What I’ve Learned Working With Life Coaches I Used to Make Fun Of
I was almost done with my Masters in psychology when it happened. I was at a networking event for women in business when someone introduced themselves a “life coach.”
“A life coach.”
What she said after that I can’t remember because my brain was screaming “RED FLAG” so loudly I couldn’t think straight.
I wasn’t exactly a stranger to this world, my grandmother had been introduced to Marianne Williamson when I was little and braved the Deepak-loving-Eckhart-Tolle wilderness before it was cool. She used to tell me I was a “Star Child” here to save the world.
As a kid who wanted to be an astronaut, I was like, “SOLD. That is definitely what I am.”
To be clear, I like Marianne Williamson AND Sam Harris so you guys can have fun trying to judge where I stand on this spectrum. My problem is not with where you find your “connection to spirit” as they say. It’s when you interfere in the lives of others.
The life coaches I met that night in 2011 weren’t helping people, they were like a cult. A cult that:
- Quoted theoretical physics incorrectly
- Made claims about food that were dead wrong
- Called me “sister” or “goddess” when I legit didn’t know them
- Claimed random things were signs from the “universe”
- Used really cheesy names for businesses like “Rise Up Woman Worldwide” or “Step into the Light”
(I just made those up but you totally thought they were real, amiright?)
TBH, those things were just moderately annoying. The real infraction came when I watched these coaches breach ethical boundaries, like encouraging people to quit their jobs or not insisting on therapy when discovering a client had an eating disorder or encouraging clients to use magical “natural” powders instead of their medicine.
It wasn’t cute anymore, it was dangerous.
I wrote off the entire field after that.
Then I Met Toku and Christina
Turns out, not all life coaches are full of $%^#. Unlike the coaches I described above, Toku and Christina were serious. This wasn’t a fun side hobby while they “figure out what’s next.” This was their business.
They were the founders of the first ever “Samurai Coaching Dojo,” a virtual incubator for coaches to practice and develop the art of authentic selling and deep coaching. When I met them, I made a few snide side comments about my previous impression of coaches. They weren’t offended — they wanted to eradicate that stuff too.
To coach is a privilege, they explained. An opportunity to help someone help themselves. It’s not instead of therapy, it’s different.
Now that’s something I could get my head around.
The difference between them and the coaches who were posting vapid quotes on my newsfeed 15x/day, was the difference between a person who “plays sports” on a video game and an Olympic athlete.
They’re not even in the same stratosphere.
So, when these two approached me about partnering with them on a Samurai Sales Dojo program that’s launching in October, I said, “I’m in.”
What I observed next will stay with me for the rest of my life. Turns out, when you take the best of coaching and apply it to business, you get one of the most functional operations I’ve seen to date.
Here are the surprising lessons I learned working behind-the-scenes with life coaches and why you should rush to implement this stuff in your business:
1. Communication works when you say what you mean
An old colleague called me up this week and reminded me of what I hated about consulting: it took him 25 mins to tell me something he could have said in one sentence.
In the corporate world, I was rewarded for belaboring the point. We charged clients by the hour and made more money if we were inefficient. The idea was the more you maintained the illusion of work (lots of meetings, lots of power points), the more “professionalism” you exuded.
What’s worse is that we’d hide behind it. Instead of saying what you mean, you’d obfuscate. “Well maybe if we…” “Building off what John said…” “I just feel like if…” Lots of words are used, but nothing is actually said.
This was not true in the coaching world.
This team was clear and to the point:
- “I think that’s a bad idea. Here’s why.”
- “Who is taking ownership of this? Great. When will it be done by?”
It was the most respectful anyone has ever been towards my time. Being deliberate with your language wasn’t just a woo woo concept from 4 Agreements (which admittedly is a book I enjoyed). It increased efficiency, transparency, and morale.
Passive aggression can’t survive in an environment where people say what they mean.
You know exactly where people stand, what you’re supposed to be doing, and how people feel. This was the first time I’d seen it executed properly.
2. Not multi-tasking in meetings communicates a LOT
It’s become the norm to check emails while you’re in a meeting. It’s not even considered rude anymore. It’s just expected.
So, when I jumped on Zoom with the coaching team for the first time, I did what I always do in meetings: respond to text messages. Meetings, in my experience, were always a waste of time. A nice thing you did for clients to make them feel heard, but mostly an interruption while you’re trying to do real work.
With the coaches, there’s no phones, no notifications, no “I’m sorry, one second.”
You get 100% of each person’s attention.
