When Charlene left choir rehearsal each Thursday night, she would sign off with those two words. After the tenth time, I started to think, "why does she keep calling me coach?"
Charlene worked as a middle manager in the hospitality industry but she also loved to sing. She was one choir member I could always count on to sing with as much joy and excitement as she could muster. What Charlene didn't know was that I had begun contemplating a career change.
I started my music business unofficially at age eight. Fifteen years later, I was already considered "mid-career" by corporate standards. And I was getting the itch to do something different. So, at 22 years old, I incorporated my business with the purpose of "music facilitation." That was my fancy way to say, "I will continue performing and teaching music until I can figure out what I'm really called to do." Between 2004 and 2010, I sought God about my calling.
The first time Charlene cheerily signed off with her salutation, I looked wide-eyed at the church door where she was exiting the sanctuary. I remember thinking, "maybe I'm on the right track." Weeks before this encounter, I wrote a vision for the future of my business which called for significant changes in my life. Okay, I admit…it required a disruptive transformation for a career musician to switch tracks. But I felt that despite having an Ivy League degree and being a licensed minister, God had a call, destiny, and purpose for my life that was beyond my music background. So, I started testing out the skillset of a coach—even before knowing what it entailed.
Gifts and Personal Strengths Support the Call
Every coach has strengths that combine to create a superpower. For instance, I have been a good listener since childhood. Along the way, I learned how to ask probing questions that satisfied my inquisitive nature. These skills together have made for thousands of great coaching conversations, whether they were part of an official coaching session or not. Personal strengths are slightly different from my calling, but I have used them to pursue my call to coach.
My biggest obstacle was learning to steward my curiosity for my client's sake. Dr. Joseph Umidi, the founder of Lifeforming Leadership Coaching, refers to this type of personal restraint and redirection as "sitting on your hands." As a genuinely inquisitive person, I could ask probing questions all day. So, I continually remind myself, "Thomas, there is a fine line between curiosity for your sake and for the client." After years of practice, I can recognize whenever my toe is approaching the line.
In preparation for coaching conversations, I have also learned to suspend the need to be right and the tendency to give advice. By giving these things up, I can honor my clients as experts in their own problems. Only then can I ensure they are the heroes in their own stories.
Coaches are called to partner with clients for personal transformation. From my experience, this requires me to empty myself. I can do what is best for the client when loosely holding onto my beliefs. In Philippians 2:7, the apostle Paul explained that Jesus Christ set the example for emptying oneself. Jesus temporarily suspended his divine privileges, humbled himself, and led through his service to others.
Callings and credentials have different functions when it comes to coaching. When a coach is called, coaching flows from who they are. Training enhances what God has already called them to do. One's call to coach is on full display in a coaching conversation. It honors the creativity that God has placed within us. The credential helps coaches access market spaces—niches and organizations—that may need the coach's help. Credentials allow those in helping professions to demonstrate the necessary knowledge and skills to be accepted by wider society. A talented, trained, and called coach is usually an effective steward of transformation and growth.
Leveraging Pivotal Moments for Personal Transformation
My coaching centers on vision development for individuals with an inkling there's more to life than what they are currently doing. So there have been exponentially more coaching conversations than official coaching sessions. I partner with coachees to co-create a lightbulb or aha moment. In Pivoting: A Coach's Guide to Igniting Substantial Change, Ann Clancy and Jacqueline Binkert refer to these instances as pivotal moments when clients come to new realizations during coaching conversations. These epiphanies often come when I hold space for clients by asking challenging questions and allowing them adequate time to reflect. I make it a regular practice to do what Fierce Conversations author Susan Scott called "letting silence do the heavy lifting."
Other times pivotal moments happen after throwing out an idea for the client to evaluate. In these cases, I must be comfortable with them saying, "no, Thomas… that's not it." Some clients just need someone to debate with. When I give voice to one of 50 scenarios they are silently considering, it allows them to argue with themselves out loud. They will often respond non-verbally before saying, "Okay, here's what's happening" or "this is what is really going on."
