Transformational Leadership

Choosing a Coach: Why a "Whole-Life" Approach Is Often the Best for Idealists

Dave Wheitner asked:

As a personal transformation tool, coaching goes several steps further than most training seminars, workshops and retreats. It engages us in a continual interactive process of practice, learning and feedback. This deepens the learning and truly embeds it in our thinking and habits.

Thus, coaching in general has the potential to provide an even greater return on investment. For idealists, however, coaching that emphasizes a whole-life approach may provide the greatest benefits of all.

Idealists frequently ponder how our lives and the world around us might be different. Our thinking extends beyond current reality, as we spend significant time considering the “big picture” complexities of how everything fits together in the world. Living authentically is very important to us, and we place a high priority upon living AND working from our deeper values.

A job or a career doesn’t feel right if it’s just about the money. It has to be where our heart is, whether our cause is environmental sustainability, public health, animal rights, social justice, ethical leadership, labor rights, or world peace.

We’re happiest when we have a sense of integration across our personal and professional lives, and when we don’t need to engage in “character changes” through the day–e.g., shifting from a “work me” to a “non-work me.” In fact, our professional and personal lives may overlap in many ways, especially if we work in a nonprofit organization, a socially conscious private-sector company, or a public sector agency.

The same people with whom we work may be those with whom we socialize, as they share many of our core values and beliefs. Because we believe so much in what we do, we often find ourselves talking about our work–both the good and the bad–to others in social settings. Our volunteer activities may be closely related to our work, or we may often engage in work-related activities on a volunteer basis.

While some of this occurs with any individual who loves what they do, the tendency for everything to “blur together” can be particularly notable among those of us with idealist leanings.

Given these features common among many idealists, life coaching that takes a true whole-life approach is often the most sensible route for us. This is true whether we initially seek coaching to improve our performance in the professional arena, to enhance our personal life, or to improve our well-being across areas. Executive coaching, in contrast, can vary significantly in the extent to which it spans beyond the workplace; as a general rule, it tends to focus more specifically upon workplace performance and productivity.

In some cases, executive coaching focuses even more narrowly upon developing a specific set of “competencies” or skills that are specific to the needs of the organization. Such coaching very clearly has its place and value, and many companies have experienced great benefits from it over the years. However, this approach can largely neglect the non-work side of life, and may leave much to be desired if applied to individuals and organizations that are deeply value-driven.

Thus, keep several things in mind when seeking a coach. First, regardless of the type of coach you speak with, ask whether they take a whole-life approach with their clients–the breadth may vary greatly by practitioner. Secondly, even if you are in a leadership position, it may make sense to begin with a coach who takes a holistic approach, and later transition to a more focused specialist in workplace executive coaching if necessary.

Thirdly, keep in mind that as you become more skilled in defining and creating what you want in your personal life, this growth will likely impact your professional life as well. A broad foundation will support any workplace-specific coaching you pursue down the road.

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