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Coaches are not cheerleaders

Coaches are not cheerleaders

by Moyra Mackie on August 9, 2014

Disappointment is never a great emotion to experience.

A week or so ago I signed up to a webinar by a rather famous author and “life coach”.  More about those inverted commas later.

For $39 I was promised that I would find out what might be holding me back in my goal setting and career direction. O,r as she put it, “how to steer my career with purpose and passion”.

Whilst the realist in me knew that sitting listening to a motivational talk was highly unlikely to help me steer anything, the coach in me was curious about her promise that she would coach people on that call.

The chance to experience another coach – especially such a high-profile one – working with someone’s hopes, fears and doubts was tantalizing.

What kind of questions would she ask, how would she use silence and reflection, and what kind of presence would she bring to the encounter?

Most importantly, how would this coach help people to gain new insights to their familiar problems?

It was this curiosity and desire to learn from someone a lot more successful than me that kept me listening through sixty minutes of interesting, but not especially novel, stories about the author and her take on the current state of the jobs market.

She’s clearly a confident and pretty engaging storyteller, but I noticed that I had not made a single note – I hadn’t learnt anything new.

Finally, the moment to coach arrived – we had thirty minutes to go

Both the women chosen to be coached were gushing in their appreciation of this famous coach and they shared that they had read all her work and even attended her seminars.  In other words, they were very familiar with the advice and approach of this coach.

Yet they still wrestled with their issues about how to take a risk to find motivating work.

Doubt  is rich territory for a coach

These people – like many of the clients I coach – know the theory;  they’ve read a lot, heard a lot of advice,  sought a lot of counsel.

Yet still they are stuck.

In Gestalt terms,  they are Aware but are not moving to the next stage, which is Mobilisation.  They are interrupting themselves and unconsciously avoiding action.


The Gestalt Cycle

The Gestalt Cycle

They may also be seeing qualities in others that they fail to see in themselves.

On the call the women’s projections onto the coach were crystal clear – to them this coach was proactive, brave, successful, talented.  All qualities they wanted to have, but were rejecting in themselves.

This is where great coaches can do their best work

They stay curious with the “what’s stopping you?” line of inquiry.

They draw attention to the projection and the rejection.

Most of all they want the client to ask themselves questions that they might not have asked themselves before – or have been avoiding.

To my great disappointment none of this happened.

I heard the great and famous coach turn into a cheerleader

She commended them on their energy.  She complimented them on their ideas.  She advised them to connect to other fans on the Facebook page and she told them to “follow your passion, tap into your energy.”

And that was it.

The women seemed satisfied and the coach seemed very happy.

As well she might.

Reassuring people – being the cheerleader – is guaranteed to make cheerleaders feel great about themselves

I’ve written before about the dangers of soothing other people’s difficult emotions.  We think we’re doing it for the right reason, but we are not helping address the root cause.  A cheerleader will go away thinking they made the person feel better.  Which they do – but it’s only temporary.

As I’ve said before a coach is not your friend.  A good coach will balance challenge and support and will have the courage to tell you uncomfortable truths – which rules out the cheerleader role.

Coaches are there to help you discover something new that neither of you know about.

The image of Christopher Columbus comes to mind.  He was a skilful, experienced explorer who planned meticulously and set a clear course to find a new route to India.  Instead he found the Americas.

Coaching is like that – you prepare well and then you discover a whole new world

And at that point you have no need for cheerleaders  or “life coaches.”

Now it’s your turn.  Leave a comment below and tell me if you would prefer a coach or a cheerleader.

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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