Are you a fox or a cat? Can you keep coaching simple?

What is coaching? What does it entail? Is it necessarily complicated? Or can you keep coaching simple?

As professional coaches, we have studied coaching and we continue to study it to enhance our practice and professional development.

As such, we encounter many techniques and approaches. Here’s a few that come to mind: clean language, balance, life coaching, goal planning, self-belief, neuro-linguistic programming, transactional analysis, co-active coaching, GROW, OSKAR, SIMPLE, the differences between executive coaching and life coaching, business coaching and performance coaching, career coaching, evoking choice, generating responsibility, provocative coaching, Theory U, The Wheel of Life, being a thinking partner, the reality check, well-formed outcomes, neurological levels, parallel processes, projection, transference, resilience, incisive questioning, Level III listening, mirroring, reflecting, mindfulness, paradoxical intentions, therapy, Street Wisdom, the Gestalt cycle of experience, MBIT, Mindfulness, Total Dutch Coaching, …

Okay I made that last one up, but you see my point? There’s potentially a lot to consider.

Also, whilst deliberating all these choices that might inform the killer coaching question to ask next, the coach must also remain humble, calm and highly self-aware; a curious, focused, expert helper who models aspects of what she is coaching (performance, life balance, resilience, etc).

Blimey! It’s no wonder coaches are still and reflective. They are sitting there processing all of that!

Oh yes, and remember coaches are usually highly experienced professionals who have mountains of advice, anecdotes and experience to share, but No! You aren’t allowed to do that as it would be directive and might cross a professional boundary into counselling, consulting or management. Nor can you become a crutch or a buddy or friend.

Have you stopped to consider these challenges recently? Do we need to have all these choices in our heads or should we focus on one approach, one type of coaching? Perhaps listening is enough.

I am reminded of Aesop’s fable The Fox and The Cat: A fox and a cat are discussing their approach for evading danger. The fox, known for his cunning, boasts of having hundreds of tricks and deceptions, whereas the cat confesses to having only one. When the hunters and hounds arrive, the cat quickly runs up a tree. The fox is caught out deliberating which of his clever strategies to pursue and falls prey to the dogs.

Perhaps, like the fox, you have many techniques in your coaching kitbag; perhaps our challenge as coaches is to “be more cat”, and rely on ourselves in-the-moment?

Methinks there is a lot to be said for keeping things simple.

How to choose an executive coach

Helpfully, we are now in a world where executive coaching is seen as an investment in organisational success. Gone are the days when you were told you needed a coach and that was not necessarily a good thing.

Unhelpfully, there are hundreds of coaching niches and thousands upon thousands of coaches out there, and there is no unified code or standard for executive coaching.

How do you know how to choose the right one for you?

Curiously, seeking guidance on this from that most ubiquitous source of information, the World Wide Web, yields a myriad of advice that seems to me to be somewhat skewed towards that particular giver of advice-who-just-so-happens-to-be-an-executive-coach themselves!

Before you read on I have something to declare: I am too an executive coach.

However my advice to you is simple: Use you head, heart and gut to make your choice.

Use your head

Your coach needs be able to work with the outcomes you are seeking. For example, it’s no use selecting a business development coach if you have writers’ block. Look for someone with proven experience in the areas you want to work on, evidenced by testimonials, can evidence relevant successes in the real world and over what timeframe that happened. Then understand how they will get to know you, your context and your challenges. This may be someone from the same industry background if that is important to you, or maybe not; sometimes a fresh perspective can be, well, refreshing.

More importantly understand their processes for understanding you: for example are you going to be inundated with psychometric questionnaires (high focus on the coach’s process), or simply listened to (low focus on the coach’s process, high focus on you)? You might also want to know your coach is in coaching themselves and that they have qualifications and/or accreditation from one of the coaching bodies such as the International Coach Federation, the Association for Coaching, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council or the Academy of Executive Coaching (other coaching bodies are available!) Such bodies have codes of ethics such as requiring coaches to be under professional supervision.

Listen to your heart

Coaches are there to help you make better choices in whatever you are seeking to change. Different coaches will do this in very different ways; they might work anywhere on a spectrum from non-directive through to directive; from purely accepting you as you are by listening deeply to you, through to confronting your challenges and helping you learn how to learn new ways of doing and being; from gently evoking change within you to robustly provoking you to do things differently.

