When I first came up with the idea of writing this blog, I wanted it to be about what coaching has taught me over the years. I thought it would be super easy and helpful to showcase it in a blog post for people to read. Yet when I sat down to write it, it proved MUCH more difficult than I thought. Yes, coaching HAS taught me many many things, but herein lies the problem — the learnings have been so vast and so varied (from simple changes in perspective to more profound “aha” moments that have fundamentally changed my outlook and behaviour) that it would be impossible to put it all into this one post. So instead, I’ve decided to hone in on what made me become a coach and the impact that coaching (both as a coach and coachee) has had on me.
First of all, I think it’s important to define what coaching is (and also what it isn’t). There are lots of versions out there, so it’s important to be clear on what I mean by coaching and our definition here at Unleashed. Simply put:
coaching brings about lasting, positive transformation, by helping individuals explore their values, beliefs and fears, in order to unlock potential.
Coaching isn’t about a coach spoonfeeding you answers or sharing their own views or experience. Instead, a coach uses thoughtful and expert questioning to challenge, empower and bring about clarity. If you prefer an analogy, then think of it like learning to ride a bike. A coach won’t teach you how to ride a bike, nor will they tell you about their own experience of riding it themselves. Instead, they’ll ask you to hop on the bike and ride it yourself. Then they’ll walk along beside you with their hand on your back to support you and challenge you to face your fears along the way.
Most of us start coaching because we want a change of some sort. Whether it’s a desire to progress in our job, dreaming of a new career or yearning for a personal transformation, coaching can act as the catalyst to make it happen.
In my case, I knew that I needed a fundamental change in my life back in 2016. I had got engaged and started a new job, all within two short weeks. To the outside world, I was happy and successful, but deep down I was completely overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, getting engaged was a wonderful experience and we were very excited, but organising a wedding and starting a new job (plus buying a house during that time!) meant that I had a lot going on and was constantly anxious.
Being a people-pleaser meant that I worried about work and whether I was doing a good enough job. I couldn’t switch off in the evening and it began to impact my relationship with my now husband. Luckily, I had a wake-up call when we started to receive the RSVPs to our wedding. We had lots of friends from Australia and across the world, many of whom had young children and we’d just assumed wouldn’t be able to come to the wedding, yet the majority said they were coming. I remember feeling humbled and a little embarrassed that people would travel that far, all because of us. (Little did I know what 2020 had in store, and looking back at the last 15 months, I feel even more grateful that we were able to share our wedding with all of our friends and family.)
I realised then that something needed to change. I am generally a positive person, but the anxiety that came with my job was making me miserable. I knew categorically that I wasn’t going to allow myself to feel like this in the lead up to my wedding day.
I’d experienced coaching before and I’d always been interested in becoming a qualified coach. I enrolled onto the Coaches Training Institute coaching course and it was — without sounding dramatic — utterly life-changing. I remember unleashing floods of tears throughout one of the early modules — half tears of relief because I finally understood why I felt the way I did, but also tears of fear as I felt so far away from the person I wanted to be.
During my coaching training, we got to practice coaching each other, as well as being coached ourselves. Even early on, I discovered that coaching had the power to really delve deep into our beliefs, fears and perceptions because it’s these things that ultimately drive our behaviour. I remember one of my fellow trainee coaches doing a coaching session with me and asking me a simple but direct question “what would it feel like if you allowed yourself to do what you want, not what you feel you should do?”
As I write that question it still gives me goosebumps. That feeling of letting go and allowing the freedom and relief to flood my body, was what made me take the leap into becoming a certified coach and to witness so many of my wonderful clients transform their lives. Coaching really is a privilege; you get to see someone for who they truly are, to witness their courage, their vulnerability and their authenticity — often all in one coaching session. And it’s not just about the goals that they achieve through coaching, the beauty is also acknowledging that person in who they are becoming along the way.
Even after becoming a qualified coach, I’ve continued to have coaching myself (yes, even coaches need coaching — we need to practice what we preach!) There have been times when I’ve thought, “do I really need coaching right now? It’s a big investment, maybe I should wait until XYZ.” Then I take a minute to remember the impact coaching has and continues to have on me. It’s not just an investment for myself; it’s also for my family, my friends, my work and anyone in my life.
Fast forward to now. My husband has had to go back to Australia for two months after his mum sadly passed away in May. I knew that he was going to need me for emotional support, and at the same time I would be working and single-parenting. The first thing I did was call up my coach to book in some coaching sessions. In my latest session, my coach supported me, listened to me with no judgment, held me accountable in sticking to my boundaries (and not prioritising everyone else’s needs above my own), as well as challenging my thinking on a certain perspective I was holding on to. Whilst this is a difficult period for me, she’s also given me the task of making sure I still have joy in my life. Something that is SO important, but easily forgotten when so much is going on. I already feel that I’m being a better mum to my son, not over-promising things to clients (and therefore not feeling anxious), making time for myself and enjoying the buzz of the UK opening up after frankly what has been a bloody, long hard lockdown. I can’t wait to see what the next few sessions have in store.
So, the impact of coaching in a nutshell? Fascinating, joyful, scary, courageous, vulnerable, deeply fulfilling (insert adjective of your choice)… but ultimately coaching is the biggest gift you can ever give to yourself. I’m learning something new about myself each time — whether it’s my behaviour, my thought-processes, a belief that I have about myself or of others — and each time I grow from it.
I hold a belief that by 2030, coaching will become a standard employee benefit, like annual leave or pension contribution. Coaching shouldn’t just be available for those that can afford it — imagine if EVERY SINGLE person could experience coaching and the impact that could have on individuals, on teams, on organisations and on society? The world would inevitably be a more understanding, tolerant, kinder, self-aware, braver and inclusive place — and something that I, and Unleashed, definitely want to be a part of.
If you are a founder or leader thinking about giving yourself the gift of coaching, then why not reach out to Jo to learn more about Unleashed’s coaching service? You can also get more insights on all things Leadership, Culture + Startups from Unleashed, by signing up for our newsletter here.