A conversation with Martin Brossman about the concept of the life and business coach, the importance of discovering your purpose or calling in life, and the urgency of following your dream.
To get things rolling, briefly, what is coaching?
It’s a tool to gain clarity and results in our business goals or in our personal life and to move forward faster than on our own. Coaching helps us to enjoy both the journey and the arrival.
How does coaching differ from therapy?
Therapy often deals with the past, resolving painful issues from childhood or youth. Coaching does not address these deep emotional traumas, but as client’s experience some of the life changes that coaching can cause, it is sometimes seen that many issues may drop away. Coaching is focused on finding tools and skills for creating a better future, reaching the goals you set. It is not by any means a replacement for therapy. Some clients work with coaching in conjunction with therapy. Some who seek coaching may actually need therapy, and a good coach should recognize this within a couple of sessions.
Likewise, some of the people who seek therapy may actually need coaching. In some cases the ideal sequence is for coaching to come after therapy, because a client has the emotional static out of the way and can really focus, which is vital in coaching. Also, whereas therapy sometimes needs to be open-ended, in coaching the client sets the priorities and the boundaries.
What would you say is the value of coaching, then?
The client says, “This is what I want to accomplish. This is where I would like to go, but I’m held back in some way.” If a client is not sure what goals or dreams s/he wants to pursue, which is a problem for a lot of people, then coaching helps come up with a clear and definite goal, a personal mission statement. Then the client is coached on a range of ways to take action on his or her mission. Without taking action, you see, the dream remains a dream, a fantasy, a wish. When we begin to take action on our dreams, then there is movement. It’s no longer a wish. There may be trial and error as part of that movement, but it’s a well-calculated risk. The coach’s job is to help the client take risks wisely. A champion athlete does not get the gold by taking one big risk but by a series of small ones. That’s what a good coach helps you do. Like the sports coach, a coach in the game of life gets behind the client a hundred percent, supporting him/her in achieving that dream, rooting all the way, bringing objective, constructive feedback geared to improve performance. It’s all geared to make you a winner in your life.
Okay, I’m a cynical guy who says, “Only losers need a coach.” What’s your response to that?
Well, if we stick to the sports coach analogy, the fact is that all winners have a coach, and those coaches are paid very, very well for their services. All the top league teams have coaches. I grant you there may be one or two top performers, like Federer, who may go far without a coach, but who’s to say that he couldn’t improve his with the help of an expert coach? Anyway, the exceptions prove the rule. Winners and would-be winners have coaches. A life coach serves a similar function for us in the game of life.
Life is complex. We all lose direction from time to time. So this is not about being a “loser” but about getting your focus, amid all the stuff that life is throwing up at you. Before you know it, it’s all over, you’re on your deathbed full of regret. I want that the deathbed scenario is more like, “Well, I knocked a few good ones outta the park.” I deeply believe we are all entitled to that in the end.
It’s a good point. Let me add, that in life, as in love, it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. . .. I read somewhere that the coaching profession can be seen as an opportunity for regular citizens to take advantage of what has long been available to celebrities in sports, movies and politics. So it’s really not such a new thing.
Yes. Coaching has been around for a long time, under different names. We called them mentors or friends or advisors. Watson, the founder of IBM, made sure to keep advisors around that would “give it to him straight” versus “yes men.” These people served a very similar function to a life coach. Today coaching is a more formalized role. Having a good coach is a way of making sure I don’t settle for mediocrity or become a loser. Rather, I have someone on my side ready to push me to my fullest potential. We all can use that. As with the sports coach, it is worth paying good money for. Good coaching can be priceless.
The comparison to the sports coach really makes your point. What would you say is another value for the client?
The client is taught to draw on his or her environment in a way that supports the goal. By this I mean the client does not rely on the coach forever and ever. A coach does not coach us in dependency. A good coach’s aim is to develop the client to the point where the coach is not needed anymore.
Seems to me that if a person gets dynamic help to raise the bar in their life, they may find a coach such an asset that they want to keep it working with one, albeit for different goals.
Yes, some people will think it unwise to stop a good thing, but it is important to know that from the coach’s standpoint, it’s not about dragging out the relationship. It’s about giving value and getting results. If a client opts to stay on, it’s because of getting results, not coming under the spell of the coach’s personality.
