Coaching is a profession easy to get into and very hard to master. I am often taken aback by the lack of experience that some ‘coaches’ have. They seem to have fallen into the profession by default. One ‘coach’ told me that she became a coach because she “couldn’t think of anything else to do.” Another had a series of failures in his attempt to start businesses and thought it would be easier to “help others with theirs”. Strangely, this syndrome is akin to a challenge that some of my coaching clients face. Let me tell you a story that might help you understand.
It seems a cop was walking his beat one evening when he came across a man on his hands and knees under one of the corner streetlamps. He watched the man crawl back and forth on the sidewalk for a while and, eventually, his curiosity got the better of him. He asked the man “did you lose something?”
“Yes”, the man replied. “I’ve lost my wallet. It’s got all my money, credit cards and identification in it.”
The cop offered to help the man find his wallet and asked, “where were you when you noticed that the wallet was missing?”
The man pointed back along the block and said, “about half way to the corner.”
The cop had a bit of trouble with the response and asked the obvious question. “If you lost your wallet back there in the middle of the block, why are you looking for it here?”
The man looked up at the cop in disbelief. “The light’s better here”, he replied.
The tendency to fight the battles you are comfortable with rather than the ones you need to win is a normal human tendency. I once worked with a client who struggled with his weight. He spent a lot of time thinking, worrying, reading and consulting doctors, consultants and all manner of experts. As we worked together it became clear that ‘battle’ was a distraction from the real challenge before him. He had started a company and labored under the burden of suspecting that he was not up to it. His losing battle with his waistline was taken as reinforcement of that suspicion.
Two Roads …: The first series of sessions were rough on us both. But I had the experience of walking through the inevitable fire before. A less experienced coach might take the issue of self-control as the central one – and would fail in their efforts. There are times when the past and looking back gets in the way.
His focus on controlling his weight was a diversion and reflected an addiction to ‘self-reflection’ and ‘self-mortification’. The single most damaging effect of ‘past-oriented- thinking is that it generates excuses rather than solutions. Here the excuse was a complex mesh of wrong-focus and self-sabotaging failures. The client was safe from having to deal with the central challenge as long as the faux one was front and center. Failure in dealing with the faux challenge insulated him from having to come to terms with the central challenge. The pact was with his own devils and he was jailer and prisoner all in one.
It was tough getting him to give up the focus on his weight. There was a tenseness in our early sessions that made it very difficult to see any progress. But I kept returning to the same course. “Forget about why you can’t seem to lose weight – how are we going to build your business and harvest the value you have created.”
I got ‘fired’ three or four times – nothing new for me – and several of our sessions ended up with heated words. But my experience was telling me that if he could find the courage to deal with the central challenge, the rest would take care of itself. Things came to a head when, in frustration, he said, “ok, it’s not working my way – let’s try it yours’.
We began with small steps – teeny, as truth be told. But we kept at it and made one change after another in how he was approaching his business. It took a couple of months or reinforcement for the new behaviors to become new habits but, to his credit, he kept at it. But there was something else – something that I hesitated to mention to him because I thought it might trigger a bit of backsliding.
Then he brought it up. “You know that for the first time in ten years, I have been losing weight?”
“Oh really, I hadn’t noticed,” I offered with a grin.
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© Dr. Earl R. Smith II