That your needs will be matched by their process is very important. If you choose an accepting/listening coach, you are likely to have some great conversations, but they might not have much purpose. Choosing a provocative coach may be too challenging. This is a careful balance that just using your head will not resolve. You will only work though this by talking with them or having a sample coaching session from them. Look out for their ability to listen deeply and accept you as you are, go beyond listening by confronting the challenges you have, and help you make better choices.

That coaches must keep your conversations confidential is a must-have. As is building trust between you. The best way to assess the relationship you seek with your coach, it is important to meet with them perhaps several times before committing to the contract. If you only use your head, you might miss whether the chemistry is right or not.

Go with your gut

Not all coaching relationships gel. Coaches often hear, “My last coach didn’t work out, I should have gone with my instinct.” So yes, use your head and listen to your heart. Ultimately something down inside your gut will let you know you’ve picked the right coach.

Choose wisely.

10 things I wish I had known before starting my independent consulting and coaching career (4-minute read)

Since 2014, I have had what I consider to be a successful independent career. It has been a rollercoaster and I wouldn’t change it for any alternative. I’m currently a self-employed executive coach and coach supervisor, a part-time lecturer, a volunteer Street Wizard and a trustee of a small charity. Just now,

Setting up your own business and all that goes with it can be daunting. I did it six years ago and again two years ago when I launched Grow the Coach. Here are the 10 things I wish someone had told me as I look back over my journey so far…

Who is you target client, what do they need and what can you do for them?

  1. Be VERY clear about the skills and experience you have to offer. How can you best utilise them to solve problems for potential clients in a way that allows you to spend time doing more of the work you most enjoy?
  2. Be EVEN MORE clear about who your ideal client is – if you target everyone, you target no one. You can spend many long days, weeks and even months chasing the wrong clients.
  3. If you can match client needs with your offer, you can decide what this means for how you work: part-time, contract, interim, consultant, etc. It may be several similar roles, or a mix of different roles at the same time. This mix is likely to change over time, so be prepared to be flexible. I was staunchly a “freelance consultant” when I started. I’ve since been an associate for other firms, an employee, part-time interim, won bids with my own brand and sub-contracted work to others, taken on a zero-hours contract, volunteered, offered pro bono professional services and most recently I’ve established a self-employed brand with just me behind it and no limited company. You do what is right for you and your prospective clients.

Working hours and pricing

  1. Start by calculating many hours you are committed to work and how many of these are likely to be paid. Then think about your charging rates. How much income do you need to live? Divide this by the number of paid hours you expect to work and see how the resulting hourly or day rate compares to the market. Another method is to take your headline final annualised full-time equivalent salary and knock two zeros off the end. That’s roughly your starting day rate. £50k translates to £500 per day as an independent; £80k to £800; etc.

Business structure, regulatory and legal implications

  1. Decide on the most appropriate business structure – whether to operate as a limited company or on a self- employed basis – and understand the tax implications, including IR35. Some roles might be on a PAYE basis. I’ve done them all.
  2. Professional indemnity and other insurances may be necessary. I use Hiscox, many other providers are available.

Finding work is a multi-channel approach

  1. Networking – maintain contact with your existing networks and get out there to explore new ones. Get ready to kiss a lot of toads – it really is a numbers game, especially to start with. Also leverage your social media networks: I have secured work through LinkedIn and Twitter just by getting into the right conversations. Then get your elevator pitch ready. I find asking questions is more powerful than pitching your offer. Sort your LinkedIn profile out. Do you need a website? How will you interact with social media channels, for example will you be blogging, tweeting, etc.? The key to networking is to offer something of value even if you can’t see an immediate return. You are building your profile and reputation as someone who can make a difference.
  2. For employed roles, use job boards and for contract work and interim placements only, use recruitment agents. You’ll kiss a lot of toads here too. Agents are not the people to help you find part-time work or genuine consulting work, IMHO. You can also bid for public sector contracts using portals, if you have the energy to submit to the laborious application processes. I’ve bid for several, won one and now given up even looking.
  3. Seek out associate relationships – where larger firms sell work and sub-contract it out to independents. This is still a large part of my coaching business, although after a few years, my own work took over in terms of relative income and the work’s importance to me.

Keep on top of your game

  1. It’s even more important than ever to keep up to date with your discipline, so consider taking more memberships of industry groups and professional practice forums, get a coach, mentor or supervisor, and consider your continuing professional development. Write some articles.

