Getting to know you

I’m an individual that trades on the belief that all of us want to be better than the version of ourselves we are right now.

I want you to know that I’m not like the coaches you think you know. I’m not slim, pumped or chisel-jawed. I haven’t got life sorted out. I’m not itching to tell you my solutions. My teeth aren’t ‘Californian white’. I don’t go to the gym. I don’t wander around with a Bluetooth speaker jammed in my ear, or communicate with people via a ‘Madonna Mic‘.

I’m not your therapist. I’m not your counsellor. I hate buying smart shirts. I hate wearing two-piece suits even more.Thin leather shoes make me feel awkward. Corporate uniforms are a signal to conformity. Conformity is a sign that individual thought has been starved of vital oxygen.

What I am

In coaching terms that’s quite a lot of negatives. In coaching terms its important to say what one does, as is as opposed to what one isn’t. So …

All I am is a person who listens and asks questions. And I do that in order that you can develop your thinking.

I’m the best friend who does the thing your best friend won’t dare to do because they’re your best friend.

All we need is a little bit of space, time and challenge to make the biggest strides in our thinking. I provide all three. All you’ve got to do is turn up and engage.

An opportunity to mock

“So what do you do then?”

I get it a lot.

There’s an air of people not quite believing me. There’s a hint they want to hear something they can laugh at when I tell them. They’re looking for material to mock me with. It’s as though they want me to confess to some dubious childhood pastime still prevalent in my adult life, to admit that this is all smoke and mirrors and that I’m conning loads of people out of loads of money.

“I help people develop in their jobs,” I say to some.

“I deliver one-to-one training for people who are going places,” I say to others.

My present favourite is “I’m like having a meeting with your perfect line manager.”

(If you’re a coach reading that, that last one is my copyright – I’ve printed this blog post up and mailed it to myself. Just so we’re all clear.)

What’s so special about you?

There’s a phrase going around at the moment. “Anyone can call themselves a coach.” It’s true, they can. There’s no regulation. No formal membership like law or medicine. Anyone can.

The phrase is used by some to position themselves far away from the ‘charlatans’ (or ‘motivational speakers’ as friends of mine like to call them). Or even, in one real case I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing, as a rallying cry to other coaches in fear of missing out on paid work to encourage them to buy their way into yet another online directory.

How you describe yourself and how you style yourself is important to everyone it seems. Other people only seem able to make sense of labels or badges.

Personally, I’d rather they decided on whether they’d like to work with me based on the style of my thinking, the quality of my outlook, and the style of my communication.

But describe yourself as a ‘coach’ (as I often do) and the assumptions and perceptions nearly always unwittingly get in the way of any further communication.

That’s because of the connotations that surround the label. People assume that you’re someone who’ll help them with their diet or their gym regime. I’m neither. I don’t get especially get excited by raw veg or smoothies. I rarely set foot in a gym. I drink far too much wine. I rarely run (even though I have all the gear).

But just to confuse things even more for you, if what you want to achieve is a better diet, or a better gym regime, or drink less wine (why bother?), then I can help you with that a little.

I can help unpick why you want to achieve that, help you identify what’s stopping you from doing that already and what might stop you in the future, get you itemise the strategy you’d like to follow, and provide a level of accountability to make sure you deliver on that strategy.

All I’m saying is, I’m not going to tell you how to get a better diet or what your gym regime should be.

Confused? Don’t be. It’s a simple as this.

I’ll help identify the solutions you see as important … with anything. I just won’t tell you how to do it. Because that would be me being directive. I don’t do directive. Because those that have been directive with me, I’ve generally ignored. That strategy has paid off. I’m still alive. I’m also happy.

Coaching defined through the impact others have had on me

Here instead is the evidence for what coaching is, described through the people who coached me, the experiences I had being coached by them, and the impact they had on me. No second names, no pack drill, etc.

Kevin
Treated me like an adult at the point in my professional life when I still felt like a teenager; generous; demonstrated an interest (at any hour), and engagement with, no matter how ill-informed I might have felt; gave permission to pursue my wildest ideas; encouraged me to take responsibility for my own ideas.

Jane
Ordered. Disciplined. Brilliant listener. Methodical. Introvert.

The woman from Barclays Bank
Ordered; hungry; process-driven; textbook; helped me identify my obsession with BBC buildings; discovered through coaching that I wanted to train as a coach.

Fiona
Strong; defiant; witty; sharp; reassured me and gave me permission to be the coach I wanted to be.

Lisa
Cheeky; fun; conspiratorial; strong; helped reaffirm the importance of process in writing; an amazing woman.

Jess
Methodical; process-driven; curious; experimental; lover of cocktails; helped me discover the factors within my control that could improve my relationship with my often challenging line-manager; amazing spirit

Pat
Spirited; fun; experienced in a range of things; experimental; instinctive; there at the point in time when I was taxiing down the runway of my new life; daring; nudged me into looking at the world through an ever so slightly different prism.