Anyway, besides reaching set goals through the coaching experience, the client also learns to draw support from the environment in an ongoing way, long after coaching is over. Clients develop a greater awareness of their inner compass and learn to keep themselves motivated and proactive about their dreams. They learn to get the needed support from friends and family; they learn to avoid or minimize the company of those who don’t give them solid support; they learn to become attuned to the places and activities that give them the energy and support for attaining their dreams. As they learn to become single-minded about their dreams whatever is not supporting their dream naturally falls away from their lives,.
“Life is what happens while we are making plans,” John Lennon observed, but you help us to get our plans to coincide with our lives. That’s what I’m hearing from you.
I get people to be in action on their dreams. If I fail to do that, my coaching has failed
I think a life or business coach, as opposed to talk therapy, is quite active in dispensing advice, too, isn’t it? They listen, but therapists don’t really get too committed about giving advice, seems a coach rolls up his sleeve and takes the wheel as far as that goes. Am I right?
You make a good point there. Of course, just listening has its value too, but a coach has a slightly different focus, even if there is some overlap with what I do and what the therapist does. My task is about getting tangible results. I collaborate with my client and like the sports coach, I am not hesitant to say “Consider this, try this, don’t do that one anymore, and what do you think about going this?” I’m not hesitant to get people to confront the lack of fulfillment in their lives and get involved with how to go from where they are to where they want to be. Generally, therapists don’t do that. They listen to you. And you may or may not achieve clarity about your purpose in life, but if you take action or not, that’s not the therapists responsibility.
I am aware that a lot of people don’t feel fulfilled in their lives. They are lucky to feel even a bit satisfied, usually. I used to be one of those people, but all that has changed for me. Now, I believe with a passion, that we are entitled to have a taste of fulfillment, a tasted of the extra-ordinary. I believe in the pursuit of real feelings of happiness, and not just shadow happiness.
That’s what I call the sense of relief that we feel if we are not in serious trouble with creditors or the taxman and not going through a divorce. Many people mistake this for happiness; it’s only the absence of misery. Many people think that’s a big enough achievement, staying out of trouble, being “decent” folks. It’s really mediocrity, if you think about it.
We try not to think too hard about it, I’d say. And we get so good at not thinking about it, that we don’t even realize we are doing that to ourselves, settling for less. And since most people around us are doing the same, we are comforted by that. “I am normal.” Erich Fromm had a name for that, the peril of normalcy, something like that. I forget his exact wording, but that’s close.
That’s really true; but on some level we know we are repressing, which is another way of saying “deceiving ourselves.”
Your point about the lack of fulfillment strikes a chord. According to polls, a solid 83% of the American people are dissatisfied with their jobs, which take up 8 hours of their day. That’s half our waking hours. And the divorce rate is 50% or more, so the rest of the day is not so great, either. We are trying to be normal and are pretty much unhappy campers, yet we tend to believe that the only alternative to normalcy is insanity.
I disagree. I think another alternative is extraordinary. Why be ‘normal’ when I can just as well script an extraordinary life for myself?
I like that. I never thought of it in those terms before. You have choices, right? You have nutty and normal, which is really mediocre, and you have extraordinary. You decide which one your life is about. That’s brilliant.
Thank you. It’s not a fact that if you are not going to be normal, then your only other choice is nutty. Extra-ordinary is available. It’s your call. Work it out. If you can’t pull it off, whatever the reason, then let a coach help you over the hurdles.
You make is sound, well, extra-ordinarily simple.
In a sense it is simple. Just as you can equate normal with mediocre, you can equate extraordinary with fulfillment. Normal people are getting by, but they are not fulfilled. A life coach or a business coach is for the person who wants more than normalcy, wants fulfillment, wants the extraordinary life.
We all have ways of not really confronting the lack of fulfillment gnawing at us. We opiate ourselves in various ways. We overeat, we overplay, we overspend, we have serial relationships that are hollow in the center, we do drugs or booze, or both. Most of all, we rationalize; we justify our mediocrity as a virtue.
Yes. Rationalizing is the way we keep our eyes averted from the reality. As a coach, I do my best to get my client to break through the rationalizations and face that lack of fulfillment. I do it compassionately. Then I work with him or her to develop strategies to move forward, to dust themselves off and get back in the race. And I do give advice, but I’m not authoritarian about that. We do something, it works, fine. It doesn’t, we discard it, take another approach.
That reminds me of Bruce Lee. The core of his martial arts philosophy was “Use whatever works: Discard whatever doesn’t.” Sounds like you teach this.
