For me, a lot of it is listening. I’m a really good listener. It’s not a technique — I’m really interested in what people have to say. But it does develop trust as a byproduct. If you’re authentic, open, you call things as they are, you really are direct and you listen well, that develops trust.
The coaching industry is now tremendous. It is a 15 billion dollar industry. Many professionals have left their office jobs to become highly successful coaches. At the same time, not everyone who starts a coaching business sees success. What does someone starting a career as a life coach, wellness coach, or business coach need to know to turn it into a very successful and rewarding career?
In this interview series, called “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach” we are interviewing experienced and successful life coaches, wellness coaches, fitness coaches, business and executive coaches and other forms of coaches who share the strategies you need to create a successful career as a life or business coach.
In this particular interview, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Katherine Lewis.
Katherine Lewis is principal and founder of Lewis Rush Associates, an executive coaching firm in New York City that specializes in executive leadership and team effectiveness. With over 25 years of experience as a senior executive in corporate America and an MBA from Harvard Business School, Lewis has walked in the shoes of her executive coaching clients.
She holds a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) certification from the International Coaching Federation and a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) certification from the Coaches Training Institute.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and what brought you to this particular career path?
When I was an executive, I often had the opportunity to work with a coach. On one occasion, there was a coach who helped me and a direct report named Pam improve our relationship. Pam was very talented and smart, but we didn’t have a very good working relationship. This coach facilitated a conversation and very quickly zeroed in on how and why we weren’t communicating well — and what we needed to do to fix it. After meeting with that coach, Pam and I were more aware of and intentional in how we communicated, and our working relationship was repaired. And I thought, “Wow, that was magic. I want to know how to do that.”
Later, as I was consulting with clients, I realized they needed coaching more than consulting. I decided to learn what that magic was all about, so I could do for my clients what that coach did for Pam and me.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The three character traits that have been most instrumental to my success are intuition, transparency and humility.
My intuition doesn’t tell me what a client’s underlying issue is, but it tells me that I need to ask a question and tells me which question I need to ask. It tells me there is something that isn’t being said. I don’t know what the issue is, but I know I need to bring it to the surface to create true resonance — or an aha moment — for my client.
I had a client who worked in her company’s HR department, and she had to oversee a reorganization that would result in layoffs. She said to me that she was really unmotivated at work. “I’ve done this so many times before that I could do it with my eyes closed. But I am dragging on this one,” she said. So my question was: “What is different this time?” It took a few more questions, but eventually it came to light that some of the people who would be laid off were personal friends. In her effort to be a consummate professional, she hadn’t let herself really acknowledge this and figure out how to manage through it.
Being transparent with those I’m working with helps me to build trust with them. Being transparent might look like me saying “I don’t have all the answers or know where to go from here. What do you think?”
Sometimes during team coaching sessions, we reach a point when I’m not sure if the team has enough energy to do another exercise. Rather than struggle through it or stick to the agenda for the sake of the agenda, I say something like, “I’m not sure what to do in this moment.” I just put myself out there and that fosters trust. It’s modeling the transparency and vulnerability that people need as leaders, which helps them build trust with their teams.
I show humility with clients by appreciating where they are and drawing on my own mistakes from when I was in their corporate shoes so that I can help them. I might tell them about the time I underestimated the importance of proactively trying to build a relationship with a new boss. I thought it was enough to do my job — and even go above and beyond in my job — in order to earn his trust. I have seen this happen with clients who get a new boss and the relationship hasn’t gotten off to a good start, and what they have missed is reaching out to form that trust, of owning it and being the one in charge of that.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Two habits come to mind, and they help me be successful at work but also at home with my family. First, I have developed the habit of asking open-ended questions, questions that begin with how or what, in particular. Open-ended questions help you avoid sounding judgmental or giving advice and help the person on the receiving end not get defensive. Instead of saying, “You should do this or that,” I will ask, “What options can you create?”
Open-ended questions put you in listening mode and encourage the other person to think deeper. As a coach, you don’t have to do all the talking to draw out answers. It’s not about you but about creating the conditions for clients to discover their own “aha” moments. Open-ended questions make people feel heard and safe, and then they can open up. This technique works on children and spouses, too, so it’s really a life skill.
