Provision #380: Coaching as Sounding Board

Laser Provision

Coaching is a personalized learning relationship that enables people to do better in life and work. When performance degrades, lethargy arises, or changes loom, coaching can help turn things around and move things forward. In a matter of months, today’s featured client • an expatriate living and working in Puerto Rico • made life-changing decisions that he still enjoys today.

LifeTrek Provision

The international clientele of LifeTrek Coaching includes both foreign nationals and expatriates: those people who have left their native land in order to live and work in countries and territories around the world. Given the rapid globalization of our economy, the “ex-pat” experience is an increasingly common phenomenon. It introduces second- and third-culture dynamics that require special sensitivity and make for unique coaching opportunities.

That was certainly the case with today’s featured client, a Systems Implementation Consultant and Director of Finance, who grew up in Colorado but has now lived and worked for almost 15 years in Puerto Rico. Hurricane Jeanne and other tropical storms notwithstanding, this client loves the Island even as he navigates a unique set of professional and personal challenges.

Q: How did you learn about LifeTrek Coaching and what did you want to work on when you contacted us for coaching?

A: I discovered LifeTrek through reading your material on AvantGo, like many of the clients you have interviewed in this series, and at first I was dealing with some of the same questions and dynamics as the client you interviewed last week from Ireland.

After being in the corporate world for many years, I started my own systems implementation consulting business in 1996. By the time I contacted you, my interest and effectiveness in that work had waned. It just wasn’t fun anymore, which meant I wasn’t taking care of either myself or the business as I would have liked.

On the business side, I was procrastinating about finishing detailed work for clients, and I wasn’t going after new clients because I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in that line of work. On the personal side, I was unhappy with my living situation, my commuting, my daily habits, and even the relationship in my life. There were many questions and many challenges.

I wanted to work with someone who could assist me to get on top of those very real life challenges. It did not seem to me that a psychotherapist, who would focus more on underlying characterological issues, was the way to go. I wanted a coach who could assist me to discover and organize life around my passion. I knew that if I got really excited about something, the rest would fall into place.

LifeTrek was my choice for coaching because your writing spoke to me. Since I was an IT professional and an entrepreneur, it also didn’t hurt that you were obviously technologically savvy and running your own business. Four years ago, handheld devices were relatively cutting edge and a lot of people had never heard of putting Web content on them through AvantGo. Since you were riding that wave with your own company, I figured that you would be a good coach for me.

Q: So did coaching meet your expectations? Were you able to make progress without the characterological digging?

A: It was amazing how quickly you were able to assist me to identify key issues and move forward. We started working together in January 2001. One of my early revelations was that I could organize my life and business anyway I wanted, without explaining myself to people or making excuses. I could establish my policies and routines, communicate them, and everything would be all right.

That was a tremendously freeing and empowering revelation. I was not a slave to my customers, my business, my friends, or my partner. I could tell people I was busy without having to justify it. I could be myself and still be successful.

Once I had those boundary issues clear, I quickly decided to give up my apartment in San Juan and move full time to my mountain home. This meant I would not be available to work on location much before 10:00 in the morning; when I informed my customers of that fact it turned out to be no big deal. They accepted the parameters of my schedule and I ended up with a much better life.

Q: How did your objectives for coaching evolve over time?

A: When I moved to the mountain home, only about four months after we started working together, it ended up creating more personal than business challenges. My customers could accept my new limited availability better than my partner could. So we ended up doing a lot of relationship coaching for a while, although my partner never got on the phone and talked with you. It was just you and me, trying to sort out what was going on so I could make better, smarter decisions.

I also started to use you as a networking partner. I did not expect that when I called you for coaching. But perhaps because of your involvement with people around the world as a coach, and perhaps because of your own personal experience, it was uncanny how often you could introduce me to someone who could assist me in my business or career development.

You became, for me, a living example of the so-called “six degrees of separation” • where everyone on earth is separated from anyone else by no more than six friends or friends of friends. With you as my coach, I felt I had shrunk that down to two or three degrees of separation. You were so well connected, and so generous in sharing your connections, that I quickly started using you not only for coaching but also for introductions and opportunities.

Q: You made and implemented life-changing business and personal decisions within a matter of months. How did that happen?

A: That was in part a credit to the safe space you created for me to work in, the out-of-the-box perspective you brought to our conversations, and even the specific exercises you gave me for homework.

