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I won't solve your problems. Here’s why you should thank me for it.

I love solving problems. Come to think of it, maybe I just have a problem with problems, so I try to get rid of them quickly. Regardless of my underlying motivation, coming up with solutions to people's problems has served me well so far. It's what a consultant does: gathering data and analysing the situation to propose possible ways to proceed. The basic process is the same whether you're consulting on communication, market strategy or business development. Consultants don't have to implement the solution, but they're usually expected to come up with an idea on how to solve the problem at hand.

When I started my coaching education, letting go of my urge to problem-solve posed an interesting challenge, which didn't surprise me. Solving problems has secured me an income for virtually all of my professional life. Veering off this proven path seemed scary.

But coaching requires a different mindset. Yes, there will (hopefully) be a solution at the end of the process. Or at least some form of progress. That's why people work with coaches. But that solution or progress won't be something I came up with. My ideas won't be the key. My coaching partners will find their own ideas. It will be their solutions. They own them - and then they run with them.

For this to work, certain conditions need to be met. First, I must resist the temptation to explain how I would handle the situation (coming from an advisory background, that's easier said than done). And secondly, I need to have full faith in my coaching partner's ability to eventually find a path to deal with their challenge or issue.

In a way, coaching is a lot easier than being an expert consultant because I need not come up with a solution. At the same time, it's a lot harder because I'm still responsible for facilitating a process that will lead my coaching partner to their own solution. This means I must double down on the listening part and build hypotheses to then choose and apply interventions that will support my coaching partner's progress. Initially, this felt a lot less straightforward than simply providing my views and ideas.

What's the benefit then of taking a coaching approach versus simply telling people what to do? Typically, coaching deals with people's personal challenges. Even if something has worked for me in a similar situation, that doesn't mean it will work for someone else. Or it may work, yet still not resolve my coaching partner's underlying issue. Or it may simply not be the most appropriate solution. There are no better-fitting, more powerful ideas than the ones my coaching partners come up with themselves.

Expert advice is great and can be of tremendous value, especially when it concerns a field outside of our own expertise. If my business is getting sued, I want a lawyer to explain to me exactly how I must proceed in my situation. I doubt there would be much value in them coaching me on my own solution. I lack the necessary legal knowledge. However, with decisions and questions related directly to us as a person - be it in business or other areas of our life - the advice we get from other people rarely sticks. It's our life, but their solution.

Solutions we come up with ourselves are much more motivating, too. Because they feel like a part of us, they are, after all, "our" solutions. We have a stake in them. They are rooted in our values and preferences, and they fit.

I'm happy to continue offering my expert advice based on my professional experience, where it provides value, but I'm at least as excited to work with my coaching partners and help them find and navigate their very own path towards their goals and aspirations.


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