach’s listening skills and ethical practice of respect for your feelings and choices.
Key takeaway: There are different types of coaches, and there are no pre-defined personal conditions required to become a good coach. Be sure to distinguish between the expert and the coach to make the best choice for you. Both the expert and non-expert can provide a good coaching experience, an expertise is not always required for good coaching, it depends more on what you are looking for. What matters most is your relationship with the coach. Keep in mind that being coached can be short for some people, and that it can take longer for others.