July 22, 2022

When the coach feels like an impostor

“Impostor syndrome” is a term coined in the late 1970ies and refers to an experience of many high-achieving women. Researchers had interviewed a group of them and found out that many of them had an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness”. This is not a diagnosis, nor is it in the ICD or DSM, it is a “phenomenon”, a description of the experience of many of these women (and later, men).

I sometimes hear similar experience from beginning coaches. There are worries about being “good enough”, or questions about delivering value. The whole experience of doing something so simple as a little chat and asking money for it seems slightly unreal. “Why should anyone ever pay me for this?” and “I am not really delivering a good enough service” are coupled (slightly inconsistently) in not so helpful ways. I think I remember feeling a similar way when I started and maybe my musings about how to gain confidence in the value of your service will help.

Undivided attention is rare and valuable

Suppose you did not know how to coach at all. You were simply a human being who decided that they would spend an hour with another person and give them the gift of their undivided attention. In this hour, the other person could talk about whatever they want to talk about and you would only listen and make the hour about them. This hour, without any formal coaching, would be valuable enough. When do we make time to listen without thoughts of other things, without our phones, without distractions? When do we give each other this space? Exactly: sadly, we don’t. So even if you do nothing but being there — you are providing a valuable service.

“Am I good enough?” leads to not being good enough

If you are busy with thoughts of “not being good enough” during the coaching session, you are most probably getting in your own way. Instead of paying attention to the client, you are paying attention to your own thoughts. You start worrying about: “Oh no, what am I going to ask next?” and then obviously, you are focusing on this worry instead of relaxing into the conversation and trusting that you will naturally find a helpful response.

When I was a young trainer, I was often worried about not getting good reviews (these pesky “happy sheets” at the end of a workshop). I was financially dependent on them and the cut-off was really high. If you did not get 9-10s on a 10 scale, you could be out. I figured out that worrying about the evaluation made me a worse trainer. So instead, I held on to my mantra: “I may not be the best trainer in the universe, but I am the one who is here right now”. This helped me not to compare myself to the best possible trainer, but to the real alternative: no trainer. And I was certainly doing a better job than that.

Trust your client

You are not the only person in the room when you are coaching: there is another resourceful and whole person in the room! Your client and you are in this together. So if you fear that you will black out, you can always ask your client what the next good direction would be. They will know. And if not, you can brainstorm together and choose.

Practice before and after coaching

There is a lot that you can learn about coaching before and after coaching sessions that will help you get better at it. Before, you can learn about coaching questions, possible structures of sessions, etc. After, you can listen to your coaching recordings and reflect on alternative responses to what the client said to enlarge your repertoire. You can work with a supervisor or mentor to talk about your responses or about how you managed to keep the client in the center of the conversation rather than the chatter of your own thoughts.

Experience is the best teacher

So you haven’t coached a lot. You are just starting and you are asking yourself whether you are really providing value? Duh. Of course, you are asking yourself this question. Cut yourself a little bit of slack: how can you really know that you are providing value if you don’t have a lot of experience providing value. As you coach more, as your clients will start telling you that this was useful, you will start trusting that you are providing value more. It’s the same with any skill, I think. In a sense, skills are habits, you need a while for the habit to kick in.

If you want to talk about your own experience and learning path as a coach and profit from other coaches thoughts or learn about our courses, please join us for a free meetup and exchange:

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