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When your coaching client gives back in spades

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We’re 17 days into the new year and I’ve had more things go wrong in this short time than I care to speak about, in case I fall into the trap of thinking like a victim.

I travelled into the city the other day to meet a client: She’s in a senior leadership role in her organisation and I provide her with executive coaching. I travelled in a friend’s car because my car’s brakes died at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon some weeks ago, in a community a long way away from home. I made it to the dealership OK, and they kindly inspected the problem and declared the car unsafe to drive. So, I borrowed a car.

Other parts of the back story include the airline failing to load my luggage in Vancouver. The next day the courier couldn’t deliver my missing suitcase because the driveway was iced over. Then there are the never-ending renovations of my old farm house I bought a few months ago. I’ve been living out of boxes for months and can no longer find most things that I’m looking for. And then the ISP service that was out when I got home from my Christmas trip.

I ended up exhausting my data package on my cellphone.

All the while business is booming. I migrate from my house to the library, to Tim Horton’s to wherever I can find WiFi, to respond to opportunities online and via phone, nervous about using public WiFi to check emails that may contain confidential information. I can feel the little grey cells in my head losing their grip.

Midway through my coaching session I forgot my client’s name.

And then I realised something: I was working harder than usual to practice active listening, to a degree that I stressed those little grey cells and at the crucial moment they failed me. I apologised; she laughed. And then I noticed something that had been there, right in front of me, all the time: she was calm.

She is always graceful and dignified, but now, as she updated me on things we’ve spoken about before, I realised that something has shifted for her. She was confident and in control of her narrative and of her plans. Her telling was both personal and also from a broader perspective. I told her how her changed demeanor struck me. As if she’d had a breakthrough without fully realising it.

As I described to her what I observed, and as she received the feedback, I felt my mind also slow down to a calmer pace.

I finally started feeling comfortable again in my coaching role. I told her that she had helped me over my own hurdle of stress and feeling out of control of all that had gone wrong – the frenzy I’d been in to solve all the problems as they came flying at me the whole (very short) year.

Her response was distinctly coach-like. I felt the better for it. I regained perspective. I felt balance return.

I described to her what my normal practice is in preparing for a coaching session – to be centred, mindful, empathic, and how I’d not done that. I’d rushed. My mind had been on other things en route to our appointment.

I left that meeting with a sense that I HAD after all been of service to her during that hour. She had clarified her thinking around some options; knew what she wanted to do next; and had celebrated the discovery about regaining calmness and balance. I left the meeting with deeper insight into my own nature: how rabid I can get when I’m confronted by unexpected challenges –

‘I’ll fix this; I can overcome; I always do; I’m super-fixer.’

No, I’m not. And so what fun it was to phone another friend and to say,

‘I’m so pleased I have friends who are problem solvers because I need your help.’

It’s a lesson to relearn and remember: reaching out and asking for help isn’t weakness. It’s a testament to the essence of being human: we can’t go it alone. We need to be part of the give and take of community. Know when to offer help; know when to ask for it.

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