The other habit I try to lean on is reframing my thoughts — reframing negative thoughts. It’s a lot of work, because you have to notice in the moment when you are having a limiting thought and then quickly reframe it. One thought might be, “I didn’t work at all this weekend. I should have been more productive.” The reframe thought might be: “Work-life balance is important. It’s OK to not work all the time. I’ll be more refreshed and engaged when Monday comes.”
Being in the habit of reframing negative thoughts allows me to model that for my clients and help them reframe their own internal dialogue. A client might say, “I’m not good at what I do.” The reframe might be: “Remember that successful project, engagement, interaction, or whatever.” Or, it could be, “I just started this role, and need to take time to learn. I have always done well when I put in the work, and I always put in the work.”
This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
You want your behaviors to become second nature, reflexive, seamless. That’s why it’s so important to create good habits.
Reframing negative thoughts really takes time to be able to do quickly and in the moment. You have to get into the habit of noticing your thoughts as they are occurring. How we talk to ourselves is important. I used to beat up myself if I was running late for an appointment or meeting. Even still, I have to remind myself, “It’s OK if I’m late. It happens very rarely. They will wait for me.”
Another good habit that I work on and encourage my clients to work on is the idea that we can choose our reaction. We might not be able to control the situation, but we can choose our reaction. We can choose to react calmly and not get angry. This is, of course, a particularly good habit for parents. Not everything is worth getting upset about in the moment, so if you choose to react calmly you can save yourself the stress and energy that it takes to be angry or frustrated.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
Find an accountability partner for the habit you are trying to develop. If you want to get in your morning runs and stop sleeping in, find a friend who will lace up and meet you at the corner at 6 a.m. to go running. Journaling is another way to stay accountable. And there are apps. There are apps for everything. Accountability apps help you track progress as you work to exercise more, eat better, stop smoking — or you can create a custom goal. Some apps will let you choose consequences for not staying on track. You might, for example, pay money in the form of donation to a nonprofit of your choosing; it’s like a win-win for everyone as you work to create better habits.
Executives can — and should — look to their own teams to hold them accountable in developing a new habit. I encourage leaders to share with their teams what they are working on and give them a safe way to provide feedback on how they are doing along the way. One team I coached was intimidated by the leader’s assertive style, and he tried hard to moderate this. He asked team members to flash a red card if they were feeling reluctant; it provided him an instant check so he could change his behavior in the moment.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite quote is by Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet: “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”
I love the idea that you are never really stuck; you are just moving more slowly than you want to. There is always progress, and that is good enough.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am most excited about my team effectiveness coaching. Having lived and worked through a pandemic, it’s more important than ever that teams work well together. People are tired, worried and stressed like never before. It’s important for teams to build trust and connection and keep each other motivated and provide emotional support as well business support.
Now that things are starting to open up, the teams that have been running the fastest are realizing how exhausted they are. Some people are finally letting out a breath and realizing how much pressure they’ve been under. I just had this conversation with a CEO of a billion-dollar company. He said, “I don’t know, maybe the team is burned out, maybe I am burned out.” Everyone is burned out. Teams just need support and help right now. Workplaces aren’t going to look or feel the same for a long time, if ever, and so teams need help, support and guidance adjusting to whatever the “new normal” is.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many coaches are successful, but some are not very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful coaches from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
In general, the factors that distinguish successful coaches all have to do with clearly defining who you are, what you are going to bring to people and how you will help them, or what problem you are going to help solve for them. My five things: certification, experience, focus, value and networking.
- It’s important for coaches to work toward and earn a coaching certification from a reputable accreditor like the International Coaching Federation (ICF). A certification lends credibility. It ensures you are fully prepared to help your clients. There’s no learning as you go when you’re a coach. Anyone can hang a shingle and call themselves a coach, but coaches need training in order to help clients see what they need to do to get where they need to be.
- Experience in the field you are coaching is also important. Before I started coaching executives, I was an executive myself. It helps to walk in the shoes of your clients. If you’re a career coach, for example, it is helpful if you have some experience in hiring or recruiting. It gives clients a reason to believe.
