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16 Oct, 2008

Cheryl Richardson: My Passion For Coaching

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coach Plus Articles

Leaving a family business to set up your own company takes courage but Cheryl Richardson knew she had to follow her heart. It was a decision that would one day lead her to becoming one of the very first coaches in the world. She spoke to Personal Success magazine about her career, her passion, the importance of community and how to spot a client who will achieve success.

Personal Success: How did you make the move from being a tax consultant to being a business counsellor?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘I had grown up in a family tax consulting business. I used to work as a tax consultant and prepared tax returns for individuals and small business owners. This was before computers so I would spend a lot of time with clients and inevitably all of the life issues that most of us deal with at one point or another would come up and it was this part of my work that I really enjoyed. I also noticed that the quality of someone’s personal life would have a direct effect on the quality of their business life and that to grow their business, they needed to grow themselves.

‘I made a very important decision that is directly related to passion and that is, I left what I was skilled at – I was very good with maths and numbers – to do what I loved, which was the life planning part of my work. I made a decision to choose my heart over my head. I made the shift from being a tax consultant to what I called a business counsellor because I didn’t know what else to call it. I said I wanted to help people grow their businesses by growing themselves.’

How did you develop those skills?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘From a young age, I was always very interested in personal development. At 19, I hired my first counsellor who really helped me find my own voice and have the courage to use it, to stand up for myself, and to ask for what I wanted. My choice to hire this counsellor and do this work was not a popular choice. I was teased a lot for that decision and yet it was the best decision I ever made.’

How long did the counselling last?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘Off and on for years. That initial period was probably two years. I used that counsellor to support me in making the switch to my own business.

‘I wanted to be more confident and more courageous in my life. I knew that I was living my life with hidden choices that I wanted to make but was too afraid. There were things I wanted to do with my life and I was just too afraid to make those decisions and I wanted to understand why.

‘I am also the first person to admit that as confident as I appear, I’m also very sensitive. Am I more confident than I was back then? Yes, of course I am. Am I more courageous than I was a year ago? Yes, of course I am. But I am always growing and evolving even now and I am the first to admit that I still get afraid and there are days when I feel insecure and there are days when I question my choices and my ability to do what I do. I think that’s human and I also think that it’s very important for someone who’s considered a leader in the field to be willing to be honest and vulnerable and human with people.

‘I’ve worked with business owners who run million dollar companies who, in the privacy of our conversations, will admit their own insecurities and their own fears and anxieties. I think it’s important that we know that because otherwise when we are afraid, questioning ourselves, or filled with self-doubt, we think we are the only ones and that keeps us stuck. Or we have a tendency to think that we are less than others and it’s just not true. Back then, some of the things that I did as I started the counselling helped me to start telling the truth to myself first and then to others admitting what I liked and didn’t like in my life and doing something about it.

‘I made a very difficult decision to leave the family business and go out on my own. That was really hard. I loved my father, loved my family, I was paid very well for the work that I did and yet, my heart wanted more. I needed confidence and courage to make those choices and eventually I was able to do that.’

How did you meet [Coach University's founder] Thomas J. Leonard?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘A mutual friend called me and said, “I’ve met this man who lives in Texas and he’s doing the kind of work you’re doing and he’s developing this coach training programme and I think you would be very fascinated by it. You should call him.”

‘I did and he explained to me what he was doing with the Coach University Training Programme and sent me the materials and I instantly knew I wanted to be a part of it. I felt like somebody had put a name and a framework to what I had already been doing in my life and was offering skills that would allow me to take my work to a far greater level. He had a lot to offer. That began our relationship and work together.’

Did you find it hard to describe to people what coaching was?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘Yes, every time someone would ask me what a coach was, they would receive a different answer. It was very challenging because we were figuring it out as well. A small group of us were the first students at Coach U and we were even helping to create some of the curriculum so it became quite a challenge to describe what it was we were doing. What I discovered was that the best way for me to describe what I was doing was to give people specific examples of what it meant to work with a coach. That really helped.’

