Coaching Life – Diversity (Pages 36-39)
In 1992 I could have done with someone’s help. A coach? A therapist? A friend? My life was a mess.
Within a short period of time I’d gone from being one of Australia’s popular Pentecostal preachers, a respected leader in the denomination, married with two beautiful daughters, to being publicly humiliated, losing everything I’d spent years building and living in a dysfunctional, abusive co-dependant relationship with the man I’d fallen in love with. Then he tells me he’s just been diagnosed HIV+.
A coach? I hadn’t heard of coaching or Thomas Leonard, the man often attributed with formalising the coaching philosophy and fundamentals. A therapist? I didn’t believe in them and even if I did, I couldn’t have afforded one. The successful national, religious organisation I’d founded had been closed down leaving me financially stranded and struggling to find a new career. A friend? I no longer had any. I’d gone to the dark side and ‘become’ a homosexual and therefore shunned.
They say that when you hit rock bottom, the only way is up. I’m not so sure. I think I found some deep, dark underground caverns. It got worse.
They were tough years. Even with a subconscious belief that I’d probably go to hell for ‘giving into my homosexuality’, I somehow found the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had a degree of forward momentum but that was all. A bit like a drunk tripping as he’s staggering home.
I’d always been a practical preacher and speaking engagements at churches, leaders conferences and youth events were heavily peppered with personal development themes and principles. Finding a new career, with no formal education beyond high school, except half a year in bible college, was impossible. A resume? What was that? In my twenty two years as a Christian I’d never needed one. And the many skills, vast knowledge and experience I’d gained in ministry belonged in a church, not in the secular world as far as I could see.
Two things I knew I did have.
Firstly an inbuilt desire to help others and make a difference. Secondly, reasonable communication skills. After all, I’d made a living for many years as a high profile preacher, speaking regularly in Australia’s megachurches such as Hillsong.
After getting sacked from my first job as a sales person in a budget furniture chain, because I was ‘too gay’, I landed a job working with long-term unemployed clients. At that time, the government was investing large sums of money to get people off unemployment benefits. Training companies were clambering for the contracts. I was desperate for work and they were desperate for trainers to fulfil the contracts they’d won. I did the unforgivable in an interview and talked about the drama of my past life. They took a chance. ‘Can you start Monday’? The manager and CEO asked enthusiastically.
Light at the end of the tunnel
I walked out of the interview relieved that once again I was getting a wage. I had bills and child support to pay. They gave me a box of materials and a training manual. I spent the weekend familiarising myself with the next six-week curriculum. On Monday morning, I went to a rented hall in Bankstown to commence with my group of sixteen people, who’d been forced to attend or they would lose their unemployment benefit. So we couldn’t say they were exactly self-motivated. The group was a mixed bag of migrants with poor English, people with substance abuse problems, sole parents struggling to get work and a couple of guys on parole. A baptism of fire for a former preacher who’d always spoken to captive, highly-motivated audiences in their thousands.
Over the next six weeks, every day from 10am to 4pm, I went through the program of personal development concepts about self-worth, positive mental attitude, goal setting, time management, personal grooming, communication skills and job seeking. I enjoyed the challenge of tyring to engage these people in their own lives and future. Lives and futures many had given up on or resigned themselves to fate. I saw potential though they had never considered or let die.
My confidence level increased as I began to see the transformation in the lives others had written off and as I gained the respect of my students. The more courses I facilitated, the better the results, till I was getting the top job placement rate of all providers in the state. The sense of purpose that had driven me for years, that had been obliterated by the horror of a public scandal and a sense of failure, was being reignited in my life.
It was one morning, during a break, I was scanning the Sydney Morning Herald that I read about this new phenomena called ‘life coaching’. Even though part of the article was derogatory, making out coaching was the latest American fad, not unlike the times when everyone in LA was seeing their ‘therapist’, the description of what coaches did with clients resonated with me. ‘Surely I can do that’ I thought, ‘I’ve been through so much in my life, I could easily TELL people what they SHOULD do with their lives.’ I cringe now at the arrogance. I even created a business card with Life Coach on it. No training, no understanding of what coaching really was, no accreditation, but I was a Life Coach. Or so I thought.
I began investing in my own personal development. Around $60,000 worth actually. During this time I also discovered a new sense of spirituality and that in walking away from my faith I’d thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It was an awakening not unlike a conversion experience. Dynamic and life changing. It felt like my life was no longer in a holding pattern.
