Don’t Call Me Coach! Three Questions To Ask All Of Your Professional Advisors

Don’t Call Me Coach! Three Questions To Ask All Of Your Professional Advisors

Don’t Call Me Coach! Three Questions To Ask All Of Your Professional Advisors

After college, Bill went straight to work in his city government August 1, 1972.  On the day he began his employment he already knew his retirement date: 30 years to the day hence. He married Sue. They bought a house. Eventually, the two kids, Tim and Julie, came along. The family was active in their neighborhood association and their church. The kids’ activities, especially sports, took up a lot of time and energy.  Sue went back to work when both of the kids were in high school in anticipation of college tuition to be paid. Bill climbed the job ladder through the years.
On August 1, 2002, he retired right after his 65th birthday. In addition to Bill’s pension, they had worked with a financial coach who had helped them amass 15 years-worth of retirement income in their investments. Sue’s and Bill’s plan was to have a great 15 years of retirement and die around age 80, like his parents, before he and Sue had eaten up their savings. His pension and their Social Security wouldn’t be enough.
They sometimes needed their pastor’s coaching. He had seen their issues many times before with other couples. When Tim broke his leg playing football and was very unhappy on crutches, there were other experienced parents available to coach all three of them. When Julie didn’t do well on the SAT exam the first time, they hired a testing coach to work with her to bring up her scores. They also used coaching from a financial advisor. Like their pastor, their friends, and the SAT coach, she had seen it all before and knew how to help.
Their entire future was built on the model most of us grew up with, our now-ot-of-date 4 stage life model:
  • Childhood
  • Education
  • Work and Family
  • Retirement

Bill is now 80 and very healthy. Only a bit younger, Sue is in great shape. Like many other couples they are outliving their money and, equally problematic, a long time ago they stopped updating their employable skills and refreshing their networks of professional/work-related friends and colleagues.

Sue told me, with Bill nodding his head, that they have been in denial for at least 10 years. Know that this is not unique to them, and that they are looking for a coach to help them work their way through this mess. Would I coach them in collaboration with their financial advisor, attorney, grown kids, and pastor? I told them I would work with them but not as a coach. I thought they needed to think differently and that meant setting aside familiar language that is no longer helpful- starting with the word “coach”.

 Let’s talk about the word coach for a minute. Coach is commonly defined as:  One who instructs players in the fundamentals of a sport and directs team strategy.   And it’s built on a number of sports analogies.In the Old Normal (dominated by continuous change) the sports analogy could be stretched to make some sense.   In the New Normal (dominated by disruptive, discontinuous change) it doesn’t make any sense at all.
  1. The Coach is the person most responsible for pulling it all together.  It’s called your life for a reason. No one is more responsible for it than you are.
  2. The Coach has special expertise and can call the plays in a specific game. You may get advice but anyone else calling your life plays is a mistake because they don’t have to live with the consequences. You do.
  3. The game has rules the coach must know. The New Normal doesn’t have rules. And the coach doesn’t know them.
  4. A game lasts for fixed periods of time and the coach can use timing for an advantage. There are no periods in rapid disruptive/discontinuous times. Life goes fast and it never stops.
  5. Coaching repetitive plays or strategies makes the players and team better.  There is no playbook in the New Normal. We have to invent it as we go along. This means, of course, eschewing our usual tools (like problem solving and using our past to predict our futures) until we figure out what is really going on.
  6. There are two opposing coaches as well as opposing individuals or teams. In the New Normal there are few, if any, opposites and freestanding opponents.
  7. Someone(s) wins and someone(s) else loses. See #6 above.
  8. The game is played on an identifiable floor or pool or field or course, laid out in advance with boundaries.  There is no level playing field or boundaries or established course in the New Normal. Not only must we invent it as we go, we must be paying close enough attention to know when it’s morphing under and around us, and adapt accordingly.
  9. Unless it’s a bullfight or a contest between gladiators, the game isn’t a matter of life and death, although we often behave as though it is.   In the New Normal changes overlap. Seeing the beginning, middle, and end of transitions is confusing at best. I once owned a Nike poster that said, “There Is No Finish Line.” I didn’t know at the time how prophetic that was.
As you can see, NONE of these conditions are true in modern life planning and professional advising. We still have continuous change, of course, but it no longer dominates. In our New Normal of dominant disruptive change and discontinuous opportunity when long term planning is no longer possible, we want expert advisors who have great expertise but aren’t trapped by their previous experience, assumptions, sales/marketing language, and processes.
Do we need professional advisors? Yes, more than ever. Have most professional advisors made the leap to being able to distinguish between continuous change/opportunity and discontinuous change/opportunity in their clients’ lives? What do you think?
Here are three questions I recommend you ask every professional advisor you are using or are considering using:
  1. How does your understanding of discontinuous/disruptive change and opportunity in your clients lives or future affect how you work with them and the value you deliver in our New Normal?
  2. Will you give me three recent examples about this from your work with your clients?
  3. How are you working with discontinuous/disruptive change and opportunity in your own life and life planning?                                         I don’t mind the word “coach” by itself, of course, when it is used in a sports setting. What I object to is when it is applied to planning and living lives is the frequently unchallenged set of underlying, comfortable assumptions that coaches and clients believe to be still true in their work together.  These assumptions readily allow coaches to coach people into trouble.  And they allow clients to deceive themselves if they are not careful.
Please let me know about the responses you get after you ask your advisors the three questions above. In addition, I’d be interested in knowing what you learned or figured out as a result. No one has the playbook because in the New Normal it doesn’t exist. Perhaps we can help each other in inventing it as we go along.

1 Comment

  • Jari Searns
    December 14, 2017 6:46 pm 0Likes

    Hi George! What a super-duper article. Your observations are spot-on…and I speak from the perspective of a retired person who has experienced thus far in my retirement… loads of disruption, mixed messages, wrong turns, right turns (on occasion) and “professionals” who have offered advice that proved to be both unbalanced and unhelpful .
    Occasionally I can actually “see” through all this disruption and get on the “right” path (at least for me), but I somehow manage to take the wrong turn over and over again…It is very frustrating!!

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