Without fail, I’m my client’s advocate for living a life he or she loves. We work together to keep on tweaking it and tweaking it until we discover the most workable strategy for my client and the particular situation he or she is in. As Tony Robbins is fond of saying, “People like to do what they always did, but then they keeping getting the same results they always got. So, don’t change your goals, change your strategy.”
One problem I have in my life, whenever I come across the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up? What’s your ultimate dream?” That kind of question, I usually go blank. I have a lot of desires, but none of them feel like ultimate dream stuff. I may come up with something, but after a few days, it’s just not something I feel sold out and convinced about. Do you get clients with that sort of problem?
Probably fifty percent of the time.
So, how do you handle that? I know you can help the person who already has an idea, has a goal, but may be sidestepping it for some reason. As you say, you get them to confront that, but what about a person like me, just unable to fix on a goal?
I have ways of questioning you to get you to sort yourself out. I have ways to examine your life to see if perhaps you are already living your purpose but didn’t recognize it. When we get that big question answered, then I help you frame it into a “mission” statement. The next step is to come up with ways to get in action on your mission. Ways to get you living your mission. If you lose momentum, I’m there to get you back on track
I have to tell you, “Mission Statement” is another one of those overworked terms we get in our society about every six months. I dread a mission statement to my bones.
It’s a cliché, I know. If you come up with a replacement, fine, but let me say this: Philosophers have spent lifetimes on the question of life’s purpose; and will probably spend lifetimes more, but while they work that out, the most tangible purpose we have right now is, “What is my contribution? What do I feel passionate, more alive about?” Or another way to say it, “What is my gift to leave behind when I go? What do I want my life to be about?”
And I don’t think this has to be necessarily a big thing. It could be a small gift too. It could be that your purpose is to help another person to deliver their gift; but whatever it is, I believe it is personally fulfilling to you; it energizes you. You are entitled to make your life be about that and nothing else. The rest of stuff we do can be just necessary stuff. Like breathing. Like going to the bathroom, that’s not a purpose of life. That’s a necessity. Even eating is a necessity, not a purpose, but the purpose of your life, that’s the main event, the centerpiece.
It goes beyond that. I believe, passionately, that if more people were living their purpose, the nation would be less messed up; and if more people in the world were living their purpose, the world would be less messed up. The mess is owing to a lack of purpose on an individual level, then a collective one. People that love their lives don’t blow things up. They are creative, not destructive.
Okay, new point. The way you stress purpose and fulfillment, it seems that some clients may find they have to move in an entirely new direction by your coaching.
Coaching with Martin Brossman could mean not necessarily making peace with what you already have going. It could mean doing something really radical.
That’s true. In some cases, the person discovers that “My life is really about this or that,” and to get it will require major change. It may be a new direction, yes, but it will be in the direction of your dream, which perhaps has been long denied, or just not in conscious awareness.
But for some people, change is a scary thing to contemplate. It’s a reason not to go near a coach. My life may get turned on its head, no?
Yes, and that’s understandable. Perhaps an up close look at your life will lead to major changes, especially if the question of fulfillment is the pivotal point. On the other hand, what’s to be said for a life that’s not fulfilling, which is really the whole point of all this effort to survive? Remember a coach is very compassionate about this discovery and the heavy lifting change may require. It’s not that it becomes like a poke in the eye or something. You get coached through the changes.
It’s the ages old story about how the unexamined life is not worth living. At least coaching is there for anyone willing to risk the change.
Yes. I have had people come to me and discover a whole different direction in life than anything they had going before, but they also find that they are supercharged about this new direction. I had people come to me only to discover confirmation about where they are already heading. But in almost every single case, we’d raise the bar, with my client’s participation in that process.
Any other value for the client?
I have mentioned this already, but it bears repeating. Having a coach means having a person on my side, who has an external or objective perspective and who only has my agenda in mind. While I may be too immersed in some part of my life to see the overall picture my coach helps me stay focused by seeing the whole picture from a distance and helps me process all the data, not just take a narrow focus and keep my blind spots. He or she helps by keeping me real about my potential. This means I can have more access to my abilities, gifts, and achievements, the ones that I just don’t see in that light or don’t give myself credit for. Also, my coach is a mechanism to make me think twice about my big decisions, rather than act hastily.
Would you agree, then, that a definition of a coach is a person whose only concern is to bring out the best in us?
