Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Special Report / How would you describe what it’s like to be a leadership coach?

How would you describe what it’s like to be a leadership coach?

John Engels

John Engels

Numerous times every year, I’m asked what it’s like to be a leadership coach.

The questions come from leaders of all stripes, but also from those considering leadership coaching as a career.

With so many people asking, I decided it was time to devote an entire column to that subject for all to consider.

I am tempted to say it’s a tough job being a leadership coach—lots of airports, lots of listening, lots of weighty conversations— but it has its lighter moments.

My clients carry heavy loads of responsibility. Our sessions can be deep and serious. Even so, it’s not unusual for them to evoke my laughter. Sometimes their humor is intentional, but they’re actually most hilarious when they’re being serious, which is most of the time.

For example, a CEO who runs a chain of dry cleaning businesses told me his wife refers to the business as his mistress. I found that pretty funny, so I asked him what it was like to hear a comparison like that. With surprising nonchalance, he said, “Distraction is what makes our marriage work. Plus, I clean all the bedspreads.”

I didn’t probe any further.

Occasionally, leaders earnestly utter sentences that make no sense, and we both have a laugh:

“A rolling stone is better than two in a bush, you get me?”

“One thing I can’t stand is a liar, a cheater and a thief.”

“Stop pulling on me for every little thing. What do I look like, a slot machine?”

Privileged work

Setting aside the humor, it’s an inexplicable privilege to coach the bright, caring people who lead the firms and organizations that my colleagues and I serve.

For the most part, those leaders are open-minded, hungry to grow, and humble enough to realize they don’t have all the answers. The best among them know how to ask for help.

I have come to realize that coaching leaders is really not about coaching and not about leadership per se. It’s bigger than that.

Leadership coaching is really about accompanying motivated individuals as they seek to manage the challenges of life with poise and wisdom.

Rather than coaching others from a position of superior knowledge, my job is to help high-level leaders reclaim their humanity. What does that mean?

It means inviting them to drop their pretenses, accept themselves for being “merely human,” and take responsibility for their part in any problem.

It means challenging superficial assumptions that weaken leadership.

It means asking them penetrating questions that no one else will ask, such as:

“What have been the defining moments in your life?”

“Can you give me a recent example of when you avoided courage?”

“Which relationships, both personal and work-related, are in need of repair or attention?

“In the world of your important relationships, what scares you the most?”

You might be thinking, “Why would leaders put themselves through that kind of intense coaching?”

Here are some reasons, taken directly from our client testimonials:

“I’m just a lot less anxious than I was two years ago.”

“It’s freeing to focus on my part of the problem.”

“I thought leadership was about teaching my direct reports and letting them know I’ll always be there for them. I found out it’s more about managing my own anxiety, and helping others become confident decision-makers.”

“This past year, I discovered how to truly connect with people instead of always thinking about impressing them and getting their approval.”

People outside this profession sometimes assume leadership coaches are either hucksters or geniuses. I’m a business owner myself, I get it. But neither assumption is on the mark. Just like my clients, I’m a person who’s trying to do the best I can, managing the challenges in my own life, and committed to equal, open, honest relationships with my family, friends, team and clients.

I don’t make promises to change people.

I don’t tell people what they need.

And I don’t judge people because of their mistakes.

For me, the toughest part of coaching leaders is striking a balance between trusting myself and doubting myself.  While I seek to trust my years of learning and my own best judgment, I also want to be aware of my limitations, including how much I don’t know.

Self-awareness

I have discovered that it’s not possible for me to lead someone to a place where I’ve never been. I have no doubt that knowing oneself is the key qualification for coaching others.

The responsibility to become more self-aware includes a willingness to do the hard work of managing my own reactivity, and defining what I want, need, will do and won’t do. That hard work includes learning my own lessons in life, such as the value of adversity or the unfavorable consequences of my biases. My own struggles—and the bumps and bruises that come with them—improve my ability to help my clients.

In the end, the role of the leadership coach is to stimulate positive change.

For me, it’s the opportunity to “influence influencers,” to be a part of someone’s life at a critical juncture, to contribute to another’s progress in a marriage or in a workplace, or to turn the head of a leader by speaking the unspeakable – these are the moments that bring meaning and satisfaction.

John Engels is an international leadership thought leader, speaker and writer. He is president of Leadership Coaching Inc., a science-based consulting firm serving top-level leaders and partners in family businesses and professional firms. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  1. John, thank you for working to bring this help to all who need it. I am very grateful for the experience.

x

Check Also

Peter Pullano’s 3 R’s (reading, writing, and arguing) led him to a successful career in law (access required)

If he hadn’t become a lawyer, Peter J. Pullano says he could just as easily have wound up as a ...