Reading ads for coach training, it all sounded so appealing and easy. People from all over the world call you while you’re in your PJ’s or around the pool, you have this amazing lifestyle and people pay you $100’s, even $1,000’s an hour. It reeked of a network marketing product sell. It didn’t take long for reality to sink in. Some coach training companies made a fortune, but in reality about only two percent of those they trained actually ended up as coaches and the majority earning less than enough to make a living.
People calling themselves coaches seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. I couldn’t get through a networking event without at least one some starry eyed coach offering me a complimentary coaching session. I didn’t want to BE coached, I wanted to coach. I didn’t NEED it or to have another person TELL me how I should live my life. And besides I didn’t want people to see how disorganised I was, that I procrastinated like hell and that the person I presented as might not be the real person when the public façade was peeled away. Obviously I still had to learn exactly what coaching was really about.
Eventually, I got my coach training, but I learnt quickly that really no one can really teach you to coach, your clients do that for you and the most challenging clients teach you the most. Every experience grounds you more. Coaching becomes a way of life, an outlook, an approach that enables you to transform your own life and relationships. You are never the same when you finally GET it.
I loved the early International Coaching Federation (ICF) conferences in Australia (late 1990’s and early 2000’s) and the depth of information being presented along with the professional outlook. The coaching profession had a credibility problem at that time, which ICF was very much aware of and working to change it.
I’d been working for Optus Telecommunications in the call centre, selling internet and cable TV. I applied all my personal development principles of goal setting, visualization etc and became the leading sales consultant in Australia. The company KPI was 27% conversion on the calls. I regularly achieved 60% and over and became a bit of a sales legend. The company decided that I should be the call centre’s sales coach. I’d obviously learned the difference between training, mentoring, and coaching by this time. Yes I’m a purest coach. The company had goals and targets. I allowed my coachees to create their own. They didn’t need to be TOLD what areas needed improvement, they identified these themselves then I gave them the tools I’d applied to create self-improvement. All began to see marked improvement in their sales results. They were happy, I was happy, management was happy.
Burning the bridges behind me
I really had no desire to climb the corporate ladder. I wanted to have my own business again and be independent as I was in the ministry. I’d been coaching clients on the side hoping the business would build. It hovered around 3-6 clients for some time. I set a goal to get 10 clients on board by December (four months away) and if I reached that, I’d determined I would burn my bridges behind me and resign. What’s the worst thing that could happen, I asked myself. Nothing like a challenging goal with a deadline to give you focus and a higher level of motivation to kick in. By December I had twelve clients.
That was 17 years ago. Since then I’ve coached nearly 1,000 clients through my Dare to be Your Best 12 week program. In all those years I have never moved beyond the same program. At first I was using it like a tradesperson; a bit clumsy but got the job done. Then I felt I moved to being more of an craftsperson then finally a master. Same tools, but well-refined skills created by countless hours of experience and practice.
Who have I taken through that program?
Entrepreneurs, CEO’s, team leaders, people in midlife transition, gay men and lesbians in straight marriages, people in the closet wanting to live authentic lives, celebrities, community leaders and successful business owners. About sixty percent of my clients are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). The program has worked for every single one because of its structure, simplicity and imbedded personal growth fundamentals. I’ve never been bored with the same program over 17 years as each client is unique. I had to watch blind spots though.
What has coaching given me?
Did it make me financially wealthy? No. It provided me with a living. The coaching principles I personally applied meant I became a bestselling author when my autobiography, A Life of Unlearning, was released 2004. It sold out twice and the third edition continues to impact lives globally. Coaching also funded me while I established two not-for-profits that help people on the journey of reconciling faith and sexuality. In 2007 and 2009 I was voted one of the 25 most influential gay and lesbian Australians. I’ve had the enormous privilege of seeing clients awaken to the potential in themselves, their dreams become reality and experience genuinely transformed lives. I’ve been a privileged observer of what some might call ‘miracles’.
Remember that thing about believing I didn’t NEED a coach. I let that go a long time ago and have ensured ‘I walk the talk’ by regularly meeting with MY coach, Chris, working with me on projects or one-off sessions.
After all, a person would be crazy not to have a supportive, non-judgmental safe space, sounding board, cheerleader and someone to hold up the mirror and ask the tough questions when needed. A coach.
This article was published in Coaching Life