I was with a friend once who also happened to be a life coach. At some point in the evening, her phone rang. She apologised saying that she had to answer because this client needed her and this was an emergency.
I was genuinely concerned and curious at the same time as life coaches are generally involved in performance improvement or self-development but not in psychological help scenarios.
Turned out that the client was not at risk of harm or needed a different type of mental health professional. Her client developed a dependency on their coach when it came to emotional situations or decision-making.
I saw a similar scenario play out at the gyms when personal trainers create client dependency on coaching sessions. In some cases, the exercises that were included as a part of the program required a spotter for example chin-up with rubber bands.
I totally get it. Spending time with a coach working through challenges creates a bond that is very similar to a friendship. But it is a different type of relationship.
Because areas of teaching, coaching and mentorship overlap what I will be discussing further applies to all of these professions in my view.
When a student and teacher start their relationship they enter an agreement. Students will learn a skill from a teacher. The teacher will do their best to share their skill. Whether it’s being able to deal with emotional challenges, learning how to play tennis or progressing with the career. Once that goal is accomplished it is time to wrap up the relationship.
Repeating the same school term for the second time was used as a form of motivation away when I was growing up. Teachers will mention casually that if we did not pass our yearly exams we would go back to the same class.
It rarely happened but the thought of it was terrifying. Going back would mean not spending time with your old friends in class and finishing school a year late. Neither teacher nor the students wanted it. The school system was designed so that you learn the curriculum in a given time and move on to more complex subjects.
When the student gets to that level the teacher’s job is done. There is no better feeling to see how the student spreads their wings and flies for the first time.
So why is this happening once we leave our schools?
Firstly, In a paid relationship teachers expect a fee for the sessions. Like all of us they need to put food on the table and having no clients can mean a financial struggle.
When I used coaching as my single source of income this earning bias was projected on perspective clients and existing relationships. I would take clients I did not resonate with or wanted to work on something that I did not enjoy.
Secondly, egos like power and in a student-trainer relationship the latter holds the cards. Teachers are often a person of authority as they possess knowledge and seniority that students do not. Humans love power as many movies and books on this subject aptly mentioning it in the title can attest.
Finally, the relationship gives a purpose to the teacher. Without a student teacher’s role does not exist. Students on the other hand move on to other subjects or start using their skills.
Alan Watt’s in one of his lectures said to his audience something along the lines of “I don’t want you to follow me. I am not a guru. Learn from me and apply it to your life”
Great teachers are revered and respected. They also want to be fired by their students as this would be the highest form of complement. Fired not because they did a poor job at helping their student but quite the opposite.
They understand that when their student no longer needs them their mission is accomplished. They passed their knowledge and skill to someone who can either share it with others or use it to earn money or enjoy their life.
It also means that the student did not just memorise the information. The students also learnt to apply the knowledge independently without being supervised. The best gym coach that I ever had sat down with me for an hour just taking notes.
He learnt about my diet, exercise routine and more importantly what I wanted out of our relationship before we even hit the gym. He helped me with building a training routine that did not need him staying next to me making sure that I did everything correctly whenever I worked out.
This is a bitter pill to swallow for some students and teachers. Being stuck in the same relationship for months without progress could be a sign that you may need another teacher.
But for the teachers, this could be a red pill pushing them to realise that maybe they need to be clear on the nature of their relationship. That they need to invest in their own learning so they have something new to teach.
Living in the digital world perhaps they need to look at diversifying their income by writing books, and publishing recorded lessons that could reach a bigger audience that they are not married to the same client for years.
I admit that this principle will not apply to all of the coaching and teaching professions out there. Reflecting on student performance as an outside observer is not something a person does by themselves. Team coaching is also a different ball game. But for the one on one relationship, a lot of these will still apply.