Did you have any clue at that stage how big the profession would become?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘The honest answer to that is “No”. There’s no way any of us could have known how essentially we were launching a whole new profession that had never been heard of before. That said, it was really clear to me that coaching was here to stay and that it was not a fad because it was so effective. I cared deeply for the clients I was working with and they were making amazing changes in their lives. As a client of a coach, I also experienced the power of that partnership and it dramatically altered the course of my life. I knew anything that was that powerful and effective was here to stay. I feel the same way today.

‘I travel all the time and there are times when coaches say to me, “I’m afraid the market is getting flooded and there are too many coaches” and I say, “You know, as somebody who deals with thousands of people all the time, every time I speak people come up to me afterwards wanting to know where they can find a coach. The desire for coaching never disappears: it only gets stronger as time goes on. The reason for that is people recognise that having a partner who is well trained and experienced and who can help you craft a life that means something to you is a very smart choice and very wise decision in one’s life.’

When you finished your training, did you have an established client base?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘Yes. It’s important to let people know that I came from a self-employed business so I already knew what it was like to be self-employed. I had a large network of people to call upon. At the time I was doing coaching, I was also doing some public speaking, I was teaching networking and relationship building skills so once I enrolled in the coach training programme and got some training under my belt I began working with clients for free in the beginning just to help develop my confidence and my skills and then I began to charge. It was a three-year coach training programme and it took me about two years to establish a successful referral generated practice of really great clients. By the time I graduated from Coach U, I was well on my way with a successful coaching business.’

What was Thomas J. Leonard’s suggestion for finding coaching clients?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘Thomas said call 25 people that you feel you could really make a difference with and offer to coach them for free for the first 90 days. I was terrified because I wasn’t a very strong marketing, self-promoting kind of person but I also knew that I loved to be challenged. So I did. I picked up the phone and started calling people. I didn’t make a list of 25 – probably a list of 10 – the first four or five people said, “Absolutely. I’d love to do that” but the fifth or sixth said “No” and I remember feeling really discouraged and not wanting to make another phone call but I did it anyway and the next person said “Yes”.

‘Six months later, the first person who said no, called me and said, “Okay, I’m ready” and I asked what he meant and he said, “When you called me, I knew you weren’t going to let me off the hook and that I had better be prepared to change my life and I wasn’t ready to do that then.” It was such a wonderful lesson for me. Every rejection isn’t about you: it’s about the other person and something that’s going on in their life. It also really taught me that I only wanted to work with clients who were ready. If they weren’t ready, it wasn’t going to be easy or an enjoyable experience for either of us.’

How can you tell when clients are ready?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘When they fit my ideal own client profile that I’ve developed over time. Some of the things that I look for are:

  • Clients who have very specific, big goals and a history of taking action. If somebody comes to me for example and says, “Oh, I’ve hired three counsellors and four coaches and nobody has been able to help me do X”, a flag goes up.
  • Clients who can easily afford the fee.
  • Clients who recognise that they need to do the work and that I’m there to provide them with wisdom, insight and experience but they must be really self-motivated and able to take responsibility for the fact that they are the ones who are creating their lives.
  • Clients who have a demonstrated track record of success.

Do you have to feel excited by the client’s goals?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘I have to feel excited by the client. There needs to be chemistry. I tell people that when they are hiring a coach, they should look for chemistry. When you hang up the phone after interviewing that coach, you need to feel that sense of “Yes! I cannot wait to work with this person. I am so excited to go to our first call.”

‘A sign of good chemistry is when the client already starts making changes before they even get to the first formal coaching call.’

Was there a time when you were worried about attracting enough clients?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘Absolutely. I still remember vividly six weeks into my training and I was pacing back and forth and saying to my husband, “I don’t know what’s wrong and why I only have six clients. I’m trying to build my practice but it’s not easy.” He stopped me and he said, “Do you hear what you’re saying? You’ve only been enrolled in a training programme for six weeks. You’ve just begun learning about this thing called ‘coaching’ and you’re upset because you don’t have a full practice yet?”

‘He just reminded me that I’ve always had a tendency to have unreal expectations of myself and I remember that. That’s been a pattern for me: I can be very impatient. One of the things I’ve learnt in my career is that there’s my time and Divine Time. I always place my bets on Divine Timing because it always turns out better than mine.’

