The day I announced I was leaving my company I was teary and euphoric. If I had any reservations about my decision, the die was cast. I asked my son to have lunch with me and I drank too much. I pouted out loud a bit as one of the regional executives who attended my announcement meeting in case any staff member had questions about the transition just walked out afterwards, not thinking it was important to note that people were actually crying as I said goodbye.
The day after my last day – or the first day of the rest of my life – I bought a new iMac, met with my accountant, met with my attorney, filed papers to register my new business and celebrated with my husband. Then, for the next three months, I stayed in my pajamas and watched Law & Order reruns. What had I done?
A few clients fell into my lap on the strength of my Rolodex and I went about trying to run their business for them. And when that didn’t work I suggested they go into therapy. Then I got a few clients that didn’t want me to run their business. And they didn’t need therapy. They really needed coaching. Though I was spending every waking minute reading about my new profession I knew I really needed some training so I could be as proud of my performance in my new profession as I was in my old. So after having been a CEO for more than 13 years and an executive for 30 years, I went back to school. It was really scary.
Probably the most important reason I went back to school was to protect my ego. I knew all along that anyone could call himself or herself a “coach” and that the only external thing that might differentiate between people who were charlatans and people who were experienced professionals was training and accreditation. But then someone I knew actually began calling himself a coach and I truly and I desperately wanted to differentiate myself from him!
The class I chose was offered through a major university but was taught by a content partner, a boutique consulting firm. There were 14 of us in the class and I was by far the oldest. There were 10 women and four men. And there were 8 HR professionals, many of whom intended to stay in their current organizations to provide internal coaching.
I felt nervous and unsure of myself and thus managed to drop “I was a CEO” into every conversation I had in the first three days. Insecure much?
Our instructors were two men who co-taught and, though they could not have been more different, worked so well together that they made the material come alive. By the end of the first three days I was engaged, absolutely sure that I had made the correct decision and equally as sure that I knew nothing about coaching. But I learned! I read and reread and read extra on the side.
Our practice coaching sessions were recorded and our instructors or other accredited coaches that our instructors provided gave us one-on-one feedback; we had six practice sessions before our final exam. Each recorded session was to last 30 minutes. My first recording lasted 36 minutes. The head instructor told this “former CEO” that he only listened to the first 30 minutes because that was the assignment. I was furious and mortified because I was secretly so proud of how I had wrapped up the session, leaving my client with my insights and wisdom. Wrong! The instructor started my feedback, “ You started off so well but you just couldn’t help yourself, could you? You just could not stop yourself from giving advice rather than bringing out the wisdom of the client?”
It was clear I could either get angry or get humble. I chose the latter path but I didn’t choose it with my eyes closed or to be a good student, the way I may have chosen it had I been in school in my 20’s. I had experienced being a “practice client” in class with one of the instructors demonstrating a coaching technique using me as a subject. I felt first hand how powerful his coaching was and it was powerful not because he knew better than I did …but because he guided and pulled and cajoled my own inner wisdom into my awareness and that is what the best coaches do.
Much of my inner wisdom about business was honed as an executive. Once I was really secure in my role, once I could forgive my own mistakes, I began to forgive mistakes in others. I used to let people who worked for me learn from doing, even if it took longer, or meant a few false starts. I’d ask questions that were designed to help them see a situation more fully. I might even tell them how I was seeing the same situation. But then I’d remind them that this decision or project or personnel issue was theirs. I would support them in their decision. Often they made a decision with which I disagreed! But I could do that because I didn’t feel so frightened anymore.
In my coaching class I felt frightened. How about if I’m not good enough? I don’t want to mess up in front of anyone. I am so afraid of being seen as imperfect. After that first painful feedback, I kept reading everything I could on coaching but I also went back and reread some of the work by Brene Brown, particularly her book, Daring Greatly. In it she talks about if we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect, we will waste time and turn our back on opportunities to use our unique gifts. We must have the courage to show up and let ourselves be seen.
I learned so much in that class – not only about coaching but also about myself. I passed the class and I have my ICF accreditation. When I received it, I sent a note to the class instructors, expecting warm congratulations. Neither of them answered me. They were on to the next class. After all, they are running a business. Ah, yes, I remember it well.
“Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent.”