Coaching

How One Leadership Coach Coaches Another

Working with a masterful coach changed my life in only a few hours.

Posted Jul 14, 2020

It isn't often one gets a taste of one's own medicine—and benefits from the experience.

I've coached executives and entrepreneurs for almost fifteen years. Last month I got my first leadership coaching,  which came in the form of a series of interviews on my own podcast. It was revelatory.

The highlights: I learned about myself, discovered blind spots, grew, and found direction as much from those conversations as from nearly any other in years. You can figure out my biases, that I earn part of my living from coaching, along with teaching at NYU, speaking, and writing, and that my coach is a friend, but I wanted to share the experience. If I found it enlightening, who else might?

For those who want to listen, here are the conversations. I posted them publicly to my podcast, but parts are personal and adult, so not for everyone.

To bring the most to Psychology Today readers, I recorded an interview of Dov Baron, the man who coached me. Here it is.

For context, in the past 15 years, I've received coaching in speaking, writing, fitness, performing, and probably a few other areas, but never in leadership. I've pointed out how the most successful people in many fields had the most coaching, especially performance-based fields like sports, arts, and leadership. I've taught highly rated courses in leadership and my book on the subject became a number one bestseller. I've read many books on it and know dozens of leadership coaching colleagues. I host the Leadership and the Environment podcast, which has won awards and at times topped leadership podcast charts.

Joshua Spodek
Source: Joshua Spodek

Why get coaching? A few months ago, I realized I was holding myself back in my leadership work by protecting myself about parts of my past relevant to my practice. My practice—both leading and coaching others in it—is founded on speaking candidly and facing  vulnerabilities. Life had conspired to bring some vulnerabilities to the fore. I decided to share them on my podcast, but didn't act on that decision. I couldn't bring myself to follow up. I even recorded an episode saying I would, like Cortes scuttling his ships to make retreat impossible.

But months passed and I didn't act. I didn't think about coaching but mentioned my struggle in conversation with leadership coach, author, and guru Dov Baron. Dov is also a friend and former guest on my podcast.

He said, "I know the solution. I'll interview you on your podcast. You'll be a guest on your own show."

As he said the words I knew his idea would work. It reminded me of the two-hundredth episode of Inside the Actors Studio, where host James Lipton invited Dave Chappelle to interview him on his own show—an episode I've watched multiple times with great appreciation. Lipton could share things he never had before. I never expected to replicate it.

You might not call a series of conversations recorded for public broadcast formal coaching, but it worked that way. How I felt sounded like how clients describe their experiences to me. Note that I wasn't looking for nor wanted therapy or even just a friend to hear me out. I wanted to achieve a professional goal—to face and overcome a hurdle I struggled with myself. I expected I could overcome it on my own in time but that coaching could help me overcome it faster, more effectively, and with fewer counterproductive mistakes.

My results: I uncovered the issues I wanted to. The first two conversations exposed the issues I knew. On finishing the second conversation, I felt mental calm from getting out in the open the stressful thoughts that were chasing each other around in my mind. Only then could I identify a deeper underlying issue. I asked Dov for a third conversation. In it we found what was holding me back for years.

What made it work? The video above shares details, but I credit Dov's preparation, Dov's supportive, non-judgmental responses, and my interest in succeeding.

Dov prepared in two ways. First, he came with years of experience listening to and coaching accomplished but stuck people. Second, he listened to my situation before starting, then researched more. He mapped a course for the conversations based on experience with past clients and his understanding.

I've found the best way to enable people to share vulnerabilities is not what questions to ask, as important as they are, but to show nonjudgmental support when they answer. Our most important motivations, emotions, and passions make up our greatest vulnerabilities. We want to share them, as long as we expect others to value and respect them. We protect them our of fear of judgment, ridicule, misunderstanding, manipulation. When those fears are allayed, we share. Dov responded to my vulnerabilities with support—usually sharing stories or relevant views, never talking over me.

Finally, I wanted to succeed. Nobody forced me, nor did I plan to do this idly. I knew my goals. I just didn't know my blind spots. My mind was too noisy in this area. I expected a disinterested third party could see through the choppy water to the stillness underneath.

I've long recommended coaching for people in such situations. I've witnessed it in others. I've received informal coaching in the form of advice from friends and colleagues. You could dispute whether online conversations qualify as coaching, but to my mind, I received masterful coaching and benefited from it beyond expectations.

Coda: My mind now eased from distraction and given direction, I've opened new fronts in this area of self-exploration and expression.