When I try to explain what I do, I’m often told: “Ah, so you’re a life coach!”  And I used to bristle.  I’d want to protest that I’d spent several years studying for an MSc in Executive Coaching (executive – there’s a clue in the name!) That my work is with leaders in companies and I’d want to disown the image that came to my mind that life coaching meant joss sticks and candles, bean bags and some lady in a colourful kaftan.

Then something changed for me and I changed tactic.  I actually put my coaching hat on and asked:

What does being a life coach mean to you?

I’d get answers that included some – or all – of these:

“you’re dealing with people’s emotions”

“you’re talking about love and fear and people’s childhoods”

“you’re not talking about professional life, you’re talking about people’s private life”

There it was.  Out in the open.  The still treasured belief that people can leave their emotions at home when they go to work.  That love and fear and their past doesn’t influence the way they talk (or don’t talk) to each other or the way they handle (or don’t handle) conflict or the way they lead and the way they try to belong.

So instead of some esoteric discussion about coaching philosophy and practice, I thought I would tell you a little bit about the real people I have worked with just in April and then you can decide for yourself what I do.

What being a life coach (without the kaftan) looks like

In addition to in person and video workshops on Fearless Feedback and How to have effective 1-2-1s with your team, this is who I’m working with:

The co-founder of a social impact start-up

I’m meeting with this lady once a month for two hours for an agreed period of nine months to help her overcome her underlying belief that she is not good enough; that because the business she helped found came about from pain and loss she’s not “a real business person”.  This imposter syndrome pushes her to react defensively – often with a sword rather than a shield.  She is sensitive to criticism, yet harsh in her critiques.  She’s looking for ways (and words) to stand her ground and express her values, while still listening and learning, to become the influential leader she wants to be.

The CEO of a thirty strong company with big ambitions

This CEO has made me his “company coach” and I work with his staff to help them develop their self-awareness, emotional intelligence and communication skills.  I also meet with him for half a day twice a month where he can download and talk about his frustrations, ambitions, achievements and fears.

He’s smart and successful so, by playing back what I hear without judgement, he is usually quick to gain a deeper understanding of what the path behind and ahead of him looks like.  He’s also humble (a rare and energizing quality) and is restless for feedback.  He knows that what got him here, won’t get him to the £10m turnover he’s aiming for.  Our conversations range from business strategy to mindfulness, exercise, how to have difficult conversations and why playing 80s music really loudly can help lower stress.

Team coaching

I’ve worked one to one with the leader of this team for over two years and it’s only in the last six months I’ve started working with his team.  They are stressed and overwhelmed and under huge pressure to deliver in a highly regulated industry.  Stress does a lot of terrible things to our bodies, minds and relationships.  Our tempers get shorter, we listen less and blame more, we retreat from contact and try to cope on our own.

My role is to slow them down.  Which might seem counter-intuitive when they have so much to achieve.  I need to help them achieve clarity and connection and the way to do that is to start by re-building the relationships they have – with themselves and each other.

This year we’re meeting as a team for two days a quarter where the focus is on reducing stress levels – through reflection, active listening and focused attention.  Each team member also has personal coaching sessions so they can examine their own contribution – to the problems and to the solution.

Executives have lives too

One of the stressed team members told me that he was now using the meditation app Calm and had built phone free and email free time into his days.  I asked him if these steps (which you may think are small) had made any difference.  He said:

“Absolutely – my wife noticed that I was being less of an a**e, I’ve stopped getting short with my kid and I’m learning to pick my battles at work – which weirdly seems to be getting better results.”

So, what do you think – am I life coach?  And how could I help you or your team?

Book a 30 minute discovery call to find out more about the way I work and to discuss how I can help you meet your goals.

I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank