Friday, September 21, 2007

If a life coach falls in the forest...should you hire him as a guide?

To return to the subject I promised (or threatened) to revisit this past Tuesday:

I can't give you an exact date, but sometime in the early fall of 2005, when SHAM had been on the market for just a few months, I was approached about doing some life coaching.

I will now give those of you who know me personally a few moments to stop laughing, catch your breath and compose yourselves, and then we'll move on....*

Ready yet?

A corporate honcho who'd read my book and was impressed by my recitation of everything the SHAMsters do wrong thought I might be the perfect person to come in and tell his Fortune 1000 company what to do right. He wanted me to work intensively, one-on-one, with senior-level management—taking the pulse of their personal goals, doing a full assessment of their professional responsibilities, helping them better see where the two intersected. He had also looked at my resume and noticed that I'd taught college. "That's essentially what I want here," he said. "I want you to be a mentor to my people. A guide."

When he made the offer, I too laughed under my breath for a moment. Then I told him (sincerely) that I was flattered, and politely declined.

It's not that I'm a person who believes that you necessarily have to have lived things in order to teach them. I think it depends on what we're talking about. In baseball (one of my favorite and oft-referenced realms, as blog regulars are aware), guys who had utterly forgettable careers as players sometimes make superlative managers: Tommy Lasorda, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa come to mind. Even the legendary Charlie Lau, who batted .255 for his career—that's not very good—went on to become perhaps the most storied batting coach in baseball history. He literally brought about a revolution in the way hitters thought about hitting. Such phenomena haven't gone unnoticed among baseball insiders; some actually theorize that the marginal player's understanding of the inherent futility of a sport in which even great hitters fail seven times out 10 enables him to be more accepting of the various skill levels around him, and thus better for team morale. This same theory would explain why the great Ted Williams was, by all accounts, a so-so manager: He did not suffer fools gladly, and couldn't relate to those who were unable to perform at his level. Which was basically everybody.

In any valid form of life coaching**, however, I'd think it would be important to be able to demonstrate that one has, indeed, "lived" the kinds of things one is teaching/preaching. If life coaching is about anything at all, it should be about figuring life out and navigating its trickiest waters successfully: making appropriate decisions and sacrifices (sacrifices must still be made, even in today's era of Empowerment); weighing the enticing vs. the practical; comprehending and exhibiting good judgment; exercising willpower. It strikes me as important to model that behavior. It strikes me as important to show the people you're mentoring that it's really possible to make sacrifices, to see the big picture, to set priorities and understand which ones are worth honoring and why. It strikes me as important to be able to show people that it's actually possible to live that way, not just talk about it. Because almost anybody can talk a good game. I'm sure that our former hot dog vendor, if he does his homework (and is a natural "schmoozer"), can sound every bit as plausible as the Harvard MBA. But it's sound (and maybe even fury) signifying nothing.

This is one reason why I have so many quibbles with folks like Dr. Laura, who have not themselves lived the kinds of straight-arrow lives that they want their disciples to live, yet who are oh-so sanctimonious in attacking anyone who missteps. I'm not talking so much about hypocrisy here as I am about reality. Or maybe achievability. If it's difficult-bordering-on-impossible for human beings to actually live the kinds of lives that so many gurus urge on us—if they haven't even been able to live that way, despite knowing what they supposedly know!—then where do they come off talking about it, for-profit, almost as if it's a push-button affair that reduces to "10 ways" or "9 steps" or "7 habits" or whatever?

And finally, speaking of affairs, I find it hilarious that the second oath under ICF's "Professional Conduct with Clients" reads as follows: "I will not become sexually involved with any of my clients." Out of 12 rules in that particular section of the overall Code of Ethics, that one appears second? Ahead of "I will not knowingly exploit any aspect of the coach-client relationship for my personal, professional or monetary advantage or benefit" and "I will respect the client's right to terminate coaching at any point during the process"?

Been having a bit of a problem in that area, have we, now?***

* "Train wreck" may be too melodramatic a term to describe my life in the overall, but suffice it to say that if there's a poor choice to be made, I've probably made it. At least twice. (I'm using "choice" in the commonly understood sense here.)
** which is to say, not the way most of it is perpetrated now.
*** See pp. 116-117 of SHAM for a short but worthwhile expansion on this theme.

12 comments:

Mary Anne said...