- Focus means understanding you can’t be all things to all people. Chances are you can’t be an executive coach and an executive presence coach and a career coach and a sales coach. Successful coaches pick one or two areas that define them and define their clients. My focus is team effectiveness and leadership development. That’s my sweet spot, and where I can best help clients.
- A lot of leaders are new to coaching, so it’s important to show your value early on. One way to do that is to offer something free initially. A free psychometric debrief. A free coaching session. Something that gives them a sense of your expertise and the value you can provide them.
- Lastly, coaches need to network with other coaches. Fellow coaches aren’t your competition; they’re your best referrals. Many of my clients come by referral from other coaches. And I also refer business to my fellow coaches. Sometimes a prospective client doesn’t fit within your focus area, or there could be a conflict of interest — like it’s your best friend’s company hiring the coach or the firm in question is one of your client’s biggest competitors. Get to know and network with other coaches. There’s enough work for everyone.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen coaches make when they start their business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake new coaches make is underestimating the importance of a good coach training program. Again, anyone can call themselves a coach. But if you invest the time and money in a coaching program, you will find more work and feel the most confident doing the work. Coaches without formal training are more like consultants. If a client needs a consultant, then that’s fine. The biggest difference between a coach and a consultant is the ability to create resonance — the aha moment that enables a client to see their situation more clearly. Coaches have to learn how to create resonance and help clients recognize blind spots. That’s the magic I experienced all those years ago and that made me want to be a coach.
Based on your experience and success, what are a few of the most important things a coach should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience? Please share a story or an example for each.
Again, it’s all about resonance, going from “ugh” to “aha!” One technique coaches use to help a client get there is by encouraging the client to embody a different perspective, asking them to see things through a different lens.
Maybe you know that a client who is tackling a certain challenge at work loves to body surf. You ask them to imagine they’re surfing. How does it feel? How does it sound? What’s going on with all the senses? Then you ask about the business challenge and how they view it when they are in this mindset. It’s hard to explain, but it’s magic; it’s resonance.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business, and particularly in coaching. What are the best ways for a coach to find customers? Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Networking is key. Network with industry groups for industries that fit with your coaching focus. Network with other coaches, so they can refer you when the opportunity arises.
Being clear about what you do and offer is important in generating qualified leads. It’s not about getting a lot of referrals, but getting the right ones, so you need to be clear in communicating your sweet spot within your networks.
I do those things. I also write about executive leadership and team effectiveness topics on LinkedIn and the blog on my company site. And I do workshops and speak at conferences.
Coaches are similar to startup founders who often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to end up burning the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to your fellow coaches about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting their business?
It’s easy when you’re self-employed to abuse the boundaries of work hours. You have to be careful not to work seven days a week, because you will burn out. The voice in your head might be saying you need to work all the time or nagging you for not being productive. Remember to reframe those negative thoughts.
Another important thing is recognizing when you need help, particularly with items that are easier to outsource than for you to do or that take time away from the income-generating areas of your business that only you can do. You might not want to spend the money — at first — to get the support you need to outsource your bookkeeping or social media, but it might also be the best way to grow your business. This is an area I am getting better at.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to start a movement around teaching certain skills that are big in coaching to high school and college students. Active listening, open-ended questions, non-attachment. How to have difficult conversations and how to give critical feedback. These aren’t just skills to apply to professional relationships, but every relationship. We are all a work in progress, and the sooner we all know that and know how to work on that, the better off we will be and the better all of our relationships will be.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to sit down with Joel Peterson, former chairman of JetBlue Airways. I read a New York Times interview with him, and he captured everything I believe a good leader needs to be and do. Here is the excerpt from that 2015 interview that has really stuck with me.
“For me, a lot of it is listening. I’m a really good listener. It’s not a technique — I’m really interested in what people have to say. But it does develop trust as a byproduct. If you’re authentic, open, you call things as they are, you really are direct and you listen well, that develops trust.
And you can’t have an agenda. When you have your own agenda when you’re listening to someone, what you’re doing is you’re formulating your response rather than processing what the other person is saying. You have to really be at home with yourself. If you have these driving needs to show off or be heard or whatever, then that kind of overwhelms the process. If you’re really grounded and at home with yourself, then you can actually get in the other person’s world, and I think that builds trust.”
I would love to meet him and learn more about how he figured this out and his journey getting there.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!