On mentors, cows, and triangulation: Why do coaches have coaches?

Photo by Jan Koetsier from Pexels

Mentors can show up in the most unexpected places. In the first pandemic lockdown, I often walked to nearby fields and woods for my daily ration of fresh air. One day, a group of cows had gathered by the gate. As I made my way through them, the cows looked at me with their daze of bovine indifference. For them, life was normal. A life between earth and sky. What more does anyone need? I was in the presence of Zen masters.

Throughout my career I have been fortunate to have had mentors. From my first student placement to corporate leadership positions, leaders and colleagues have supported and guided me. In return, I have always paid it forward.

Not every mentor knew that they were mentoring me. I have drawn lessons and inspiration also from friends, strangers, family, children (including my own), artists, explorers, architects, scientists, designers, books, films, cats, dogs, birds and, of course, cows.

Because wherever you look – if you look deeply enough – insights await.

That is why explicit mentorship and coaching has been most transformative for me, even as a coach myself. Trained coaches and mentors have a particular way of listening and noticing, just like photographers have a particular way of seeing. They rarely give advice or tell you how to do things. Nothing is handed on a platter. They make you work for your insights. They make you accountable for your work. They help you find your own way.

Sometimes it surprises people to hear that I, as a coach, work with a coach of my own. But all good coaches eat their own dog food. Why should I coach others if I don’t believe in it enough for myself? Coaches are not supernatural beings who spend years meditating on top of a mountain so they can pass down wisdom. Besides, dentists don’t drill their own teeth, and hairdressers don’t cut their own hair – except badly. Ditto for coaches.

In fact, over the past 18 months I have had the pleasure of working with multiple coaches and mentors. Without them, I would not be where I am today:

  • Jeff, my professional coaching supervisor, who has guided me with wit and humour to find my own way as a coach. With 30+ years’ experience in executive coaching he could have easily lectured me on the dos and don’ts. Instead he just gave me a light sabre and helped me learn to swing it my way.
  • Nicola, my coaching accreditation mentor, who supported and challenged me to be counted and reach higher. Thanks to her refusal to take no for an answer, I am now an EMCC-accredited Senior Practitioner.
  • Ben, a high-performance leadership coach whose unwillingness to beat around the bush left me nowhere to hide. After one hour of talking with him, I knew what I had to do.
  • Alison, my peer coach who regularly takes her scalpel to my zig-zaggy mind and enables me to unpack its contents into neat packages and discrete steps forward.

I am grateful to them all. A couple of years ago I didn’t know these remarkable people, and most of them don’t know each other. Due to the pandemic none of us have ever met in person. And yet, here we are. 18 months ago, I had barely even heard of an app called Zoom.

Like I said, mentors show up in the most unexpected places.

As a former land surveyor, I feel like mentors have been my constellation of trig pillars around the horizon. Each contributing a unique perspective, enabling me to establish my own position and take new bearings. My personal triangulation network, between earth and sky.

I think the cows would agree.