Definitely. Same role as the sports coach. A coach gets to know you well enough for this purpose and only this purpose: to bring out the best in you. That is a coach’s greatness. A great man will impress you with what a great person he is, but a great coach impresses you with what a great person you are. It’s not that he does this by flattery and ego-stroking. A coach will guide you to reframe how you look at yourself, and will guide you to focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. A coach will not try to get a rabbit to swim and a turtle to run. That’s a waste of time all around. An expert coach will get the rabbit to run faster and the turtle to swim faster. In the game of life we often lose this commonsense approach.
What inspired you to become a life and business coach?
After I graduated from St. Andrews College, I joined IBM. While technically oriented, I soon found that understanding clients’ issues and effectively dealing with them was much more important than solely technical issues. This also lead to informally coaching colleagues on their career paths. During this time I was also assisting in an NLP course. One of the students said, as he handed me an article clipping, “You’d really be good at this, Martin. You are a natural at bringing out the best in people and hearing who they really are.” I read it, but I didn’t buy it at the time. I couldn’t see coaching as a means of livelihood, but the door to my calling was opened; and events urged me through it because, suddenly nothing was working for me.
I wound up with a coach. I gave him a long list of things I wanted to do with my life. He wisely encouraged me to whittle it down to one or two things and make these the focal points of my life. “See if people will write you checks for doing these few things that you love,” he said. I focused on coaching because nothing else was really fulfilling to me. In those days there were no coaching certification programs. So, to break into the field I set up a personal computer business to fund my developing coaching business.
I understand that you now have a coaching certification program. Can you comment on that?
I call it Ki Coaching. Ki is the Japanese word for chi, life force, the same vital energy that is the focus of Chinese medicine. The Japanese martial art, Aikido, is all about redirecting ki. As I practiced coaching, I realized that I used a good deal of the Aikido concepts, namely redirecting energy and resources, and that was highly effective, so I call my style Ki Coaching. At the insistence of one of the people I coached, I’ve developed a certification program for people who want to learn Ki Coaching.
So the persons who get certification through you, they can be coaches too?
Yes. But that’s not the only reason to take Ki Coaching. It’s training for an individual to have as part of their toolkit for life. The course is not designed for someone who has never experienced coaching, but for the professional with some credentials and life experience, as well. Perhaps he or she was already naturally following coaching or already trained in some other system. For instance a manager or supervisor, any kind of trainer or teacher, a religious minister or clergyman, they can all use Ki Coaching in their profession. I should also mention that I teach in such a way that each person discovers his or her own style of coaching. I help them to make Ki Coaching their own.
What do people fear about coaching?
I’ve come across a few concerns people have about coaching. First, some people feel it makes them look incompetent, otherwise why do they need pay someone for their success? Those people need to be reminded that all our champions have coaches.
Second, they worry about the cost. With a good coach, the client should see value right away. It should be readily apparent. And consider that if a coach successfully helps us to map our life’s purpose and gives us a few good strategies for getting there, perhaps shakes us loose from some things that were keeping us back, then the benefit is lifelong. That’s definitely worth the cost and the time for the sessions. A good coach is worth much more than his fee. You may even feel that you can never really repay him for the breakthroughs he caused you.
Third, people fear that a coach will hook them forever. This can happen. It could be the coach’s lack of scruples, or it could be the client wants a crutch. The coach should be able to pry the client out of needing a crutch. As for the coach hooking you indefinitely, you should be alert to see if the coach keeps finding new ways to keep you coming back. That would be a red flag. That’s why it’s important to work out in the very first session what would be the goal of your coaching. When the goal is achieved, coaching is over. If you require coaching again, it should be for a new goal you have set for yourself, not the coach’s goal for you. Throughout, you must feel that the choice to continue or to quit is in your hands.
Another fear is that people feel their ideas are not clear enough. I hear fairly often, “I need coaching, but first I have to figure out what I want to do.” People don’t realize this is one of the main things to go to a coach for, to get help figuring out what you want out of your life, and to get clarity and focus. If you had clarity, and equally important, if you were acting on your goals consistently, coaching would not be necessary at all. The reality is that life is complicated; it helps to have someone in our corner, helping us sort the data.
I hear you saying it’s not enough to know where you want to go, but you must be working on your goal, if not you should get coaching. Does that sound right?
