Great coaches think upstream. They solve the causes of problems—or solve future problems before they happen.
But they must sell coaching to clients who want to deal with emergencies and put out fires—by solving the effects of their current problems.
Dan Heath tells an old parable: “You and a friend are having a picnic by the side of a river, when you hear a shout from the water—a child is drowning.
Without thinking, you both dive in, grab the child, and swim to shore.
Before you can recover, you hear another child cry for help. You and your friend jump back in the river to rescue her as well.
Then another struggling child drifts into sight. . . and another. . . and another.
The two of you can barely keep up.
Suddenly, you see your friend wading out of the water, leaving you alone.
‘Where are you going?’ you demand.
Your friend answers, ‘I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.’”
Stop solving problems
Clients often have ‘problem blindness’. Which means they want your help solving symptoms.
Don’t do that.
Clients will try to enroll you in the unconscious rules by which they run their business or live their life. Upstream thinking requires breaking the rules.
The 4 Types of Coach
To think upstream, you need to know who you are—because there are 4 different types of coach.
Which one are you? And which one do you want to be?
- An Informational coach
You love to provide advice, based on your professional expertise. You love research, planning, strategy and execution.
The challenge with this style of coaching is that the coach often talks more than they listen. Their advice can be perfect for one client but miss the mark for another.
- A Motivational coach
You love to share exciting ideas or tools, to move people to make changes in their lives. You’re great at pep talks. You are great at persuading and influencing.
The challenge with this style of coaching is that it works from the outside in and creates only a temporary high. When motivation wanes, your clients need to come back for more.
- An Inspirational coach
You love to share inspiring stories or insights that help people find their calling. You love to help them find what they really want, not what they think they ‘should’ want.
Where motivation works from the outside in, inspiration works from the inside out.
The challenge with this style of coaching is that you can sometimes get caught in sharing inspiring stories and insights
- A Transformational coach
Transformational Coaching also works from the inside out. It requires a coach who has done a lot of their own inner work. A coach who isn’t afraid to go into the dark with their clients.
You approach coaching from the inside-out. You are willing to be disliked for your clients’ breakthroughs. You are willing to push your clients’ buttons and to remind them what they actually want, not what they say they want.
Your greatest competition is never other coaches. Your only real competition is the status quo that traps your clients within the rules and limitations that they cannot see.
This is why great coaches sell the experience of coaching, not the concept of coaching. Clients need to experience upstream thinking—and when they do, they know they want more of it.
Be a coach who is focused on prevention, not reaction. But learn how to talk to clients who are immersed in reaction, with little time for prevention.
Teach your clients to focus on creating, not reacting. Help them to make tiny shifts that have a massive impact. Coach for insight, not for information. Serve your clients, don’t please them.
Read The Prosperous Coach to learn how to sell the experience of coaching, not the concept of coaching.
Learn to increase your comfort with doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity. And learn how to solve problems before they happen, by immersing yourself in studying people who think upstream…
Read Upstream by Dan Heath, Alchemy by Rory Sutherland, One Plus One Equals Three by Dave Trott, Fat Loss Happens on Monday by Josh Hillis and Dan John, Slipstream Time Hacking by Benjamin P. Hardy, Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden, First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Conflict Communication by Rory Miller.