Rachel
Quiet; focused; determined; helped me focus my attention on the qualities that make me highly-prized.

Jon Jacob is an ICF accredited leadership coach, mentor and team facilitator. Find out more about his professional background on LinkedIn.

Email him at jon.jacob@thoroughlygood.me or call him on 07768 864655.

Thoroughly Good Coaching: Starting a new story

Some who know me well will know that I work as a professional coach, supporting leaders, business start-ups, and managers identify solutions to their most taxing challenges.

For the first four years of my practise I had the benefit of a ready-made fully-functioning coaching network. The BBC sought to train new coaches and put them in touch with those across the organisation who sought out professional development support. What that meant was that I wasn't actively having to look for work. I got the best of both worlds: a steady stream of coaching work, plus the boon of getting to practise as a coach.

Last year I struck out on my own. I left the BBC and set up my own business (alongside a number of other activities like writing about classical music). People said things like, 'You're brave,' and 'I wish I had your guts'. In typically British style I found such compliments difficult to process and so I dismissed them. How uncharitable. How very un- coachy.

But a few months on with business underway, I'm beginning to realise what those people meant. Now their words resonate with me. I see this period in my life as an incredibly exciting (and, let's be honest, daunting). Now I want to start documenting the process of setting up my own coaching business.  

The Thoroughly Good Coaching Blog is about coaching, learning, and professional development seen through the eyes of a professional coach taking on his biggest challenge to date.

There are a number of positive coachy-style reasons for this. A list might help.

  • There could be a great many other people setting-up their own business who feel a little bit alone – a shared experience might just help support them
  • Self-reflection is an important part of the coaching process: a blog is one long self-reflection exercise
  • Good coaching practice starts with the experience of the coach – that's where a coach's motivation comes from.  Setting up a business is a challenge – sharing that experience could be useful for others doing a similar thing (though not necessarily setting up a coaching business).
  • Coaching services are a phenomenally difficult thing to sell – more so than classical music – raising awareness is an important step to take.
  • People know me primarily for classical music (and Eurovision), but not for coaching – raising awareness will also help with that
  • If people have an idea of the kind of person I am, they'll more likely seek me out for coaching work (I suspect they'll need to be avid readers)
  • Writing provides me with a sense of purpose. Developing my coaching network through writing helps fuel that sense of purpose

Expect a flawed individual throughout, one who values authenticity above shiny marketing. Where's the joy in being an expert at something? Far better we work at this thing together, isn't it? 

What to expect?

Well, expect it to be old-school for a start. I love keeping a diary – I always have.

I want to start at the beginning: why I do this; how I do this; and, what impact it has. 

But more than that, expect it to be authentic.

The kind of people I want to work with, are the kind of people I strike up a rapport with. They're curious. They like to have fun. They resist pomposity. They have quirks. They're the people who are protective of their vision because it doesn't immediately fit with the rest of the world considers is vision

Let me put it this way. You're not going to engage me in work if you're unsure whether you could get on with me, are you? And how can we get to know each other unless I'm in your office every single day? In which case, you're going to be paying me by the hour anyway?

A blog seems like a no-brainer. An easy on-demand way of getting to know me. 

Don't expect life hacks, promises to get rich quick, svelt bodies, or cheesy grins. Life is a struggle. If it wasn't, we wouldn't need coaches, counsellors or therapists. 

I'll level with you. Part of the reason for writing this blog is because I'm irritated as fuck by the preponderance of shiny coaches, grinning achievers, and smug advice-givers who purport to have life all sorted out. They don't represent me.

In my five years doing this work I recognise that all of the greatest people I've learned from are those who have made themselves vulnerable. By sharing something of themselves, I've grown as an individual. That is the secret to the effectiveness of the work I love doing. It is also the greatest barrier to getting people to engage in the coaching process.

Jon Jacob is an ICF accredited leadership coach, mentor and team facilitator. Find out more about his professional background on LinkedIn.

Email him at jon.jacob@thoroughlygood.me or call him on 07768 864655.

One day learning

We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the question itself.

On Saturday, I attended a day-long ‘coaching retreat’ – a day of self-driven learning intended to underpin my personal development and, in particular, help hone a personal vision for 2016.

The word ‘retreat’ conjurs up a dreamy kind of mental image, one rooted in a countryside location, with a large mansion house staffed by stern-looking people in white coats who insist on confiscating your mobile phone the moment you step inside. Once there, those in search of spiritual or emotional refreshment don hessian sacks or white fluffy bath robes and wander around meekly in silent self-reflection.

