Personal Characteristics of an Effective Life Coach

It has been found that effective life coaches embody particular qualities and characteristics that create a significant impact on the relationship they share with their clients. Furthermore, these qualities and characteristics have a determining effect on the successful outcomes of the coaching interventions. Since being in the field for a few years now I feel I am embodying the following characteristics.

Effective life coaches have an identity.

I have been working as a life coach for four years and have had a passion for personal development, psychology, and the potentials of the mind. For many years I have had a deep interest in how the mind works and human behaviour. Therefore, being fortunate enough to do my bachelor’s degree in psychology and counselling has been a major achievement as not only am I interested in these subjects, but I can also directly apply the learnings into my sessions with my clients.

Effective life coaches are open to change.

Being self-employed for the past thirteen years has forced me out of my comfort zone many times and continues to do so. Working for a company provides a sense of certainty, comfort, benefits, structure, and support. Working for oneself takes all of that away, especially at the beginning of a new venture. Furthermore, during the peak of lockdown, I chose to study for my higher certificate in counselling and communication skills with SACAP (South African College of Applied Psychology), all while feeling insecure about how we would be able to afford the fees.

Effective life coaches have a sense of humour.

As I have tried tirelessly to get my career going, I have had to have a sense of humour when things have not gone my way. I feel that being able to have a good laugh about these things has really helped my self-esteem and well-being.

Effective life coaches make mistakes and are willing to admit them.

I am always open to admit my mistakes, especially if it has affected others. Additionally, I do not harbour on such things and allow myself to move on from such things.

Effective life coaches have a sincere interest in the welfare of others.

It is a privilege and an honour to be able to sit with someone while they share and reflect on their life’s issues. I have learnt valuable lessons about the importance of holding space and not always trying to help solve a client’s problem for them. I understand how important it is for people to know that they can sit in a stranger’s office and feel safe enough to share personal and often confidential information with them.

Effective life coaches possess effective interpersonal skills.

Over time I have come to see the client/therapist dyad and a metaphorical dance. By using verbal and non-verbal language, one can move with and sometimes steer the conversation in a way that feels right for the client. I feel that this will always be a work in progress as sometimes I still “step on their toes”.

Effective life coaches become deeply involved in their work and derive meaning from it.

Trying to understand a client’s core fear/insecurity or motive behind their behaviours is fascinating and complex. Sometimes people can be predictable, based on others who have had similar experiences, but sometimes it is completely different, and one must become agile in their thinking to perceive the issue from other angles. This often extends to worldly issues where it becomes easier to grapple with the fact that people have personal histories, aspirations, traumas, and pressing issues that add to the reasons why they may commit the most insane and/or atrocious acts.

Effective life coaches are passionate.

I am passionate about psychology. I am always reading about psychology and how the mind works. I have also spent years trying to find out how I could study the subject since I did not do well in matric. I eventually found out that I could re-write my matric English, but when it came time to write my exams the Covid pandemic started. Fortunately, SACAP informed me that I could do the higher certificate which would act as a bridge course. Since achieving my higher certificate and six distinctions, I am now fulfilling a major dream by being able to study for my bachelor’s degree, majoring in counselling and psychology with SACAP.

Effective life coaches are able to maintain healthy boundaries.

I have established a clear boundary between my personal life and my work life. While I often debrief about my workday with my wife, I don’t allow work stress to interfere with my home life. Furthermore, when I am at work, I allow my personal life to disappear as well.

However, a life coach does not have to have all these characteristics. Therefore, which characteristics do you think you will need to develop to become an effective life coach?

Effective therapists respect and appreciate themselves.

For a large part, I do respect and appreciate myself. However, I can sometimes lose focus on these values, especially when I am stressed or feeling emotionally low. On the positive side, I am able to bounce back from these lows relatively quick, so they don’t tend to linger for too long.

Effective life coaches make choices that are life-oriented.

While I am much better at this, I have spent many years trying to get over beating myself up for my past mistakes. I have often felt like the victim of my past decisions and behaviours, but I am continually working towards being kind to myself.

Effective therapists generally live in the present.

For the most part, I can be in the present, but if I become anxious and have intrusive thoughts, I can lose touch with reality and get lost in the negativity. Fortunately, I can realise what is happening and then eventually pull myself out and come back into the here and now.

Effective life coaches appreciate the influence of culture.

During my previous course, I became exposed to differences in culture, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. While I am open-minded I did not realise how important such matters of to some people. Fortunately, I am learning about and appreciating people’s values and how they affect and influence their lives.

Have you experienced life coaching as a client? if yes, how was your experience?

I have seen a life coach on several occasions and found the experience to be very rewarding. I think it is important for life coaches to be exposed to the process of life coaching sessions as a client. A life coach once told me to “see through the eyes of your client”. This means experiencing all aspects of the coaching experience, from making the booking, to waiting in the waiting room, to each session with the therapist. Additionally, one must understand the process of working with emotions, limiting thoughts and beliefs, and working towards breakthroughs.

Name three important values to you and explain how they may influence your interventions with clients?

1. Safety. I understand that my clients are coming to strangers’ offices and must try to tell the stranger about their personal life. I understand that there is a good chance they tried to solve their issue on their own but got so stuck that I am now their last hope for a breakthrough. Knowing this, I realise how important it is for me to establish the feeling of safety and confidentiality when they step into my office.

2. Rapport. Rapport is a part of the process for the client to feel safe but is also an ongoing process. When clients feel they can share issues with me that previously they may not have felt safe enough to do so is a great step forward in the developing relationship. As rapport develops the conversation, and especially difficult conversations have more ease of flow and feel better for both the client and the therapist.

3. Compassion/empathy. Most people know what they need to do to make the appropriate changes in their lives. However, while they are in therapy, they need to feel like they are not being judged or criticised for not being able to take such steps. On the surface, people often come to therapy to get help solving an issue, but most times they really need someone who will listen to them with compassion, empathy, and understanding as they try to process their issue.

Why it is crucial to develop multicultural competencies as a life coach?

It is important to develop multicultural competencies as a life coach because of the tendency to adhere to biases, assumptions, and/or generalisations that are not in accordance with the clients personal and subjective experience. Furthermore, the development of multicultural competencies will enhance one’s knowledge of diversity that can create specific and tailored intervention strategies that are conducive to the client’s higher needs.

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