Personal Coaching: Achieve Performance Goals Quickly and Effectively

By Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach    

These are the kind of questions you can expect from a professional personal coach. Working with a personal coach makes handling the changes in one's practice and life easier. Since change is a constant in our lives and careers, there are many areas to work with a coach. However, the key to success while working with a coach is the client's strong desire and willingness to achieve their business, career or personal goals. Trained coaches assist people to optimize their performance and increase their satisfaction in life. Successful companies like Coca-Cola, IBM, Colgate and Citibank hire coaches to improve performance and management skills. A coach:

Coaching Philosophy

Coaching philosophy is based on a key premise that the client has the answers – from the understanding that the power belongs to the client, not the coach. The coaching relationship is a tool for self-improvement that occurs over time.

This may seem odd since we generally hire consultants to tell us what to do. But consider how infrequently people do what they are told to do - even if they agree it is a good idea and in their best interests. Coaching is based on the idea that people will actually carry out those actions they determine are a good idea.

A coach's role is to remind the client of their overall goals and refocus the client toward the actions they deems important. Part of the power of coaching comes from the time spent with a coach, which provides the opportunity for a client to focus on what they want in their life. Then structures are set up within the coaching relationship to achieve the client's goals.

Few significant changes that we make in life occur spontaneously. An on-going relationship that takes into account all the starts and stops of life's path nurtures change. Seminars, books, or tapes may motivate, but the motivation often fades away. A coaching partnership delivers the necessary follow-up and accountability to actually make important changes. Results are achieved faster and with more pleasure working with a coach due to the ongoing and uplifting nature of the relationship.


Self-discovery

The first step is to establish who the client is. What are their key values? What do they want? The coach's job is to assist their client gain clarity about what is truly fulfilling to them.

One key aspect of coaching is working to tame the internal voices that take one away from what is truly important. These are the voices that say: "you should", "you can't", or "never". These voices keep people stuck and not moving toward improvement in their life.

Consider "George", who wanted to improve the quality of his law practice. When he started to notice the voice in his head that was making him take steps he did not want to, and making him feel guilty about things he did not do, he started to feel more comfortable and satisfied with his decisions.


Improve Performance

In order to improve performance, one must examine ones skills: legal, management, leadership, and personal. A coach will ask: How could you improve your skills? What do you see as areas needing improvement? How can you make yourself more valuable? What is special about you and your practice? What do you want to develop? What has worked – and what has not worked - for you so far?

"Cheryl" came to get more organized. Well, she quickly got more organized, but the long term benefit of coaching was a 30 percent higher salary increase (with a new firm) than the target salary she set. In addition to improving her skills, she discovered her strengths, which improved her self-confidence and aided her during the salary negotiations.


Design a practice

What long-term changes would you like to make? Do you want to grow or redesign your practice? How do you want to market your legal services? Do you want to re-evaluate your career? These are areas that coaches typically work with their clients to improve.

Often an attorney has invested so much time in an area of law that they are reluctant to try something different. Working with a coach may result in a realization that change is exactly what is needed. It can then enhance the attornies courage to take the hard steps necessary to implement the re-designed practice.

"Jeff" wanted to reduce the number of hours he spent practicing law so he could do other things. After examining his values, he decided to take steps to re-design his practice to include an area that he loves, but does little of. Just deciding to make the changes increased his satisfaction with his current practice.


Balance

When a person is out of balance, they may be feeling stuck, frustrated, discouraged.

A trained coach uses their skills to have the client look at:

Working with a coach through these steps helps one get into balance.

"Linda", was feeling so overwhelmed by the great number of projects both in her new practice and personal life that she hired her coach hoping to accomplish all the goals. She learned there was not enough time to accomplish everything she wanted as quickly as she wanted. So she devised a plan based on her values to prioritize the goals that were most important to her.

To achieve balance, coaches work with their clients in all aspects of their lives including career, friends, family, physical environment, significant other or romance, money, recreation, health, and personal growth. A coach will ask how satisfied the client is with each of those areas of their life. The plan is to then increase the client's satisfaction level on an incremental basis for each component. This leads to a more balanced and fulfilled life and practice.


Life's path

Since focusing only on results leads to frustration and a sense of failure when those results are not achieved, a coach must help their client pause from time to time in their life path. This means not trying to fix a client who is frustrated, scared, sad, bored, or challenged. Pausing in the moment of life's path is essential for sustaining growth.

This means giving permission to clients to not do something. This helps a client learn to be in the flow of their life's path rather than resisting life's ride.

"Sue" was going through a divorce and although she knew this was the right choice it was an extremely difficult path. The support she received from her coach during this period made the break more comfortable.


Coaching skills

A coach employs the following skills, among others:

  1. asking powerful questions
  2. listening
  3. using intuition
  4. giving assignments between calls
  5. challenging the client
  6. accountability
  7. brainstorming for ideas
  8. not being judgmental
  9. clarifying statements
  10. taming the client's internal voices
  11. acknowledging the client's qualities

A good friend or spouse may be a good listener, but unlike a coach, they are not trained to ask powerful self-directed questions. Nor are they likely to keep their judgment out of their desire to help. They will interject their opinion by giving advice on what they think one should do - which may not be what the person seeking help really wants or is prepared to do. An objective sounding board with fresh ideas creates the forum for creative appropriate solutions.


Saving time

It may seem inconsistent, but working with a coach is a proactive step to save time. Although a client may add 30 to 60 minutes a week to an already full schedule, the time spent off in big dividends. Professionals, use lack of time as an excuse not to do what they want to do. Working with a coach helps them prioritize their time to make changes that are difficult to make on their own.

Coaching meetings are typically held by phone, so they are well suited to a professional's busy life. There is no need to spend non-productive time getting to and returning from a meeting. Momentum and focus are maintained with weekly telephone appointments.

Coaching conversations are confidential although not privileged. The confidentiality serves to instill trust in the relationship, which is a key component for self-development.


Credentials

As an emerging profession (no more than 15 years old), coaches are working as a group through the International Coach Federation to define their standards and ethics. The International Coach Federation is a non-profit, professional organization of personal and business coaches. It has a coach referral service and can be found on the web at www.coachfederation.org.

Talk with more than one coach before you hire to ensure a good fit between you and your coach. Ask a potential coach: What type of training do they have? Are they certified? What style of coaching do they use? Do they work with their own coach on a regular basis? Ask for a sample session.

Be aware that some business or management consultants are using the title "coach" because of the increased marketability of the title, but continue to use a "telling" style of consulting. Telling clients what steps to take is consulting not coaching. Working with a coach, a client may decide to hire a consultant to address a specific need, but it is important to know the difference between the two.


Working with a coach is empowering, fun, and challenging. And, although it is not therapy, it is very therapeutic. That alone helps reduce the stress of every day living and work. Working for what you want is key to a more fulfilling life.

After more than 19 years as a business lawyer, Irene Leonard offers business coaching services as a Certified Professional and Personal Coach. She can be reached at (425) 672 4321.

Reprinted with permission from the King County Bar Bulletin. Published in the May 1999 Edition of the Bar Bulletin