A while back, I was interviewed by Chris Delaney, and I just came across the text, so I thought I'd share it here, as I find some of my comments on coaching interesting, and I hope you will too.
For people who don’t know you, can you tell our readers a little about yourself and how you coach others?
What made you choose coaching as a profession?
I think it chose me, actually. I was delivering NLP training and through that, lots of people were asking me for 1:1 help with various personal and business issues. Towards the end of the 1990s, the coaching market became established, and what I was doing became known as coaching.
When you started out as a coach, did you believe that you would come this far?
I didn't have a goal or destination in mind, actually, I just wanted to do something that I enjoyed for as long as I enjoyed it. 20 years on and I'm still enjoying it.
What is your greatest success with a client?
That depends on what you value as a measurement. Either 700% increase in profitability for a Business Unit Director, or the CEO of a conference business who recently told me that the coaching session I had with him 10 years ago changed his life and continues to make new opportunities possible for him, such as giving a great speech at his own wedding! Personally, I value the latter example, and in fact the original coaching session is used as an example in my book The NLP Practitioner Manual.
How many sessions do clients particularly attend for?
That depends on the client's needs, but my aim from the start is to make myself redundant because the last thing I want is for clients to depend on me; I get bored. I find that for a leader to make a step change in their thinking, behaviour and performance, 6 months is about right, with maybe 4 to 6 sessions over that time.
Do you always meet clients in the office or do you ever deliver sessions out in the open?
Actually I prefer busy public places. Lots of coaches complain to me that they find their work very tiring, and the reason for that, I believe, is that in a private room, the coach is having to supply all the energy. In a busy, happy, public space, there's so much positive energy to feed off that it makes the session so much easier. I learned this many years ago by accident when I had planned to do a coaching session with a client who was terrified of public speaking in a cosy, plush, deserted hotel bar. When we arrived, the bar was closed and we were sent to the leisure club where the ladies' aqua-aerobics session had just finished. The buzz and energy in the bar definitely made the session easier.
As well as coaching do you use NLP or Hypnotherapy to support your clients?
As a coach, I don't think you can help but use all of your skills and experiences, so yes, definitely. I would say that I don't use either of those tool kits overtly, though, so I don't 'do' NLP or hypnosis, but I do weave their principles into the conversation. For example, I might say to a client, “So, by the time you walk out of that door in an hour's time, how do you want to feel differently about that?” In the cold light of this web page, it's loaded with Milton language and even a linguistic timeline, but in a natural conversation, it just gets the client to think about what they want as an outcome for the session. I do conversational swishes, timelines, squashes, all sorts. I've actually pioneered a number of unique adaptations of NLP techniques which I know are used by many other coaches and trainers, such as doing a swish with a flipchart.
What do you do to keep up with the latest trends in coaching?
I don't. Trends are only there for someone to sell something. I only judge myself by my results as measured by my clients. I do keep up with advances in other technologies though, such as neurology, psychology, various aspects of human behaviour and so on. I think that's much more valuable. As much as I struggle to read academic research, it's much more valuable than the 'latest trends'.
Do you attend any regular training?
I look for interesting events to go to. I don't think it's necessarily useful to keep going to coach training, I have found that coaches who do that do it for one of two reasons; either they need the CPD points, or they believe that they don't yet know enough to be a good coach. I prefer to go to lectures, business talks and so on, anything to expand the mind. Your local university will have lots of different free events that you can go to.
Who in the coaching sector do you look up to?
I don't know anyone in the coaching sector these days. I used to go to lots of networking events and practice groups but I found them to be mostly populated by wannabe coaches looking for clients. I realised that successful coaches don't go to such events, they're too busy with clients! I'm also sorry to say that the people who become well known in a particular field, if they're commercially driven, have to keep reinventing their ideas so that they can keep making money. Even academic figures are often driven by a need to be published in order to keep the research grants flowing and their centres open. I suppose I've never really been one for heroes. Of anyone, I look up to my father the most, but he's not a coach as far as he knows!
Why do you believe coaching is important to people from all walks of life?
I don't believe it's important. I believe that access to education is important, for people who want it, and coaching is just one form of education.
What is the main benefit from a coaching session?
That the client gets something important for them that they had believed to be just out of reach.
Do clients come for one off session or do you meet them on a regular basis?
It depends on what they want. If it's a problem fix, I'll do that in one session. For example, fear of public speaking is a common one, and I'd expect to have that sorted in about an hour or so at most. If it takes longer, the client starts to question too much and begins to believe that their problem must be really serious. So I treat the client with total respect, and their 'problem' with total disrespect.
For someone potentially looking for a coach, what questions should they ask before booking a session?
Treat it like any service; a plumber, gardener or whatever. Trust your gut reaction and ask for testimonials, but bear in mind that no coach is going to refer to a client who hated them! An acid test is to ask for a money back guarantee. If the coach says no, they can't have a lot of faith in their skills.
Do you have a coach yourself? How does your coach help you?
Not formally, but I know where to go to talk things through.
Has having a coach changed your life?