The safe space was incredibly important. In the beginning, you had to earn my trust. With your background in the church, I was afraid you were going to preach to me about what I should or should not be doing with my life. When it became apparent that you accepted me just the way I was, no matter what I brought to our conversations from week to week, that enabled me to be less defensive and more creative.

Your out-of-the-box perspective was exactly what I needed. By definition, you were out of my box. You were not in Puerto Rico, you did not know my business, you did not know the culture, and you were not invested in the outcomes, so you could give me truly fresh perspectives and original thinking. Given your own inventiveness, the conversations were rich and productive. And you have an ability to understand the corporate world, that even most people within the corporate world don’t seem to get.

Finally, you challenged me with homework. Often, you asked me to do things I would never have done on my own. Early on, for example, you asked me to write a poem to express how I was feeling. You didn’t know this but I had written other poems, for other people, on special occasions such as weddings or funerals. This was the first time that I ever contemplated a poem for me, and I ended up with two-pages of self-expression that really moved me forward quickly.

Q: Was it helpful to have a coach back in the USA?

A: It was essential. As an expatriate, there are things I miss by living abroad. Like Broncos’ games! And the whole cultural conversation of the United States. So it was helpful to talk with someone on the mainland; it was a touch of familiarity that made our work more satisfying for me.

At the same time, you were quite able to put yourself in my position, to imagine the challenges I was facing, and to interact with me as if my challenges were your challenges. We were learning together, you were not just teaching me. I would share what was going on, and you would jump in as a creative partner with questions, ideas, strategies, and wisdom. Your involvement made a big difference.

Q: So what changes did you end up making in your life and work?

A: They were very significant. On a professional level, and after exploring a number of ideas for new business ventures, I decided to go back into the corporate world as the Director of Finance for a large US-based corporation with operations in Puerto Rico. I had been on my own long enough to know what that was like and to know I could be successful as a consultant.

It was more challenging to see if I could go back into the corporate world with the same, healthy sense of self and boundaries that you and I were creating in our work together. So, for example, when I interviewed for the corporate position I made it clear that I would work late but that I would not regularly be available before 10:00 in the morning. I could have lost the position over that, but instead they accepted me on my terms.

Of course, maintaining those boundaries is a constant battle. Corporate America is very demanding. But I have a better sense of my limits today, and more freedom to walk away from things if they become intolerable.

On a personal level, I broke up with my partner and moved on. When I called you for coaching I didn’t know that would become such an important part of our work together. But it did and you were of tremendous assistance to my being able to sort out those dynamics and make good decisions. It wasn’t easy but it was essential.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for our readers who may be thinking about coaching?

A: It can be hard to spend money on your own personal development. You’re constantly thinking about the Return on Investment: is it worth spending the money just to talk with someone on the phone about the challenges I’m facing, the decisions I have to make, the goals I need to set, and the perspectives I bring to life?

In my experience, however, coaching is money well spent. Therapy turns everything into big, deep issues. Coaching maintains a lightness that enables you to be more playful and productive. When you have the right coach, it’s like having the right dance partner. You move beautifully together, you enjoy yourself, and you end up feeling great.

Coaching is a great resource when you are thinking about or going through changes. Be they large or small, changes require motivation, information, planning, problem-solving, and courage. In each of those areas, the right coach can be an invaluable partner on the journey. It’s like talking to someone with no risk. There’s no way to disappoint and ruin the relationship, no matter what happens. With a coach, you can be yourself in order to better yourself.

To find the right coach, I would encourage people to interview three coaches and pick the one they make the strongest connection with. Find out about the coach’s experience and network. Determine whether the coach has the skills and the resources to connect on your level, with your challenges, and your projects. Then get started, as quickly as possible, on your learning relationship.

Even though we no longer talk together on a regular basis, I know you are out there. And occasionally, I call you when something comes up, to bounce around my ideas in order to see what comes back. Our active work together may have terminated but I still view you as my coach and my sounding board for being my best self. That is what I hope for in life, and that is what you represent to me.

Coaching Inquiries: Who assists you to be your best self? Where can you find a judgment-free zone in which to bounce around your ideas and grow as a human being? Are there changes on the horizon that you need to deal with? How can you get yourself moving in the right direction?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Your interview with the entrepreneur from Ireland gave me a much better sense of the how and why of coaching. In fact, it increased not only my understanding of but also my trust in the profession. Please pass that along to him. Thanks so much for sharing these coaching stories; they really are great. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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