Some of you have no doubt figured out that a good deal of my posts are anecdotal – they deal with challenges that either I or those around me are trying to overcome. I recently wrote about overcoming our perceived failings and it really made me think about some of my personal challenges and how I’m holding myself back.
The test case for this was the way in which I stalled for the longest time on starting coaching because I struggled with the fact that I’m not a really exciting guy. I’m not flashy, particularly funny, and most things people would pay me for have little to do with the things that most people find interesting about me. Who would want to spend an hour on the phone with me?
Paralysis by Analysis
In my academic and military life, being interesting is a secondary issue. In those domains, as long as I’m teaching, coming up with great ideas, and leading others to get things done, I’m good. None of the expectations others have of me include “be an interesting or fun person” as a point of consideration.
The expectations change, though, when people are paying for both your expertise and your personality. If the “competition” is just as smart as I am but give a better experience for their clients, I lose. The only way to compete in that type of match, assuming I don’t become more “fun,” is to offer more than the next coach. Not only do you get phone coaching, but you get unlimited email support…and a book…and a T-shirt…[insert chain of giveaways here].
I foresaw that that type of progression would break me. I’d be offering more and more stuff and probably not be helping anymore than if I didn’t do it in the first place – they would basically be gimmicks to get people to start with my services and they’d most likely stick due to commitment inertia. And it would start the inane “arms race” in which I would keep having to one up the competition with more goodies.
Given that I’m good at thinking of things that may affect the life of a project, I saw all of this coming and didn’t see a way of getting around it. If those were the rules of the game, I didn’t want to play.
I want people to choose me because we resonate. I want people to stick with me because I’m helping them in the present and not because they made a decision in the past. I want my clients to know that I’m walking the road with them, cheering their big and small victories, and helping them get unstuck if they veer off the path they want to be on.
If I couldn’t have that, coaching wouldn’t be worth doing. Other people would be far better at taking the money of those potential clients and perhaps helping them along the way – and I’d have more time to do other things that spread value a little better.
Friends pushed me and referred me to others. I was my normal, uninteresting, helpful self with people who I wasn’t trying to turn into clients, and they decided they wanted to hire me. I hung my shingle, said I’m a creativity and project coach, and my natural brand did the rest. It turns out that I never really had to sell myself as something other than what I am and to this day I haven’t had to cold call.
In the end, it made me think about why I hire people. The experience is important, but the experience doesn’t have to be entertaining. The questions I ask about the value of what I paid for are questions like “was she helpful?”; “was he interesting?”; “did she do something for me that I couldn’t do or help me do something I couldn’t do on my own?”; or “did he make me feel like my concerns and problems were important?”
Obviously, if the person is an ass, it will bear on those questions. But unless I’m going to see a comedy show or a professional entertainer, I’m not really expecting the person to be entertaining. Hindsight makes you see things a lot differently.
[Post-publish edit, responding to Vered’s comment]: I got the idea that I had to be interesting and/or entertaining by looking at the types of people I found interesting were. Merlin Mann, Seth Godin, Brian Clark, Naomi Dunford, etc. They have a panache and story that I lack, comparatively. I completely misunderstood what it meant to provide a good experience for the client and what it meant to be remarkable. [end edit]
Do I wish I had a neat background story that made people feel like they were talking to somebody really special? Sure, but who doesn’t? But it’s probably better this way. I can be who I naturally am, and people can take it or leave it. I know I help those I work with. Rather than trying to figure out what I should be doing and what I could be offering to outpace my “competition,” I can offer less by just being me.
That’s a game I can play.
**Special thanks to Havi for writing a post on vulnerability that prompted me to action. And to Mynde for being herself and being open to letting others in. And to those friends who harass me into action push me to become a better person and help others in the process – you know who you are, and without your efforts, my life would have far fewer possibilities than it now does. Thank you.**
Havi Brooks (and duck) says
Whoah, coaches are supposed to be interesting? I wish someone had told me that before. 🙂
I can totally vouch for the fact that your coaching work is genius. Your thoughtful, steady philosopher thing combined with your “make stuff happen” army guy thing plus the fact that you’re smart, sweet and truly care is a really big deal.
Oh, and that you have creative ideas for helping me move forward with my projects and come up with stuff I’d never even considered.
And now this beautiful insight: “I can offer less by just being me”. Huge.
Havi Brooks (and duck)s last blog post..Taking on the “ew” aspect of affiliate programs
Vered - MomGrind says
I’m a little surprised that you thought you need to have charisma. Having charisma and being an entertaining person are great, but it’s not at all part of my considerations when hiring people or even when becoming friends with someone.
Tim Brownson is a good example. He is highly entertaining for sure, but the real reason I admire him is that I think he knows what he’s talking about in terms of finding happiness. What he says resonates.
Jonathan Mead says
Charlie, congratulations on making this breakthrough. It’s been something I struggle with myself. I’ve often asked myself when writing articles, “what the hell do I know?” “Why should someone listen to me more than anyone else?”
This obstacle was even more prominent when I decided to write my upcoming ebook. I though… “Okay, maybe I can give stuff away for free, but who am I to charge people for my ideas or what I’ve learned?”
The truth is, you’ll never know unless you try. I’m willing to take that risk. Thanks for being you Charlie.
By the way, I might need your help actually with this thing. Maybe we can find a way to work together on this. I’ll hit you up soon.