You must be in action on your dreams. This is the only real secret to success. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. Coaching helps us to stay in motion, working towards our goal. And coaching should make that effort a mostly enjoyable experience. When you have the mission that is one with your heart, being in action makes you feel alive. If you are not feeling that, it means the whole idea of your mission needs an overhaul. Needs to be re-examined from top to bottom.
So, defining our mission or dream and our focus and going into action, a good life coach helps us with all these or any combination of them?
Yes, that would sum it up.
I imagine that there is a client/coach confidentiality code similar to that between lawyer and client or therapist and client, right?
Definitely. Confidentiality is a vital part of the profession.
What are some issues people have sought you for?
As mentioned before, someone finds himself unable to stay in action on his goal even though he has started for it before. Perhaps started many times before, so I coach him to get clarity and get on track again. I have had people come to me because of problems working with a partner in business or a co-worker or the boss. One of the most popular reasons, the person wants help answering the question “What do I want to do when I grow up?” And actually living from it. It could be something simple, too, like wanting to have better balance in their lives, between work and family, for example. Or it could be a case where things are going quite well, and the client wants coaching to take it to the next level, to a new peak of excellence and fulfillment.
Without transgressing confidentiality, could you give some specifics?
I had a client who wanted desperately to leave his high-paying corporate job, travel the world and make a living that way. He was anxious, not knowing how it would work out. I suggested he take a leave of absence from work, travel for awhile and see if he could make an income from it, get up enough momentum to go all the way. He did. He found out that while he wanted to travel he preferred to keep his corporate income. So he found a satisfactory compromise: Keep his corporate job and make more time for travel. He was very pleased with this outcome. You see, in coaching, the initial goal we set is not always what’s attained. We discover sometimes a new consideration along the way; but the final outcome is always more fulfilling.
I had a client who was a tradesman, in business for himself, married for 20 years, but so laid back he was grossing about 500 a month. His marriage was going down the hole, I should mention, although I was not coaching him about how to save his marriage. He came to me about how to build his business. We turned it around inside of four months. He became much more productive and quadrupled his income. He was a changed man. I haven’t checked, but I can imagine this man kept increasing his gross for some months before he leveled off. He also turned around his marriage He called me to say “My wife told me that I’m now the man that she thought she had married 20 years ago.”
Another client, a very intelligent executive, used his superior intellect and his position to intimidate people, get them to do what he wanted. He denied that such was the case and that his lack of interpersonal skills was where he was stuck. After I gained his trust, I asked him to imagine that he was a person who conned, intimidated, and manipulated people to do his will. How would he achieve that? This client discovered that what he thought was his leadership was just conning and intimidating and manipulating people. This opened him up to finding ways to deal in a more principled way.
One client had a successful business but she hadn’t had a date in four years. She came to me wanting both her business and her personal life to go to a new level. We got to the core of what her life was about and created a mission that had room for both a successful business and fulfilling relationship. Her business grew and an old friend finally asked her out on a date and they are still dating. Her verdict was “I’ve discovered how to enjoy the beauty and the power of being a woman.”
It must be stimulating to you to have to deal with such a variety of situations.
Oh, yes. The range and variety of issues that I get to deal with is one of the pleasures of my work. I truly love what I do and am living my own mission in life doing it. It never becomes mechanical, rote, routine.
We talked about value for the client, I want to bring it up again from a different angle. How do I get the most for my money from the coaching experience?
Every coach is not for every kind of person. Just as a coach will interview a prospective client to see if he or she wants to take on the job, the client must also interview a prospective coach to see if they “connect”. It’s not enough to like the coach’s personality. You have to see if he or she offers the tools and manner you need. Perhaps the coach is animated, excitable and yells, and this may not be inspiring to you. On the other hand, perhaps the coach is too sedate, reserved, and doesn’t come across as sufficiently involved with you. The communication style must be inspiring, motivating to you, or you will not act on the coach’s advice, and without action, there cannot be movement. So talk to the coach. Ask questions. If possible, take the introductory free session, or request one even if it is not offered. The client must get the measure of the coach. The question to ask yourself about this coach is: would this person be an effective catalyst for my life?
Since I mentioned acting on the coach’s advice, let me add that a client should never agree to any course of action that she does not intend to do. It is better to speak up and if need be, renegotiate with your coach for another course of action. The key thing is to have a plan of action. This is another difference between therapy and coaching. In therapy we don’t necessarily have a committed course of action at the end of each session. In coaching, if it is the real thing, there is always a commitment to a particular plan of action until the next session. The client must learn to take action on his or her dreams. Even if there are mistakes. Mistakes can be very valuable. They teach us what does not work.