And the feeling that they actually care about what you have to say. They kick off all meetings checking in with each team member (an exercise that ordinarily would cause me to break out in a panic for being a waste of my time). The founders looking straight at you, listening intently.
Becuase you have everyone’s full attention, you take the privilege more seriously. No one “talks for the sake of talking.” (also becuase of #1 above.)
When you combine someone’s full attention with direct communication, you get a damn well run meeting.
3. Things get done when each person knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing
How many times have you gotten off a conference call with no idea what’s supposed to happen next?
I know how many: Every time. Every. single. freaking. time. You make a lot of progress verbally, but no execution happens and you wonder why 3 months later.
It’s not rocket science. It’s because no one was EXPLICITLY assigned ownership of a task.
Each person on this team is crystal clear about what they’re doing becuase they designate ownership openly, explicitly, and for everything.
No matter how trivial a task, no one moves to the next topic without someone saying, “I’m doing this.” If something’s not assigned, the team will call it out, confirming that the person who is in charge of it is aware they’re in charge.
Seems obvious, but back in my days at a marketing agency, no one took ownership of anything. You’d just throw out good ideas, make yourself sound smart or important, and then go back to your desk and respond to emails.
Clarity and transparency about who is doing what has also created a culture of taking initiative. Which brings us to number four.
4. People do things without being asked
This one, frankly, I’d never seen before in my 15 years as a legal working human. From my first high-school job as a waitress, to my time as a psychological researcher, all the way to corporate America working with some of the worlds’ most admired companies — never once did something get done without being explicitly asked.
“I remember you said XYZ, and I had some extra time, so I went ahead and did this, this, and this.” That is a normal statement.
In traditional corporations, when you finish work early, you go home. You futz around on your computer. You ask for more tasks.
They just…do. And the reason they can do that is each employee has autonomy. There’s no micromanaging. These coaches get that you set the tone from the top down. They hire subject matter experts (like Steve, the man behind operations at the Coaching Dojo) whom they respect and they let them go. “Do your thing. Have fun. Byeee.”
And they actually mean it. Most of my career has been in meetings where someone at the top asks for something and then the next 12 weeks are spent fighting about how no one did it right.
No one “reviews your work” to “make sure you did this right.” They just assume you did. And when you don’t do it right, YOU notice and apologize. YOU have to own your mistakes.
Autonomy only works when the people at the top are ok with your making (a lot of) mistakes.
And they are. I drafted an email that went out quoting Japanese and it was wrong. Readers let us know. It was embarrassing, but we fixed it. Toku and Christina didn’t even blink. We noticed and fixed it all without their having to shame us for overlooking such an obvious mistake.
5. Business is personal.
Listen it’s not like we don’t do some things I’d be embarrassed if my former corporate clients saw. We definitely do. But…they work.
Toku will often close his eyes during a meeting, Christina will ask deep penetrating questions that make you go inward to find the root of an issue (also, eyes closed), we check in “energetically” with each other. It’s weird. But like most weird things in life….it’s also really awesome.
Part of the reason you get assholes in the corporate sector is that their inner life is not aligned with their outer world. They resent their colleagues, they miss their family, they’re nervous about money, they’re insecure about their weight.
Those things sit front and center in our business conversations. Becuase the coaches recognize it’s all connected: business is personal. You’re not “this person at work” and “this person at home.” You’re you. At all times.
Being a human is not an infraction, it’s expected.
6. They genuinely care about their team, as people
In the midst of our launch prep, I declared I’d be unavailable for 24 full hours. Where most employers would go into a panic — Christina and Toku applauded me.
It’s an unspoken rule that employees who are unavailable for any length of time are shamed, not applauded.
Not with this team.
They knew the science: if your people are drained, they don’t do good work. Taking time away from the computer allows you to give more when you come back.
Other things they do:
- Openly and honestly give praise when it’s due
- Respect people’s boundaries (there’s no fake “emergencies” that set you into a panic)
- Use Zoom a lot so you’re looking at people in the eye instead of text/phone/email
- Learn each person’s individual work style so they can work better with you
- Genuinely like and respect each other (no fake compliments or “tolerating” people you “have” to work with. Except Regina)
JK. We love Regina.
Point is this team isn’t using late nights away from your family as a bonding mechanism. They’re using (wait for it) love.
Don’t ignore what’s obvious
There’s nothing new or revolutionary about how the Samurai Coaching Dojo team operates. They simply do what we all know we’re supposed to do. Treat each other with respect, listen when people talk, say what you mean, and care about the work you’re doing.
To quote Toku, “You don’t have to be a coach to put this stuff into action. You just have to be courageous enough to try.”