Excerpted with permission from Coaching the Coach: Stories and Practical Tips for Transforming lives, by renowned author and life coach Georgia Shaffer. Want to read more? Click here to purchase!
Lisa Gomez Osborn
Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you
Matthew 18:20, CEV
I’ll never forget my first coaching session with Jennifer; it was a complete disaster. At least, that’s what it felt like at the time. Jennifer, a tall, blonde, twenty-four-year-old woman, came for coaching after I had been professionally coaching for about two years. Our first session was one of the most awkward ones I have ever experienced.
Jennifer’s personality emanated an unusual standoffishness, with almost a disdain for me. I found that perplexing and intimidating. Unfortunately, I began doing everything wrong. I tried to get her approval. I tried to get her to laugh. Nothing. Finally, out of ideas, I asked her why she had come to see me, which is what I should have asked her when she first sat down.
Unbelievably, she shrugged her shoulders, and said she didn’t really know.
Okay, I thought, this is going to be the longest hour of my life! Determined to do a good job, I sat up straighter, put on my best “attentive coach” countenance and asked her the question I always ask whenever I’m completely baffled: “Will you tell me a little about yourself.”
Normally, people are good at talking about themselves, but not Jennifer. She frowned. “There’s not really much to tell.”
Fortunately, she continued.
She told me she was a hair stylist, had flunked out of college, and now she was miserable.
At my request for more information, she said she had attended a private Catholic high school and had earned a full art scholarship to a private university. There, she explained, she was too anxious at being rebuffed by her professors to approach them when she began having academic problems and had, instead, opted to stop attending classes. Eventually she flunked her first-year courses, and her scholarship was retracted.
She then moved back home with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend, whom she said she detested. To make matters worse, she stated that she wanted to bring her mom in for our next session for relationship and communication coaching.
That revelation was a shock. I had been hoping that this session would be our first and last. Surprisingly, she made a second appointment.
“Oh, by the way,” I said as she was leaving, “here’s a book on setting boundaries in relationships that you might want to read before our next session.”
Our second appointment was nearly as bad as our first. Before I could even say hello, she pulled the book that I had given her out of her bag and tossed it onto my desk. “I read the whole thing in one evening and didn’t learn a thing!” she said.
Oh dear, I thought. I felt like an idiot and wondered if I was intellectually inferior because I hadn’t been able to read that book in one night.
But I put on my figurative coaching hat and we began. Since this session was with Jennifer and her mother, we spent our time discussing their relationship and what they each wanted to get out of coaching. It was not pretty.
After they left, I was exhausted, discouraged, and ready to refer them to someone else.
Before our next session, I discussed the case with my own Life Coach. Truthfully, I needed help and I wanted my coach to tell me what to do! Of course, she didn’t. Instead she suggested we pray.
While we were praying, God brought a fact to my mind. I had forgotten that Jennifer’s mom had told me that she was into the New Age movement and believed in a “higher power.” This case is spiritual warfare! I thought. This idea completely shifted my thought process about Jennifer and how to proceed with her, and it reminded me of the critical urgency of taking every client before the Lord!
Over the course of the next nine sessions, Jennifer slowly began to transform before my eyes. I referred her to a psychiatrist as well, and her mom returned for two more sessions.
The changes in Jennifer were a-maz-ing! During one critical session, she mentioned that her father had been wounded in the Vietnam War. That revelation set off a chain of questions, which eventually led to us realizing that Jennifer was eligible to go to any college in the state for free!
Jennifer and her mom’s relationship also underwent dramatic change. At the beginning of our coaching sessions, they had each stated that their relationship was poor and that they couldn’t talk without fighting. The mother felt that Jennifer was a slob and didn’t help at all around the house, and Jennifer felt that her mother favored the boyfriend over their mother-daughter relationship and never wanted to spend any time with her.
During one session they made a commitment to have a mother-daughter-only date two times a month. Because Jennifer received some much-needed attention and affirmation from her mother, she began to want to help around the house; she even organized her room, the laundry room, and the entire second floor, a subject that had previously been a serious source of contention between the two.
Jennifer’s interest in art also returned. She hadn’t drawn or painted since she had flunked out of college. After coaching, she enrolled in college, began selling her artwork, and started earning straight A’s! She was elated about her returning creativity. She had even quit smoking, gone back to eating a vegetarian diet, and lost twenty-five pounds.
Another huge change was that Jennifer became less anxious. Prior to coaching, she never left home without her prescription anti-anxiety medication, Xanax, because of daily panic attacks. “You’ll never guess what!” she told me during one session. “I haven’t had a Xanax in a month! And I haven’t even bothered to refill my prescription!” She smiled from ear to ear. “I never imagined I’d be able to do without it.”
In our last session, Jennifer described an “emergency” with a friend. She had tried to contact me for help, but when she was not able to get in touch with me, she realized that she could come up with her own solution. She remembered something from the book I had loaned her on setting healthy boundaries and established some boundaries on a friendship that had been very lopsided. In doing so, she gained incredible confidence.
As she told me this, I felt like a proud mama hen. I’m a much better coach because of having my own coach. I thought this particular client was going to be disastrous for me, and I was ready to give up. It’s very likely that I’d never have been able to have the objectivity crucial to a successful coaching relationship with Jennifer if I hadn’t had my own coach. I’m so thankful for her. Had I tried to figure out this difficult client on my own, I might have missed a golden opportunity to make a difference in her life. I would not have experienced the pervasively positive influence that can be transmitted through the coaching relationship, and I would have lost out on experiencing the vital guidance that prayer exerts in every coaching session and relationship.
Coaching the Coach Tip:
Don’t give away or give up on a difficult client too soon. Contact another coach for additional perspective. Above all, remember to take the situation to the Lord in prayer, preferably with that other coach.
I now look at difficult clients differently. Instead of seeing them as draining or as a burden, I see the relationship as an opportunity for them and me to grow. They are God’s hidden treasures. I just need to separate my emotions and thoughts from theirs.
Rather than thinking I’m not coaching well enough or I’m an idiot, I need to ask God to shift my perspective and show me how I can best benefit them.
Lisa Gomez Osborn is the president and founder of Paragraphs 22 Coaching & Consulting. Lisa has worked with others for over 15 years in areas such as overcoming personal and spiritual growth obstacles, leadership development, organizational development, Christian Life Coach training, personality profiling, communication, and conflict resolution. Lisa is passionate about Christian Coaching and helping other coaches build their businesses.LifeCoachLisaOsborn.com.
Georgia Shaffer, M.A., is a professional speaker, certified Life Coach and the author of four books including Coaching the Coach: Lessons from Christian Coaches. She is is a regular columnist for Christian Coaching Today and a board member of the International Christian Coaches Association (ICCA). Georgia is on the teaching team of AACC’s Professional Life Coaching Training. She specializes in coaching coaches, women and communicators To find out more, visit www.GeorgiaShaffer.com.