The coaching retreat was an entirely different matter. Five of us met in a white-walled room with a large double-glazed window at one end from which we had a view of the back of the National Theatre and a slow-moving crowd crossing Waterloo Bridge, out in support of junior doctors. There was a pile of fresh stationery neatly arranged in the centre of the table. I wore a maroon knitted top that I really should have left at home. Mobile phones were allowed.

The rest of the building consisted of dance studios, some occupied with young people at Saturday school dance lessons, linked by minimalist concrete lined corridors. Somewhere deep inside, a constant beat boomed out like a heartbeat.

This was the backdrop for our day of self-motivated learning.

Coaching Magic

There was one other component: the magic which occurs when a group of coaches congregate in a room. There is an energy created when like-minded people get together. The space that is created is supportive, non-judgmental and nurturing. It’s also both calming and energising at the same time. It is a space where you the individual can do as much or as little as you please. You journey through your thinking at your own pace promising only one thing to yourself: that throughout the time you’re in there you’ll be aware of your thoughts and feelings.

There is an analogy which might be helpful if you’ve never experienced coaching before. Imagine yourself as the protagonist in a film or book. Your character is an investigative journalist whose proven track record is built on following up stories that instinctively resonate with you. As a journalist you follow an unorthodox path, asking the questions you’re interested in, using quirky methods to get the answers. Sometimes those answers come from unexpected places. It is usually those unexpected answers which thrill you the most. When you come to write up your story, you realise that where you’ve ended up is entirely different from where you started. No one else understands how or why you do what you do and that’s part of the fun.

That is the magic of coaching, made possible in part by the space created by a listener and a thinker. Sometimes the listener asks the questions. Other times the listener lets the thinker uncover some unexpected thoughts. When you’ve all signed up for something on a Saturday, you know there are certain things like listening which are guaranteed. That’s part of the joy of such an experience.

I participated in a number of different group exercises which sought to reflect on achievements from 2015, highlight learnings from the year and identify what I wanted to build on in the coming year. We started with a simple question: what did we want to get out of the day. I said that I wanted a plan for a year which I reckoned be one of great change for me. It seemed like a lofty goal for the day when I said it out loud. How was I going to achieve that in just over 6 hours?

What do you need?

Identifying what you want is a basic coaching question, usually asked early on in the conversation. An inevitable question arises later on: what do you need in order to get it?

One specific question really had a powerful effect on me: if money was no object and you can have anyone (alive or dead) to be your mentor for this year, which three people would you choose? After that, were the questions: what was it about them that made you choose those individuals; what do you need from them; what skills and strengths do they have; and, what would they say to you for 2016?

I love hypothetical situations and opportunities that allow me to let my imagination run free. As instructed, I began answering the question by naming the three individuals. Answering the follow-up questions seemed, at first, quite difficult – What do you need from your mentor? What skills and strengths do they have? What advice would they give you for 2016?

When I got to the question about skills and strengths I realised what the exercise was actually revealing. As I looked over the answers I could see that the resulting list of answers was really a) a list of the characteristics I want to concentrate on in 2016, b) what I need in 2016, c) the skills and experience I think I’ll need in order to achieve my goals, and – this one is the powerful one for me –  c) the advice I’m giving myself for 2016.

I won’t name the names I picked out, but I’ll happily share the learnings (reframed from my perspective):

What sort of person do you want to be in 2016?

I want:

  • to be radical, uncompromising and effect change
  • to laugh
  • to know more people

What do I need?

  • Energy, fearlessness, drive, and determination
  • Talent and focus
  • A sense of humour

What skills and strengths do I need?

  • Connections, understanding and vision
  • The ability to collect useful stuff – information, objects, inspiration
  • Wit, humility and passion

What advice do you give yourself?

  • Make and keep in contact with the kind of people who inspire you, come up with ideas, be aware, keep in the moment
  • Find an advocate or, even better, a champion
  • Be humble, be prepared and happy to fail, don’t take things too seriously

It’s not the question, it’s the insights that matter

I don’t share these intending to show off or to make bold pronouncements. They are instead an illustration of the kind of unexpected things we end up discovering when we set out on a journey.

The purpose of that journey is to learn stuff. When we turn the key in the ignition, we assume we’re heading towards towards a pre-determined destination. An open mind acts on self-awareness, unwittingly steering us down a path we didn’t initially plan on following. We end up making unexpected insights – not more than what we originally intended, nor less. They’re just unexpected.

We didn’t ask ourselves the wrong question at the beginning of the process, it was just a starting point. The secret to learning is to remain committed to the process, to recognise that where we start will be entirely different to where we end up and to commit to acknolwedge what we discover along the way. All we have to do in between is to keep our eyes open.

I attended a 2016 Vision Day Coaching Retreat run by Lucy Hare and Sharon Baker. Lucy is a freelance double bass player who works with a number of London orchestras. Sharon is an artist.