I guess so, yes, though accidentally. My partner is good at giving me feedback which helps me to rethink what I'm doing and why. We shouldn't think of coaches in only a one dimensional way, but instead think of the role that they play in our lives.
What area of expertise do you specialise in?
The more interesting area for me is modelling high performers. I've written a book about it, Genius at Work, which contains my full modelling methodology. In NLP terms, it's the basis of how you create custom techniques, so whatever the client raises, I model and create a custom intervention for it. When you model lots of people, you start to see patterns of excellence which make it so much easier to coach future clients. Having said that, for the past few years I've been running corporate talent and leadership programs, so I've been coaching groups of future leaders, and the theme that has emerged from that is that the skills and behaviours that got them to a certain point in their careers are precisely what is stopping them from moving further. So my current specialism is getting people beyond the limits of their own familiarity. To do that, I've developed my skills with NLP's Meta Model, enabling me to figure out what's really going on, even when they don't tell me.
How do your friends react when they find out your a life coach?
I'm not a life coach. I'm just a friend. One of the worst things that coaches do is to fail to turn off the coach at 5 o'clock.
Has being a coach benefited you personally? How?
It's given me a varied and interesting career.
You recently released a book, can you tell me a little bit about it
Genius at Work is a methodology for modelling high performance. The book takes you right through all the basic principles and the most up to date research in brain function, so for example it finally explains how learning and 'anchoring' work without the mumbo-jumbo explanations of many NLP and coaching books. By following the book, you'll be able to identify high performers, extract the essence of their talents and turn the model into a template for pretty much anything. I used it to create a custom coaching program for a well known engineering company, a graduate program for a high street retailer, a development program for an industry regulator and so on. And of course, I use it almost every day to learn really useful and interesting tricks from people who I meet. One of the problems that I see most often in corporate training is the use of 'rituals' and 'incantations'. A ritual is a sequence of actions which is designed to bring about a certain result, a common example being the sales manager who believes that if his team just did what he does, they would be as fantastic as he is. An incantation is a script, a magic spell which is sure to get a certain result, so if a store assistant asks you, in a dreary, deadpan voice tone, “Can I interest you in one of our fantastic special offers today?” you're supposed to fall over yourself to part with your hard earned cash. The high performing sales people who were observed to create these scripts didn't actually say those words, they adapted their interaction for each customer. They didn't have a script, but they did have an underlying, consistent way of thinking about their behaviour and results, and that's what you can get at using Genius at Work, so you end up with people who say something slightly different to each customer but usually get the same, positive result. The script is easier for corporates to teach – or at least they think it is – but it's really counter-productive. When we model high performers, we find the same common traits coming up, every time, in every walk of life or skill set. They under-rate their own skills, they make it look easy and they can't explain how they do it. The Genius at Work approach enables you to get underneath that and unlock the real secrets of their success.
Do you coach people in groups or just on a one to one basis?
Both I suppose. 1:1 work looks more like coaching, but when I'm training a group and one person raises a personal issue, I use it to coach the whole group because I know they'll all identify with it in some way. For example, on a presentation skills course, I'll talk to someone who is anxious about the nature of worry, which is actually just an application of our goal setting ability. Of course, everyone worries at some point, so by changing one person's understanding of worry, the whole group benefits without having to step into the spot light and talk about their own experiences.
What is your life mantra?
Life's too short to have mantras.
Do you have a vision board?
I don't even know what one is. I imagine it's a big board on the wall with all my hopes and aspirations on it. I've seen other people use them, and to me, they're just a big advert for stuff they haven't actually done. They would cleverly add the word, “yet!”, but actually it just seems to be a big excuse for not doing some impressive sounding stuff. What a waste of time! Just get on with your life. Take real action, don't live in your dreams.
Why is goal setting so important?
Oddly enough, I don't think it is. What I mean is that we are goal directed animals, we can't not set goals. So I don't think it's as important to set goals in the sense that coaches are probably familiar with, I think it's more important to be aware of the goals that you already have for yourself and which drive you every day. Only when you're honest about what those are can you modify them to get different results.
What is the difference between negative and positive goal setting?
I don't think there is a difference. We're analogue creatures, so we can't directly think in terms of negatives, so a negative goal such as, “I don't want to still be in this job in a year's time”, translates into, “I want to be in this job a year from now, still feeling miserable about it”, because that's the image that you might make in your mind when you verbalise that goal. So a goal can by definition only be something you move towards. You might be motivated away from failure, for example, but that tells you nothing about what direction to move in, so you're likely to go from the frying pan to the fire, as they say. You really want to be in the living room watching your favourite TV show, so there's no need to think of getting out of the frying pan, that's just the triggering event, it's not a goal.
What goals have you set for yourself? Did you achieve them?
I have goals such as having so many clients, running so many corporate projects at a time and so on. I promise myself a little reward when I get there, so for example if I win a corporate project I might promise myself a camera accessory. I find that those sorts of goals become reality quite easily.
Does coaching work for everyone?
Yes, but not everyone knows that they're being coached!
Where do you see yourself in the nest 3-4 years?
I've been asked this question since my first job interview nearly 30 years ago, and I still can't come up with a better answer than, “enjoying myself, somewhere”.