This is the first newsletter I’ve sent out in almost two years. Bear with me, I think you may find some nuggets in this text.
I’ve had this nagging feeling for a while now (to be honest: for years) about how the advice and help I provide my clients may not be the best I can do for them.
Yes, my projects may be perceived as successful and my clients avidly keep booking me for more digital design work, but believe it or not there is an innate problem with this scenario.
My workload doesn’t end, it just keeps piling up. My 25-year old me would say: “Dude, you’ve got it made!” as is not uncommon to proclaim today. And yet, this perception is born out of the conviction that this string of paying clients is the very definition of success.
Seriously, though, what’s bothering me? Well, the issue is that there is a reliance on my expertise to solve problems. And while problems do get solved and the expertise I provide is based on many years of experience and a user-centric approach that really does wonders for the end-results, I know that much of what I do is not long-lived.
Technology changes, demands change, products change and competition appears. So clients come back and say: “We loved what you did for us before, now we need your help to do this new thing.” Which is awesome. And flattering. And in many senses a marker of success. But I also understand that the help they need isn’t really new, it’s a variant of the same help over and over again.
So all through the fall now I’ve been saying “No, thank you”, all the while secretly studying to become a professional coach*. Well… maybe not that secretly.
I’ve come to realize that if I can put more effort into helping others feel confident dealing hands-on with their own challenges the solutions will be more long-lived. By helping organizations and individuals gain a more mature mindset and elevate abilities they already possess, they can move faster, duck faster and leap over tall buildings in a single bound. Not necessarily rely on me or someone else to do it for them.
Revelations about coaching
My first, naive thoughts when approaching a course in coaching was that I would get practical tools for setting up my own structured programme teaching others how to solve design problems in this brave, new digital world. Basically I was searching for a better way of giving advice.
Today I know that coaching is so much more than this. I’ve come to discover a whole new world where I’m helping people reach real positive change, whether or not their goals are business-related or personal.
To illustrate this I want to share with you one particular coaching session I handled last month. The person I was coaching had specific challenges around marketing his business online, something very much in line with something I normally would charge a consultancy fee for helping him with. That is to say: He would normally pay me to do it for him.
Stop telling people what to do
The challenge here is that a large part of coaching is not giving advice. As a coach I am concerned with my client’s relationship with his problem, not the problem itself. My job is to listen, put forward questions and scenarios to help the person gain insights about his fears and uncertainties, and in a sense guide him to taking ownership of the problem so that he may take relevant steps towards resolving it, of his own accord.
Overcoming my own internal struggles I did not give one word of advice during this entire session. And the results were beyond anything I could have imagined.
In 25 minutes my client had
- realized he already had many more ideas about the deals he wanted to put forth than he had been aware of going into the session,
- outlined an approach going forward - including scheduled writing sessions and testing his ideas in the real world,
- gained the confidence that he would be able to move forward much further on his own before having to rely on external expertise, and
- composed a realistic schedule for when each of the items in his plan were going to happen (I say realistic because this meant helping him realize when there were big enough time slots in his life to sit down with this.).
So, among many other things, this meant that my client felt complete ownership of the process, was much more motivated to move forward with the ideas and had a huge confidence boost in overcoming what had first seemed like a huge undertaking.
The kicker? The ideas he was bringing to the table were not ones that I necessarily would have offered as advice. Obviously, they were much better. Why? Three reasons come to mind:
- These are ideas that fit with where he is in life right now.
- In his own words the ideas become much more clear and attainable.
- Being in control of the process ensures that he feels ownership of the results and will be committed to keep moving forward and fill any knowledge gaps he may have.
This hugely enlightening experience - along with many others these past months - has helped me make significant changes in how I approach my work. The skills of listening and being present are allowing me to hear and question things that would previously have passed me by. As an example: it is increasingly important for me to understand what certain words mean to other people – I never assume common vocabulary means we are talking about the same thing or even have the same perceptions of what we are seeing in front of us.
No, this does not mean I will be completely changing the work I do, but I will be bringing a whole new perspective to all meetings - with clients, stakeholders and users - and am extremely confident that this will contribute immensely to the long-term success of my clients.
Yes, this does mean I will also be offering professional coaching as part of my offerings to clients. The learnings, and energy boosts, I receive from these sessions is hard to fully describe but I do intend to give it a shot in future e-mails.
So while I will be coming around to saying “Yes, thank you” more often next year, one thing is for certain: I’m no longer in a hurry to design. I’m in a hurry to listen.
Be curious, and thank you for your support.
* I’m currently pursuing ACC-level certification with ICF (International Coach Federation).
P.S. Though some of these newsletters may end up published elsewhere on the web, rest assured that you as a subscriber will always be way ahead of others when it comes to first access to these texts. D.S.
P.S. 2 You may have signed up for this newsletter in Swedish back in the day. Moving on, I will only have one newsletter in English. Besides the obvious reasons of reach and saving time, I’m more frequently finding my way back to the voice I had in school and growing up in other countries - it’s a special thing.
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