Other pointers for the client?
It’s a good idea for the client to make some notes of points and questions important to bring up during the session. Especially, note what you want to accomplish in the session. This helps to keep the session focused on your issues and benefits.
Another thing the client must share is if he or she feels there isn’t any forward movement in the coaching. Granted the momentum will not be always at the same speed, but there must be a sense of progress, sense of forward momentum. If there is stagnation, real or imagined, this needs to be addressed.
Suppose I’m not feeling very satisfied with the coach, how much time do you consider reasonable before I change coaches?
Of course, if it’s not working you don’t want to lose too much valuable time and money. On the other hand, you don’t want to be too hasty. Perhaps the next coach will be a marked improvement, perhaps not. I would say don’t rush to judgment, give it at least 2-3 sessions. And discuss it with your coach as well, perhaps the coach needs your feedback to realize how to be more effective. There is no harm in the coach learning from the client, even as the client is getting so much from the coach.
I think I know the answer to this, but I’d like to hear your version, what’s the difference between coaching and consulting, in business?
A firm calls in a consultant to get advice how to streamline operations. A consultant observes the operations and gives a list of recommendations and moves on to the next consulting job. The advice may work, or not. The consultant is not usually involved in the ongoing trial and error to find out what really works in your company. And even if the advice works out, this does not result necessarily in you as a person moving to a higher level of personal excellence and fulfillment. It does not result in you touching the edge of extra-ordinary, which is your very life’s purpose and which is within you, but that’s what a coach is all about. A coach works with you to discover and bring out your gifts and your personal best and achieve your dream. The measure of satisfaction you get from being extra ordinary in your calling has no comparison from the consulting side. Your coach is your accountable partner throughout, continually making an objective assessment, looking for room for improvement.
But we know that consulting is all about enhancing the bottom line. In a small business, say, how does coaching increase profitability?
That’s a good question. A good coach will teach you that your main product is you Therefore, along with bringing you to your peak performance, your coach will help you to brand yourself in the most effective way. Having a coach means investing in, your main product—yourself. If the coach and client work together like they should, this surely leads to profitability and job satisfaction. What’s more, all that you develop from coaching is transferable. It is part of who you are. It goes with you wherever you go.
A consultant will tell you where to fish, what rod and line and lure is best for the kind of fish you want to catch, and so on, but a coach is all about bringing out the fisherman inside you, and training him to be an expert. Ultimately, you learn to fish in all kinds of conditions.
Say I’m in real estate and I’m right on target with my year-end goals, I’m shaping up to be a success, should I consider getting a coach.
On the principle that there is always room for improvement, yes, you should. I welcome every challenge to help an already successful person take it to another level. Think of it like an athlete who strives to break his own record. The coach is right in there helping that champion to give all he’s got, reaching new level of extra-ordinary. That’s exactly what I mean when I talk about being fully engaged in our lives. Never mind competing against others; compete against yourself, keep raising the bar, and let your coach play a vital role in that process.
Okay, so tell me, what’s your own fulfillment dream, what do you want your own life to be about?
My fulfillment is that I have touched people’s lives and helped in some way to get them to live a life that they love. My life is about helping people to live lives they feel proud off. When they look back, they don’t feel, “Holy sheetrock, my life is over and I didn’t do anything but eat and sleep, have some kids, and pay the @#*%**# bills!”
Erich Fromm talks about living in the being or the having modes. Although most people are culturally trained to live in the grasping, having mode, being mode people live more creative and productive and more satisfying lives. I hear you saying pretty much the same thing.
Yes, creative, productive lives. That should be the standard for normalcy, but it is so rare, we see those people as extraordinary, and the mass of people, who are not in touch with their purpose in life are “normal.” But I can’t complain, because it allows me to live my calling, my mission. My life is about helping people find fulfillment though living their own creative and productive lives, or “living lives they love.” My idea is that when someone is on the deathbed, and reflects on the life they lived, they are moved to tears, overwhelmed at the fulfillment.
Let’s talk about a coach’s skills. There must be some degree of primary and secondary skills that a good life or business coach should have, what would you say are some of the primary ones?
