Seven years ago, I received three coaching sessions. I went in cynical – but those sessions changed my life.
One of the changes I made was to become a coach myself. I took two years to get first a certificate then a diploma in business coaching. Being a coach means being interested in other people; helping them first to identify objectives, and then to work out ways of achieving them.
It was only a short step to realise those principles apply equally to financial planning. I began to embed the coaching skills I'd learned into my financial planning firm, Ovation Finance. I now write and speak often about the 'coaching first, then planning, then advice' approach we use.
As well as being a coach, I’m also involved in the training of others. A recent session with someone just starting out on their training reminded me just how hard coaching is at the beginning. Here, I'd like to share some of the classic issues.
Questions pointing to solutions
The objective of coaching is to facilitate thinking in the ‘coachee’. Underlying this is the principle that the thinking is theirs, not yours. Decisions reached must be based on their values and world view.
Herein lies the first issue. Coaching means asking questions, not giving solutions.
When we listen to people talk about a problem, we are processing the information. We are thinking, and usually we are thinking about how we would solve the problem. It's obvious, we think. The answer is staring them in the face.
Knowing you are not allowed to give solutions, the temptation for the novice coach is to ask questions intended to make the coachee ‘happen’ across the answer which, to them, seems so obvious. The questions become increasingly specific, as if they are hinting at something which, of course, they are.
In this situation, the coachee often starts to feel there is an answer just around the corner, out of reach. The questions are leading somewhere, but where? The coachee is then hunting for this solution, rather than exploring alternatives.
Ignoring your training
Not providing, or even thinking about, solutions is extraordinarily difficult. Right from our very first lesson at school, we are trained to solve problems. Working out answers to questions is what we do. Yet surely the most innovative thinkers are the people who come up with new questions.
This issue is magnified for advisers. With our technical training, we are given a set of tools with which to enter a client’s financial world and fix problems. But the problems they present us with are often not actually the problems they need fixing.
Any financial plan or piece of advice needs to solve a problem. So the first part of the job is to identify the problems that need fixing. Nobody actually needs a pension consolidation. But they might want peace of mind that they are on track to retire early. Or perhaps they are being bullied at work and are desperate for change.
Advisers need to set aside their training for periods in a meeting, and spend time helping the client work out what questions need to be answered. Coaching first, then planning, then the advice.
Once a new coach stops thinking of solutions and begins asking questions intended to facilitate thinking, another temptation seeps in – that is, to ask clever, searching questions.
This is partly driven by the desire to search for a ‘eureka’ moment. Helping someone solve a problem, or even identify the problem in the first place, is seductive for a coach. It can be very tempting to search for that moment of realisation in a meeting when a client truly changes their way of thinking, or perhaps realises that something they thought was merely a dream is actually achievable.
The novice coach therefore tries to ask ever more sophisticated questions, desperately searching for a way to unlock that eureka moment. But in practice, it is the simple questions that elicit thought in others.
A complicated question results in the client thinking about the question itself. Any question that gets a response requiring clarification is a poor question. Simple questions, such as “What would happen then?” are more likely to get the client thinking about their own issues.
Overall, it’s worth remembering coaching is a mindset. It seems simple, as if it is something we do every day. Yet as with most things, keeping something simple is extremely difficult. It requires a great deal of training and practice.Chris Budd is the author of the Financial Wellbeing book and podcast. If you are interested in becoming a coach, a one day taster course is available through Quiver Management, which also provides full courses for certificate and diploma.