Other times we engage in a 50-minute conversation that seems unrelated to their agenda. Then in the last few minutes of the conversation, they back into an action item or a much-needed insight. They would not have experienced this transformative moment if I had imposed a highly structured session. This is what coach trainer Lyn Eichmann calls "dancing in the moment with the client." This is pure coaching.
Bringing the Future into Focus
When I transitioned my business focus from music performance to consulting and coaching, I did it with one fundamental belief: Everyone has a breakthrough idea that can change their lives, families, organizations, career trajectories, and communities.
I specialize in early-stage vision development, long-term future thinking, and life and business transitions that produce lasting change and transformation. This type of coaching allows me to walk with new and veteran visionaries when few others would understand their idea. At this stage, the concept is unproven and not yet ready to be shared with many others. It's at the stage where friends, family members, and financial advisors warn against pursuing the idea. My calling often brings me into coaching relationships at this stage.
In The Making of a Leader, Dr. J. Robert Clinton alludes to the difference between corporate and Christian leadership development. Christian leaders undergo transformational periods and "obedience checks" where God prepares them for the next phase of ministry. My calling to coach has enabled me to walk with Christian leaders through such shifts as they engage God through prayer and revelation for their next moves.
Finding My Calling during a Wild Goose Chase
Coach trainer Doug Fike talks about "tree-to-tree experiences." In these phases of development, the Lord guides Christian leaders through tests of direction and obedience before unveiling the bigger picture of what He's doing in our lives. This describes my first few years of coaching. I used coaching skills in my church leadership positions to create high-performing music teams.
My calling to coach has taken many forms over the past two decades. I will depart from the highly esteemed Power of Three communication strategy to provide several examples of my calling to coach. I hope these examples inspire you to use your coaching skills in unprecedented ways. My calling to coach has driven me to:
Speak to the glint in someone's eye and draw them out based on a simple ray of hope.
Detect when a leader or manager is experiencing silent frustration due to an internal crisis. They are actively engaged in a daily battle between meaningful work they want to do and a dead-end job they were hired to perform.
Help those people to find a path forward or the next step to integrate their job with their work.
Engage with the Millennial who just clocked out of a dishwashing gig at P.F. Chang's. He senses there is more to life than what he is doing right now. Still, he hasn't decided to give into the entrepreneurial spirit bubbling on the inside.
The former college student whose parents are hounding him to return to college. He has a slightly different dream for his life and doesn't really know how to execute it.
My call to coach draws me to the would-be-entrepreneur who needs someone to believe in her idea while rejecting the notion that she is crazy for wanting to pursue her dream. It looks like the corporate manager who has the "itch" to launch out on her own and start a real estate business in another country. She needs to break down the giant leap into an action plan with immediate next steps. It resembles the co-founder and CEO whose business has grown, and he wants to make a fundamental change. This decision keeps him up at night because he doesn't know how to get his team members on board. He simply needs a sophisticated or high-quality sounding board to bounce ideas off.
It looks like the youth pastor whom God is calling to the nations. She needs a coach to partner with her to engage God through prayer and the coaching process to produce the revelation necessary to figure out exactly how to reach her destiny. The calling can emerge while chatting with a retiree struggling with addiction when God has purposed him to write a book. He needs a prayer partner to believe in him, help map out the process, and walk with him on the road to recovery. The call to coach has driven me to talk with these folks inside and outside official coaching sessions.
During these conversations, clients will often stop mid-session and say, "Thomas, that is a good question," before unpacking their thoughts. I grew up in southern Virginia in the 1980s and 90s, where close friends occasionally used the exclamation "good night!" to mean "that just blew my mind!" I haven't truly earned my keep until asking a question that defies any of my clients' preplanned responses. In other words, my highest aim in coaching is to guide my clients to the point where they want to say, "good night, coach!"
Thomas E. Anderson II, DSL, ODCP is a coach, consultant, workshop facilitator, and founder of Teaiiano Leadership Solutions. Thomas helps founding teams, leaders, and managers to navigate the multi-loop (…and often elusive) process of vision development and realization. He is a recurring presenter at Regent University's Annual Research Roundtables and has published academic articles on coaching. Thomas lives in central Maryland with his wife and two daughters.
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