First let me say there is a difference between teaching and coaching. In MY experience, teaching is a talent like anything else. Now that I am back in school, I appreciate the good teachers I had in life. I find more bored and disinterested professors now than ever before teaching. The problem with "life or executive coaching" is how can anyone teach a person how to live his or her life? Each person is an individual with different needs and no "8 Drivers" or "7 Steps" or "5 Secrets" are going to work on each individual. It is ironic that for all this "individuality" life/executive coaches sproat, they actually want their students/clients to become homogeneous, but then again I'm just being "negative."

gregory said...

somebody who knows how to travel can be a good guide, he doesn't have to be a citizen of the place you think you are on the way to....

Steve Salerno said...

But can somebody take me to where he says he's been...if he doesn't even know the route himself?

Mary Anne said...

dnrrIt's funny you should mention the first rule of coaching is not to have sexual relations with a client. I was talking to someone the other day about a another corporate wonder who has decided "life coaching" is his calling. He's charging $3,000 per person for his "intensive and life changing weekend." The three grand did not pay for the hotel or air fare, just his great knowledge. I mentioned that I remember when three grand paid for the hotel room and the whole night. The point, that I am trying to make in my fashion, is I don't believe these "life coaches" are following that rule and actually use "coaching" to troll for women in a lot of cases. Since I only know male "life/executive coaches," I cannot speak for the female coaches.

Steve Salerno said...

MA, I got that impression particularly about the coaches who specifically bracket themselves as "dating coaches" or "romance coaches." They tend to be men--at least that was the case when I was looking into the phenomenon, while researching SHAM--and they tend to play to rooms full of not-quite-middle-aged women who have lost at love a few times and are feeling burnt-out and/or vulnerable and in need of "direction." Such women may be quite susceptible to the savoir-faire and overall charm that these dating coaches always have.

As I noted in SHAM, when these conditions produce one-on-one relationships between coach and coachee--and yet money is still changing hands--it's hard to view it as anything but a form of prostitution.

gregory said...

this post has given me the stimulus to develop a consideration that was in the back of my mind...

that for me there are two ways to think of one's life, as an infinite, open-ended process, or in a more linear way, as a goal directed quest for achievement, with a place to get to that is fixed...

in the first instance, a coach would not be wanted, it is all self-discovery, except perhaps as a guide for increasing openness to possibility and change and transformation...

in the second instance, perhaps a coach can speed up the process of getting to what i want, or what i think i am supposed to be...

for me, the latter is a setup for failure, for several reason; there is no "goal", individuals are so different one to the other that no cookie cutter system can function, no one can help anyone anyway, and external authorities will always be found wanting...

i don't much care about the issue of hypocrisy, because i have been around so many gurus and satsang givers and seminar leaders and teachers of one kind or another, and whenever a problem has arisen it is almost always the ignorance of the student or the seeker who gave away his or her own common sense for the hope of getting something for nothing, or for simply some money. it is like, "what did you expect?"...

that said, there are indeed some amazing gurus in this world whose function is to help you be more you, and who will not offer an easy way out, such as eternal dependence, or devotion, or donations. their job is kick your butt and disabuse you of every false idea of who you think you are, revealing a pearl that was always intuited, but never realized or actualized....

thanks for the food for thought, enjoy...

Anonymous said...

Good post, Steve. I can't wait for your "4 Hour Workweek" critique.

Steve Salerno said...

Glad you brought that up. It's still prominent on my to-do list, but I don't want to give it the sort of snarky, superficial treatment that others have, relying on second-hand sources (or mere "unsubstantiated" criticisms, like those that occupied much of the Ferriss page on Wikipedia, last time I looked).

When I free up the time to do it, I'm gonna "do it up right," as my jazz colleagues used to say.

Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, Steve, watch what you say about snarky and superficial treatments! :-)

Marjan said...

Questions. Questions. Questions. It seems that this is all a Coach gets: Questions.That’s why it is nice for Coaches to have well organized site with 600+ Resources for any board or corporate governance related question your clients might have.Executive Coaching . And what is your favorite Corporate Governance movie?

Mary Anne said...

I hope you were watching "The Simpsons" last night. Stephen Colbert did a great stint as Homer's "life coach." It was a classic with Colbert sitting without his pants eating a TV dinner, when Homer calls flying a jet. Colbert freely admits he does NOT know what he is doing.

Anonymous said...

I foolishly "worked with" a man from Charleston, SC who was a former heavy metal musician. He turned out to be a crazy "God Nazi" who was verbally and emotionally abusive. It turns out he was selling the Endeavor Academy version of A Course in Miracles or perhaps it should be renamed, "A Course In Madness."