Mark V. McDonnell says
In college (eons ago) some of my electives were taught by professors who were famously boring–and a few who were obnoxious to the point of perversity.
Still, I intuited that they could “deliver the goods.” And they did. Conversely, many of the charismatic lecturers came off as “thin.”
All buttressing your point, I think.
As a coach (not a “life coach,” a sports coach, for triathlon, track & field and cross country) I know I can deeply hook the passions of my athletes to drive them toward top performance. I prove it every day.
I have faith in both my charisma–which I’d prefer to call “fluency in communicating my passion”–and in the fundamental value I provide–“you’ll get waaaay faster, and become a better and happier person besides!”
My greatest weakness is that I don’t convey this well *until the coaching relationship has actually started.*
I’m not HALF the writer you are, Charlie!
Mark V. McDonnells last blog post..Four Steps to Sports Success – What to strive for in training
@Havi: I’m so going to poach your comment as a testimonial. I’ll give you a few weeks to see if you change your mind.:p
It dawns on me that few are going to get the point of offering less. I wouldn’t have got it three months ago.
In case you read that and were curious, offering less is not cheaping out. It’s focusing on the product and not the fluff that surrounds the product. So for the same amount of money, you get better service. I know it’s not quite right to leave this nugget in the comments, but time is pressing. Maybe I’ll do something with it in a few days.
@Vered: It’s because of personalities like that limey Brownson that I thought I had to be more pizzazz. And, yes, I do love Tim and am trying to provoke him in another space. Maybe he’ll show and call me on it, and maybe he won’t.
Resonating is far more important than entertaining.
@Jonathan: I’ve come to really think hard about trying and failing at this phase in my life. I’ve ranted against that recently, but the reality is we have more to lose by failing to try than by trying and failing. Most of us can pick up and do something very similar to what we’re already doing should things not work out – but some opportunities are such that you just have to take them when they come up.
I’m checking my Inbox. Let’s do this ebook thing!
@Mark: I appreciate the compliment on my writing, but I understood you perfectly well. You’re an effective communicator – you have to be to be a good coach.
In retrospect, I should have been more clear about what’s going on. It’s not that I’m uncharismatic, but rather that you can be charismatic without being really interesting or have a developed panache. I didn’t think I had a thing.
Havi makes me think that maybe I do and didn’t realize it. If I pull of the combination of traits she says I have, then that’s my shtick. Otherwise it’s just a mashup of the different domains of my life.
Thanks for commenting. I believe this is your first, and I really appreciate you taking the time.
Naomi Dunford says
1. Charlie, you rule. Seriously. And you’re entertaining, even though I know it creeps you out to even hear that, let alone read it publicly.
2. Havi Brooks — and her mind-numbingly boring sidekick — are really the least interesting habits coach/duck combo I have ever come across, and they’re as rich as Midas. We can all learn from this. 😛
Naomi Dunfords last blog post..If You Build It, They Won’t Come
Selma the Duck says
Go jump in a lake, Dunford. There are at LEAST three other coach/duck combos that are more boring than we are. Making people yawn counts as a brand too, you know.
Much as I hate to agree with the last commenter, I must second the “Charlie is good entertainment” point.
Selma the Ducks last blog post..Taking on the “ew” aspect of affiliate programs
Way to go, Charlie. If anything, I’ve been the opposite–really interesting, but doubted my usefulness! Until recently that is, with the new technique I’m using with coaching that I’m convinced is effective.
Mark Hurst of GoodExperience.com and the author of Bit Literacy defines good customer experience as a combination of
Kinda like the Good, the True, and the Beautiful for business. You don’t have to have all 3 maxed out in order to have a good experience, and there is generally a leaning towards 1 or 2. My coaching is more about meaning and usefulness, and could perhaps use more beauty/fun/enjoyment.
Duffs last blog post..Deconstructing Personal Development, Part 3: State Management, Positive Thinking, and the Cultivation of Mania
Nikki Buckelew says
Hi! A friend and client of mine, Allison Crow Flanigin, turned me on to your site. This is my first visit and the “coaching” topic hit my radar pretty fast. I am a real estate sales coach and I have never really thought about the “interesting or not?” question until you raised it. It seems to me that the client is more interested in moving forward in their respective area of focus than they are in whether or not I am entertaining or otherwise interesting. As a matter of fact, the feedback MAPS (Mega Achievement Productivity Systems) has received is more favorable toward those coaches who hold the clients accountable to their desired result (why they hired them to begin with) than anything else. Food for thought…. moving on to other posts. Thanks for the insight on your “site” so far.
@Naomi: It does creep me out. It seems like it’s something I have to try to be. Maybe all the years of being a nerd has made me think nerds can’t be entertaining – despite evidence to the contrary.
@Havi: I heart yawns. Every time I see you say yawn, I can’t help but do it, too.
@Duff: Awesome comment – I’ve been hoping I can ride on the Triple Filters, and it’s worked thus far. And after talking to you now, I’m seeing where you’re coming from on the usefulness bit. It’s not you – it’s the expectations of clients when they approach either a life coach or a productivity coach.
@Nikki: I’ll have to look into the MAPS system – thanks for the lead. It’s more that I saw the interesting question as like the icing on a cake – sure, I can help them with their goals, but wouldn’t they also enjoy it more if it was entertaining. I guess I got too wrapped up in the Merlin Mann/ Seth Godin characters – and I was looking up to people like Naomi who’s brilliant and entertaining as hell. Thanks for reading, and welcome to the conversation.