Is your strategic plan both strategic and a plan? (access required)

There is a lot of discussion about strategic planning in not-for-profit circles lately. Evidently, moving through a global pandemic and ...

M&T Bank, Key Bank release 2021 ESG reports (access required)

The region’s two largest banks recently released their annual Environmental, Social and Governance reports from 2021, and both included substantial ...

What’s so great about the 2022 Great Places to Work? (access required)

It’s my favorite time of year: Great Place to Work just announced the 25th Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work ...

Loyalty programs – what you should know about compliance with the CPPA (access required)

From the straightforward “buy 9 smoothies, get 1 free,” to sophisticated frequent flyer programs, loyalty programs are a staple in ...

Are cover letters really necessary? Hiring professionals have differing opinions (access required)

“I’m a hiring manager at a local company looking to fill several positions. I’ve noticed that about two-thirds of our ...

Investment acumen or inside information? (access required)

If you had known, in early 2020, that you might be working from home during a multi-year, global pandemic, would ...

Opining on Dick Vitale’s courage, more Bills nicknames, stadium names

By the time he finished delivering a motivational speech that would have made Knute Rockne proud, Dick Vitale looked like ...

The importance of female mentorship, leadership, and innovation in banking (access required)

In my 10 years at Tompkins and 35 cumulative years in the banking field, I’ve witnessed the industry undergo several ...

How not to set policy to reduce the price of gasoline (access required)

High gas prices in the U.S. cause a lot of pain for Americans every time they take their vehicles to ...

Highland Hospital Gala (access required)

This year’s casino-themed Highland Hospital Gala raised its second highest amount ever, with more than $650,000 gross net income thanks ...

Inflation: How did we get here and what can be done about it? (access required)

If you’re in your 50s - o.k. early 50s - you probably remember a time when a gallon of gas ...

Reflections on pediatrics, the pandemic, and the Golden Circle (access required)

Imagine this: Your business has been open for only five months and is doing really well. Revenue is higher than ...

Will 2022 be the year of the vacation home? (access required)

With some COVID-19 restrictions relaxing and others already lifted, the smell of tourism is in the air. Demand for leisure ...

Transition services valuable for aging population (access required)

What do you need to stay safe in your family home, even if your home is getting to be too ...

Elder transition planning: Family mediation for older adults & their loved ones (access required)

The journey of aging is rarely a smooth one. As older adults and their families face emotional, financial and health ...

Senior living communities consider how to be more diverse, inclusive, accessible (access required)

The nation’s senior population is the largest and most diverse in history, according to the most recent census data from ...

Why is inflation so scary for my retirement plan? (access required)

Over the past decade, investors experienced a best-case scenario of relatively low inflation and strong investment returns from both stocks ...

A thoroughbred racehorse whose impact was not lost on us

It seemed like a good deal at the time – a rattletrap Ford van with more than 100,000 miles on ...

Ensuring your financial plan can withstand negative conditions  (access required)

Financial plans differ based on individuals’ incomes, future goals, age and tolerance for risk, but often unconsidered in those plans ...

Boomerang employees: tips on how to welcome team members home (access required)

Every manager at every level has experienced it — that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when one ...

Spring cleaning: Considering program sustainability (access required)

There has never been a better time to consider the sustainability of your program activities and take action to address ...

Financial advisors can guide through tough times (access required)

With the country facing rising inflation and interest rates, as well as the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and the war in ...

Are you discriminating against employees with caregiving responsibilities? (access required)

As the world enters year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued a warning ...

Rochester accelerates its pace to become top tech hub in America (access required)

Rochester is on its way to becoming a national hub for technology innovation. Experts predict that it has the highest ...

A simple game for investors: How would you play? (access required)

Some years ago, financial author and advisor, Bill Schultheis, devised a simple game to illustrate the difficulty faced by investors ...

You need to improve your technology, but where do you start? (access required)

Technology is advancing at warp speed and certainly some innovations could benefit you and your company, but it’s easy to ...

Innovation advancements on display as Rochester continues to grow its technology ecosystem (access required)

From LIDROTEC, a company with patent-pending wafer dicing laser machines for the semiconductor industry to Stratio, which provides artificial intelligence ...

Milo the Dog has had a golden impact on Red Wings baseball, community

They had trained together five days a week for nearly six months in the backyard solitude of Josh Snyder’s rural ...

M&A middle-market activity: What businesses need to know (access required)

 Understanding the ins and outs, trends and activities going on in M&A markets can help businesses make informed decisions including ...