I consider that the number one skill is the perspective that the coach is listening from. As well as being fully present during the session, and listening with focused attention This kind of listening is not just listening to what’s being said, but listening to what is not being said, also. Listening to the tones of voice, to the cadences, to the emotion, or the lack of emotion, in the voice. And very, very important, is listening without judgment. It’s not enough that the coach’s face appears non-judgmental. The coach must really be non-judgmental. Psychologically, the life coach cannot put himself above the client They must meet on an equal footing, as two human beings, except that one is a professional, a life coach. There to help, not to judge. This brings in the element of compassion. The term I like to use is “relentless compassion.” This kind of compassion is possible when the coach really believes that he or she could have been that client, too. He or she could have said or done the same thing, made the same transgressions and errors of judgment.
Can you elaborate on that, relentless compassion?
It means unconditional and unlimited empathy for the client and the trials in his or her life. It means that as a coach I must open myself up to this human being and allow him or her to open themselves up in response to me. This is the way for me, as a coach, to get in touch with this person on a level that does not ordinarily happen in day to day life. But for me to bring out the best in this person, you see, it is necessary for me to get close to them. If I cause them to cringe, or shrink back on themselves, or shut down to me, even slightly, then I cannot do my best for them. I cannot perceive and connect fully with the authentic person, and to that extent I cannot bring him or her out in the fullest way possible.
This kind of listening takes compassion and empathy for the person. If I moralize or judge, the process is compromised. I cannot take that role. I must feel relentless compassion for this person, who may well have gifts to give to the world, for all I know. So my task is to help this person become proactive about giving those gifts with conviction and pleasure, be those gifts big or small. When I see a person find his or her calling, find his or her fulfillment, that is my fulfillment in my calling
So, two important skills a coach must have are a capacity for non-judgmental, active listening, and relentless compassion. What else?
A very important ability a good coach must have is that in order to get results he or she must have the courage to go into uncomfortable areas if the need arises. Remember, the task is to bring out the best in that client, who is paying money and is taking time to work with you, so you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to hold up your end of the agreement. This is not always so easy. Sometimes it calls for delving into very sensitive feelings or secret thoughts and deeds that the client is hoping to avoid. The coach must be willing to open those areas and lay them bare before the client, if that’s what’s in the clients best interest for achieving the stated goals of coaching. This must be done with compassion, of course, but even so, a client may resent the operation, may resent being vulnerable before the coach. The client may be embarrassed. Probably more significant, the client may resent having to face these things that were formally repressed somewhere in his or her psyche. Sometimes a client hates herself for her shortcomings and will hate the person who makes it come to the surface; therefore a coach must have the courage to go into these places, if it is somehow a roadblock to the client’s forward momentum. This is also part of relentless compassion. The coach’s job is to create the space for the client to find the courage to move forward.
The other day we were talking and you explained to me the meaning of the tilted triangle you use for your logo or symbol. You described the three points of your triangle, your sequence of Being, Doing, and Achieving. Could you run it by me again?
In nutshell, people assume they have to achieve something to be someone. For instance, I may believe I need to become CEO of my company. This is considered a good thing. I have ambition, right?
But in reality, what it means is that for me to be somebody, I have to be a CEO. But that’s just a title connected to my name. It’s not a state of being. It’s not who I am. And so when I finally get this post, after the initial satisfaction, I feel like no one again. When you get coached, in terms of my triangle. The first goal is to establish being—who you are at the core. We get rid of the idea that you have to do something, then achieve something, then you have an identity, then you can be.
So, how would you do that with the aspiring CEO?
I get him to understand that wanting to be a CEO means he really wants is to be a leader. And he can be a leader today. He can be a leader even if he never becomes CEO. Maybe someone else in the company wants it just as much or more than him. So if he does not get CEO, is he a failure?
That’s the usual way of the world, isn’t it?
If he got my coaching he will be a leader long before CEO and long after as well. My Aikido master used to say that no one can be a great leader unless first a great follower. So this future CEO would be encouraged to develop his leadership by following in his current position. That’s why instead of the normal sequence, doing, achieving, then being, my approach is know thy self, then do, then achieve.
Nice. Okay, now hit me with a non-business example of the being, then doing, then achieving sequence.