And finally, three more things that are useful to know and remember…

  • You will feel lost, vulnerable and exhilarated … often all at once!
  • Don’t underestimate the amount of time you will spend on admin and unpaid business development.
  • Learn to say “No” if it the work offered is not in your sweet spot. Only when you say “No” does your “Yes” mean something.

It’s a rollercoaster. Get ready for the ride of your life!

Seven top tips for coaches: working interdependently

Earlier this year, in the “before times”, I started offering supervision for coaches.  I have been reflecting on a conversation with a prospective client from around that time. She spoke about building her coaching practice and feeling isolated – and this was before the C-19 crisis took hold!

Much of our conversation reminded me of how I felt launching my consulting, coaching and facilitation practice six years ago.  How those feelings of “not knowing” left me feeling isolated and yet fiercely determined to make it work “on my own”. I have just now launched my new supervision website in the middle of the pandemic and I am feeling those isolation sensations again.

There is a paradox here – like many people, I have a strong need to be independent and yet know I need others to succeed. We all need others to succeed, especially in these challenging, socially distanced times.

That was then

I recall earlier in my career, before I became self-employed – when I was a senior manager in financial services – the company I worked for selected me for an executive development programme. This involved being psychoanalysed by a renowned management guru. Among other juicy insights, he told me I had an “independent/dependent conflict”.


Apparently this means I tend to throw myself into things and work dependently on having others around me (classic Extravert), and then I tend to disappear and behave fiercely independently for long periods. At that time, this manifested as time for me for self-reflection, and I often withdrew in meetings, choosing not to contribute (classic Introvert). It is no wonder psychometric reports such as MBTI often showed me on the border between Introversion an Extraversion. It turns out I am high on both, which cancel each other out when simple averaging is used to produce a personality report.

This is now

That was twenty years ago and I have made a lot of progress. However, I still need to work on reconciling this conflict, so I take it into supervision and to my coach. Recently, as the C-19 crisis took hold, I found myself withdrawing again, feeling discouraged and annoyed at the many self-serving “offers” of help on social media – from personal wellbeing to digital marketing in a pandemic. My suspicion is that many of these offers were not authentically trying to be helpful, but instead were self-aggrandising attempts at self-promotion aimed at confused and worried people. They were taking advantage of the crisis to attempt to prop up their businesses. I do not know about you, however I do feel these types of posts have diminished, and that better thought out, more authentic articles have begun to emerge.

Early on in the crisis, I even found myself withdrawing from professional groups to which I belong. These are the groups to which we must hold on: they are authentically helpful. Thankfully, I have found the time to reflect, re-connect with my purpose and re-energise my efforts to support others in these challenging times.

Coaches need support in these challenging times

And so, I am launching the website and my offer – professional supervision for coaches, delivered remotely (this was always the intention btw), with a blend of individual and group sessions, tailored to your coaching practice and offered at great value-for money (from £40 per month, no VAT).

Have a browse around my website and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, here are my musings on interdependence and how as coaches we can use it…

I find the guidance on Interdependence by Stephen R. Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) particularly helpful.

I cannot summarise the entire chapter Covey gives to working interdependently; however I can pull out some top tips that have helped me in my coaching practice.

Seven top tips for coaches

  1. There are no problems, only opportunities to help others build their own capability to find their own solutions
  2. Techniques are not enough – the desire to help others by working interdependently must be authentically embedded into your character
  3. Take time to understand others – discover what is important to them and then attend to the little things that make deposits in their emotional bank account
  4. Give others psychological airtime. Empathic listening requires you to rephrase the content and reflect the emotion
  5. When contracting, look for win-win outcomes. The next best alternative is often no-deal. This requires courage and consideration for others
  6. It is not a zero-sum game. Seek a third way, a middle way, a higher way
  7. Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. A colleague of mine used to say, have strong ideas, and yet hold them lightly. Be prepared to be influenced as well as to influence.

Coaching is an interdependent relationship, a working alliance with your client and the system in which they are working.

The relationship with your supervisor parallels this working alliance – an opportunity to work interdependently, to find a safe space and time to reflect on your practice, to sharpen it so you serve your clients better and to grow into the coach you want to be.

Message me directly to find out more about supervision, or click here to book a complimentary review of your coaching practice.

Jeremy Lewis

Grow the Coach – affordable, professional supervision that grows with your coaching practice

An earlier version of this article was published in the before times on LinkedIn on January 21, 2020.