5 things to consider before deciding to work for yourself (access required)

When people ask me what I do, now that I’m out of television, I simply say, “I have my own ...

M&A lawyers keep busy despite pandemic barriers (access required)

2021 was a record-breaking year globally and nationally for mergers (combining two separate businesses into one new legal entity) and ...

Ending violent crime requires building trust between police, community (access required)

Rochester has recently been the recipient of many state, federal and private investments that create a true path for transformational ...

Former UR assistant Jay Wright continues working his hoops magic

Mike Neer likes to joke that he doesn’t get enough credit for helping Jay Wright become the best-dressed coach in ...

Four ways to prepare your business for the future of digital payments (access required)

Digital transformation continues to sweep the country — especially as more companies and their customers embrace digital payment technologies.Here are ...

Managing Our Manufacturing Plants in 2022 (access required)

There have been dramatic shifts in both the needs and the realities of manufacturing the United States over the past ...

“Rounding Errors” Can Add Up Quickly (access required)

It’s time to talk about time. For many employees, their lunch break is a time when they can step away ...

Just In Time production method becoming obsolete with supply chain issues (access required)

Just In Time (JIT) is a production method pioneered in the 1930s by Toyota Motor Corporation as a means to ...

Rochester firms embrace 3D printing for multiple purposes (access required)

Firms are using 3D printing to create unique tools, parts and other objects right here in Rochester, allowing for new ...

From mentee to mentor: the benefits mentorship provides for women in business (access required)

March marks Women’s History Month. It is a time to honor the strong, brave women who have broken down barriers, ...

Working across the ages: multigenerational teams offer multiple benefits (access required)

Quick: How long is the average career? If you guessed 40 years, you would’ve been right a few years ago. ...

Energy, dedication drive entrepreneurs at any age (access required)

Younger women who grew up with technology and worked in the gig economy may be more comfortable with the pace ...

Opining on Brandon Beane, SU hoops, a poor investment, baseball’s return

If you pressed me to rank the most indispensable Buffalo Bills of this glorious era, I’d go with quarterback Josh ...

Topics that don’t focus on COVID-19 for nonprofit leaders (access required)

For obvious reasons, COVID-19-19 and the many elements of disruption it has caused continue to dominate conversation at organizations of ...

March worldwide water, climate events are close to home (access required)

March marks two worldwide awareness events for the environment: World Water Day and Earth Hour. In Rochester, New York, these ...

Revisiting Art Schlichter’s sad tale of gambling addiction

Monday’s seismic news that Atlanta Falcons star receiver Calvin Ridley had been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on ...

Mentoring is an art passed from one generation to the next (access required)

Ahhh, what to say about the important art of mentoring? It is certainly an art and, in preparation for this ...

Protect intellectual property from the start (access required)

When it comes to intellectual property (IP), the old English idiom “penny wise and pound foolish” never goes out of ...

A loving team helped Chris Lillis ascend to Winter Olympic gold

Bernie Lillis points with pride to a framed photograph on the mantelpiece above the fireplace of his Fairport home. There ...

Three takeaways from Super Bowl ads to apply to marketing (access required)

Super Bowl ads deliver on a few recurring themes every year, and this year was no different. Whether it’s nostalgia ...

I Bonds: A rare bright spot for the income investor (access required)

Investors have a natural affinity for income-producing investments. A steady stream of investment income is comforting even if it is ...

What AG report on ‘credential stuffing’ hacks mean for your business (access required)

In January, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report summarizing the findings of a broad investigation into so-called ...

Data privacy and security concerns with rise of online betting, gaming (access required)

As of January 8, 2022, New York State joined the ranks of more than a dozen states that have legalized ...

Potential headwinds are coming — what this means for your business (access required)

An abundance of liquidity and market exuberance in the world’s recovery from COVID-19 have made this a promising time for ...

Rochester’s Roland Williams hoping his Rams do it again

Eric Weddle is one of those feel-good stories that Rochester tight-end-turned-broadcaster Roland Williams has followed closely in recent weeks. Late ...

Camp Good Days hosts annual golf tourney   (access required)

Camp Good Days’ 39th Annual Tournament of Love will be held on Monday, May 23rd at Monroe Golf Club in ...

Preservation League hopes to save woodlands near Genesee Valley Park (access required)

Concerned that the University of Rochester is planning to clear up to an acre and a half of wooded land ...

Monro selling wholesale tire distribution business (access required)

Monro, Inc. has sold its wholesale tire distribution assets, which operate as Tires Now, for $105 million in cash to ...