Well, a very realistic example is the person who is creating art, really enjoys creating art, but is somehow blocked to saying, “I’m an artist.” Perhaps thinking I’ll do, then achieve, then I’ll be an artist, perhaps when the world recognizes me and feeds that back. Somehow that person comes to me for coaching. Once I’m able to single out the person’s purpose, then I work with her to get her to let in the idea that she is an artist.
But Martin, that does not sound so remarkable. I can’t see a lot of people wanting to be coached so they can say, I’m an artist, I’m a writer, I’m a cook, or whatever.
I see your point, but you told me it took you years to accept that you were a writer and could do it professionally. So imagine someone really stuck in the doing, achieving, being sequence. It is very liberating to this person to rearrange it into being, doing, achieving, wouldn’t you agree?
I can see how it frees them creatively.
Yes, it does. If you were conflicted about how much time to put into writing versus delivering mail, you now know your priorities. So being, then doing, then achieving. Being means that whatever you are doing, it’s coming from the core of you, not an imposition from outside. Not my agenda for you, or some other person’s. It’s about who you are, getting in touch with that person, letting him out. Gifting it to the world, really.
Tell me, then, what do you consider your unique skills as a coach, your gift? What do you believe sets you apart from the majority in the coaching field?
Two things we have already discussed under primary skills of a coach, that’s the ability for non-judgmental listening and the practice of relentless compassion. Over the years, my clients have often mentioned these two as my strong point. A number of those people had other coaches before me, so I’m inclined to accept their feedback. They have also said that they got results faster when working with me. Some have told me that they find I work on a deeper level than they have experienced with other coaches. I attribute this to the same two skills, listening without judging and relentless compassion.
There are a couple of things no client has ever pointed out, but I consider them major strengths that I have as a coach. I have a definite knack for working within the clients reality. By that I mean that I have an adaptable or flexible approach. I have a system or procedure, of course, but it is not set in stone. The client sets the pace. I adapt myself accordingly. If things become stuck, however, I don’t hesitate to jump in and get it moving again.
The other thing I consider my major strength that sets me apart is that I don’t coach my clients to make them reasonable. I help them to become unreasonable.
I have hear you say that before. Could you explain what you mean, because it sounds like you encourage people to be irrational?
I mean “unreasonable” in a very specific context, in the sense that George Bernard Shaw used it when he said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. “ If I coach you to be reasonable, essentially I’m helping you to adapt and adjust yourself to your circumstances. In other words, I’m helping to you remain just were you are; but you’ve come to me to get my support in achieving a goal, perhaps your ultimate dream in life. This means the world has to adapt itself to you; and your progress depends on you becoming unreasonable in the sense that Shaw points out. As a life coach, I’m acutely aware of this and consider it one of my unique strengths.
I find this very interesting, the way you express it. Care to expand on it?
I consider it one of my major strengths in coaching that I support my clients to live a unique and individual life, as opposed to encouraging conformity to “reasonable” expectations of what they should and can do. At the same time, they don’t just become rebels. I help them to be unreasonable in a way that respects and honors the people in their lives and around them.
This brings back the sports coach metaphor. The coach will often see that you can do more than you think yourself capable of, able to run faster or jump higher than your own expectations.
Yes. And his task is to bring all this out of you. His job is to push you beyond your self-induced limits. He has to be “unreasonable” with you. And if he is effective, he will make you unreasonable too. “Progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Would you agree that just as you coach people to develop their strengths to the fullest and to discover their purpose or calling, similarly being a life coach is your own chief strength and chief calling?
Absolutely. B. B. King would play the blues whether he got rich and famous or barely making it. Coaching is like that for me. Of course I want to make a decent living by doing it, and if I got as rich as Oprah, that would be okay too. It means I can do even more to help people live lives they love. And for me that’s the real payoff. I often say that I’ve been a coach for the last ten years, but actually, I have been coaching people for years before that. Motivating them. Encouraging them. Getting them to focus on their dreams, whatever that may be. It has always been natural for me to do that and doing so has always been a source of fulfillment for me. Yes, I have to coach. In a world were the “reasonable” path is to “get by” and “hang in there,” my mission is to help people live “unreasonable” extraordinary lives.
What do you want your clients to be left with?
To be engaged fully with his or her life, in action on their goals, and enjoying the journey. I want them to be fulfilled by the gift of their own life.
Martin Brossman is a Life and Business Coach and can be reached at (919) 847-4757 or e-mail Martin@CoachingSupport.com . Conrad Joseph is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at (919) 465-5993 or firstname.lastname@example.org