Life Coach – A Torah View

The occupation of Professional Coach has grown tremendously over the last few years. More and more people are opting to find and pay for a coach to help them achieve success in their everyday goals, in all fields, including work, family and personal development.

Throughout my involvement in this most uplifting field, I have discovered an interesting phenomenon which I wish to share. Firstly, I wish to define and quantify the role of the coach. Secondly, I wish to discuss the words of Chazal and the rabbinical sources which define and mention “coaching”. I believe that the idea of coaching has in reality been around for thousands of years. I believe that it is endorsed by Chazal and the Rabbinical Leaders throughout the generations.

Part I: Coaching Definition

Coaching is most eloquently described in the words of the authors of a most expert coaching book titled Coactive Coaching. They state that the primary outlook employed by a coach is that “the client is creative, resourceful and whole”. Meaning, it is not the coach who is calling the shots and establishing directives. It is only the coach that stimulates, helps promote self-clarification, expression and accountability to bring the ideas of development to fruition. The authors quip that it is not the coach that is powerful, rather “the coaching relationship is powerful”. Through the client and coach working together, goals are defined and implemented.

Stephen Covey (The 8th Habit) states that the best managers follow the formula of: “be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic”. I believe that this applies to coaching as well. When you are committed to helping your client discover his own strengths and solutions, you will see tremendous success.

After recognizing that the client has input and solutions ready for self-discovery, the coach’s job is to help extract this. A most effective mode is through powerful questions. Questions such as, “so, what are the options available and which do you prefer?” and “in your optimal world, how would the situation look, now, how can you move toward that outcome?”, stimulate an honest and revealing articulation from any serious client who wishes to help himself.

Many psychological models have stressed the idea of non-didactic help. Perhaps most strongly was Carl R. Rogers in the development of his person-centered therapy. He stressed that only a humanistic approach, one that recognizes that the client deserves “unconditional positive regard”, will yield success. Rogerian therapy celebrates the individual’s strengths, abilities and autonomic decisions in how to proceed in life.

Regarding the power of questions, Jean Piaget espoused the view that the only way to learn new information is through questions and stimulation. He believed that only through cognitive disequilibrium that provokes questions, discussion and investigation will one gain understanding.

Coaching means to me, believing in the client’s ability to find answers and having the skill to stimulate, encourage and help oversee its discovery and implementation.

Part II: Chazal

The verse (Mishley 20:4) states, “Deep counsel is present inside man’s heart, a resourceful person will draw it out”. King Solomon, I believe, is referring to the ability to self-solve problems. This is the founding presumption of an effective coach. We help the client get in touch with their feelings and needs. They have the answers inside, they are encouraged to search out their internal truths.

The Talmud (Yuma 75a) discusses a dispute in how to read the verse (Mishley 12:25), “a worry in the heart of man, yesichena”. One Talmudic sage reads it as, “push the worry out of your mind”, The other reads it as, “tell it over to another person”. The Vilna Goan comments that in truth they are not arguing, rather they are expressing two successive options. When faced with a challenge, first a person may try to deal with it by himself. If this doesn’t work, then he is encouraged to speak it over with someone else. The other person’s listening ear will produce a solution! This is the coaching perspective. Through speaking with the coach, one produces a solution.

The Talmud (Taanis 23a) states, “either give me a partner or give me death”. Humans need someone to talk to and the coach is able to listen, respect and help a person be honest and productive with himself.

When dealing with some of the most important and fundamental concepts of Judaism, we find that Chazal employed the question form. Avos (4:1) states, who is wise? who is rich? who possesses strength? These are from the most primary aspects of life. Chazal felt that the message should be expressed by means of stimulating questions.

Indeed, the entire text of the Talmud is in the most conducive form of understanding: Questions that stimulate the mind and produce understanding. The Talmudic champions are most famous for their “bomb- questions!” This stimulates and builds Talmudic mastery.

As far as the format of the coaching itself, again the Torah proves to be the best source of recommendations in this department. Chazal state that the best way to learn is via questions. When the mind hears questions it is stimulated and the subsequent answers are processed more effectively and powerfully. “The one too embarrassed to ask will not learn” (Pirkey Avos 2:5).

The format of the Pesach Seder reflects this as well. On the night where it is a positive Torah commandment to give over and instill the beauty and truth of the Jewish religion, the format chosen is with great precision. Make the children ask questions! Begin with the most well-known question in the entire world, “Mah Nishtanah, why is this night different than all other nights?” Questions stimulate the mind and penetrate the heart.

Tanach and Chazal express the importance and power of effective questions. This is the benchmark of the successful coach. This is the way to succeed.

Rabbis over the centuries have strived to help people turning to them to learn how to think for themselves and develop and implement solutions.

Part III: Conclusion
In parting, I wish to share with you (with permission from its author) a short excerpt from a very meaningful letter which I recently received from a young man, whom I will refer to as Jack to protect his identity. I have been working with Jack for the past six years. He has struggled to find himself and has been battling depression, a broken home, dysfunctional parents, a challenging drug and alcohol addiction and poor self-esteem. After he had a nervous breakdown last July, he finally agreed to seriously commit himself to join AA and seek psychological help. His heartfelt words express to me how I was able to coach him and help him develop self-esteem. His journey has just begun….

… You have seen me at my best and you have seen and heard me at my worst, and never once did you budge, become disheartened, or stop seeing the bigger picture. I value your friendship almost as much as I value your input wisdom and guidance, which have literally saved my life on numerous occasions….. Your resilience and optimism are a never ending source of pure water (or in my vernacular, the finest scotch Laphroaig 30). Thank you and I owe you a tremendous debt.

Of all my many friends, you are the most vaunted, mainly for your exceptional brain, but what speaks even louder volumes to me is your heart. Part of my motivation, and part of my inspiration to become the best I can be, is because I want my heart to be like yours, caring, unwavering, and most importantly true. Since you met me six years ago, your serenity and comfort of knowing who you really are inspire me almost daily to find my own serenity.

I am Jack, and because of you, will be the best Jack I can be, and hopefully along the way push and inspire people the way you continuously inspire and motivate me. I love myself, but without you there is a good chance that I would not, and it is because of you that I can sing praises and face another day.

May G-d allow me to permeate all of your teachings and insight, so that I can be the man you believe I can be, the man you convince me I will be…