Years ago my extended family got together for a reunion, and apparently all of my brothers and sisters had just seen the same episode of a popular TV show, with a signature line that stuck in their memories. So all weekend, whenever we were discussing a decision, planning an activity or just trying to choose which kind of cold cuts to set out for lunch, at some point one person would break us all up by dropping into a whiny, victim tone and delivering the show’s punch line: “But what about MY needs?”
A Client-Centered Focus and the Gospel
Coaching pushes us to focus time and attention on others, instead of on our own needs: to be client-centered. One of the key disciplines in coaching is letting the conversation be about others, instead of about me. In a classic self-focused conversation, I take 80 or 90% of the air time, out of my own need for approval, recognition, or acceptance. In a true, healthy friendship we share the conversation, so the airtime works out to about 50-50. Coaching pushes us even farther: in a client-centered coaching conversation, I give 80 or 90% of the airtime to you, so you can process or progress in the ways that are important to you.
Giving airtime to others is a discipline. One way to become more client-centered is to regularly practice decreasing your portion of the airtime in ordinary conversations. The opportunities are all around you. One great place to do this is with your kids. Another is with new people you meet. Focus on learning about who they are, what they do and what they want instead of talking about yourself. Or how about really listening to your co-workers, or the gal you run into twice a week at the gym, or one of your neighbors? Can I challenge you to pick one of these areas and make becoming client-centered an exercise for the next two weeks?
What makes you attractive as an ambassador for Christ is this overflow from your life (or we might say, from Christ’s life in you) to others. Jesus gave up his life for the sake of others, and we are learning to be like Him. That’s what Christianity is all about. One of the best evidences of a heart God has deeply shaped is that it has an abundance of what are truly the best things in life (love, attention, time, acceptance, honesty, believing in you, relationship) to give away to others, and it doesn’t grasp for anything in return. You might say that when we are giving freely, so absorbed in the joy of the gift that we aren’t even thinking about what we’ll get back, that we look most like Christ.
Need-Traps of a Coach
On the other hand, a life that is all about my needs doesn’t attract people to Christ—and it doesn’t make for very good coaching, either! Here are four common ways coaches can get trapped by their own needs, followed by coaching questions to help you move back into a client-centered posture.
1. Being Impressive
It’s easy to get trapped into trying to impress the person you are coaching. Sometimes this shows up as talking or interrupting too much, but often the sign that a coach is trying to be impressive is that you are working very hard to think up the perfect question that will produce transformation in the coachee. We show off when we don’t believe in ourselves or need affirmation or recognition.
Question: What one step could you take to build a pattern in your own life of deeper confidence in God as the one who leads your coaching and transforms lives?
2. Lacking Boldness
Another way coaching becomes about us is when we fail to honestly challenge people who need push-back from their coach. If you often find yourself thinking, ‘I wish I would have said that!’ after your coaching sessions, you may be in this trap. Or take a step back and look at your coaching relationships: if you have wonderful times together as buddies but rarely challenge the person to reach for more, change perspective or let go of something, your need to be liked may be dominating your coaching relationships.
Question: What one step could you take that would give God more access to this area of your life so He can transform you?
3. Getting the Clients WE Need
Sometimes we get so excited about our new coaching skills that we try to recruit everyone we meet. Working the fact that you are a coach into every conversation is just being needy—you need people to coach. Coaching people because you need clients is not service: that’s about you. And yes, we all need clients: we just don’t need to be needy about getting clients!
Question: What one practice could you institute in your life to build trust in God as your sole provider, instead of your elevator speech, your mailing list or your web site?
4. Get-First Focus
A common theme in life coaching is that you first need to provide for your own needs in order to have something to give. Coaching books urge you to “create a superabundance,” “learn to love yourself so you can love others,” or “set tight boundaries so you keep demanding people away and attract those who will meet your needs.” Unfortunately, this value is fundamentally at odds with the gospel. The problem is not being loved so you can love—that’s what Jesus already did for you (he models being client-centered). What doesn’t fit is the idea that you are the one responsible to meet your own needs first. Jesus wants to be your source of life alone, and wherever we have tied our heart to the world or to people as a source is to be put to death. “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.” If your goal is to extract your needs and desires from a person, thing or outcome in this world, that source of fulfillment has become an idol–a cheap substitute for relationship with God. If you are coaching because you want to work at home, invest in great people, be your own boss, or have the lifestyle you want, that’s about you meeting your own needs.
Question: What practical step can I take as a coach this month to lose my life so I can find it in a new way in Christ?
Tony Stoltzfus is an author, leadership coach and master coach trainer who has founded a coach training school for encounter coaching. More articles and materials from Tony are available at his on-line bookstore, www.coach22.com.