If you hadn’t had that impatience, would you have achieved what you have done?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘No, I would not. I think that along with that impatience goes a real commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve the success that I want to achieve and so in some ways that impatience became a driving force. It’s not always the right kind of driving force but I’ve learned the difference. Definitely on some level, it’s been an asset because it motivates me to stay in action which is the only thing that allows us to achieve what we want to achieve.

‘There is no magic and it takes hard work to build a business. I have been a business owner for more than 20 years not just as a coach but also in other businesses. It takes commitment and hard work and a willingness to hang in there when things aren’t easy. In some ways it goes back to my beginning work – there’s a whole set of personal skills that we need to develop to be able to achieve success and one is tenacity, a willingness to hang in there when things get difficult or when we doubt ourselves and believe there’s no way this is going to work.’

Is that why you suggest forming communities, so that you have other people to support you in those times?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘Absolutely. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not had a group of coaches early on who were very supportive. We supported each other as we built our practices, and went through our own personal and professional growth. I was very lucky that we would meet on the phone every single week and we would help each other.

‘We all need community and that’s why I have the Life Makeover Community on-line [with over 4,000 groups worldwide] because I know the way we ensure we make the changes we need to make is when we have people who will hold us accountable. I mean, that’s the foundation for coaching: having someone who will hold you accountable, be a good partner, and will remind you of your greatness when you forget – all of those kinds of wonderful things that good coaches do.’

How did you overcome your fear of public speaking?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘By doing a lot of it. By going to Toastmasters, an international speech club, and having supportive people around me who encouraged me to speak even when I was afraid. You put yourself in such a vulnerable position when you get on stage and if I had given up early on when I felt afraid, I would have missed my calling. I love being a teacher, a speaker, and touching people’s lives. I couldn’t have done it by myself – I needed people to support me and to say it’s okay – you can do this, hang in there.’

Do you ever get worried before you give a speech?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘I do, I always get butterflies in my stomach but it’s so much easier now. I realise it’s more about excitement than fear. In fact, Thomas said that to me years ago. I was going to be doing some television about coaching and I remember emailing him and saying, “I’m so scared to do this” and he emailed back just one line and it said, “I think what you’re feeling is excitement and you’re just calling it fear.” It was such a beautiful thing for him to say and it stayed with me. Even to this day, if I feel nervous about something, I’ll say, “You know what? I’m not nervous, I’m just excited.”‘

How would you recommend coaches help their clients to find their passion?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘Certainly first by finding their own and making sure they are doing what they feel passionate about. Passion is an emotional not an intellectual response. Too often, we make choices based on our heads instead of a connection between the head and the heart. So, firstly, as a coach, you must be engaged in things that you are passionate about. Passion isn’t just a work-related concept so it might be music, art, animals or gardening. You need to have that experience of being passionate about something so that you can talk about it. You can’t talk about something if you have not experienced it and it’s very difficult to support people in finding their passion if you haven’t done something you feel passionate about.

‘Secondly, one of the greatest gifts a coach can give a client when it comes to finding their passion is to hold them to a schedule that allows for an exploration. In other words, to support the client to engage in a treasure hunt, to really explore their whole life and a myriad of things they might feel passionate about, instead of having them hone in on things too quickly, which is what most people want to do.

‘Most people think their passion is going to save them and that’s not the case. If somebody is desperate to find their passion, what it usually means is something isn’t working in their lives and they are desperate to feel better about it. A coach also needs to be able to distinguish between finding a passion and finding a good solid life.

‘For example, somebody might be working at a job where their boss treats them poorly. They don’t have the ability to set boundaries and stand up to their boss. They may not even realise the significance of that problem. Instead, they tell a coach, “I just don’t like my job. I don’t feel passionate about it and I need to find my passion. And I need to find my passion within 30 days.” The coach needs to explore that further and ask what is really going on. Why is that person so anxious to find their passion?

‘I don’t even go to the passion conversation, I’d say, “Tell me about your current job. What’s it like?”

“Oh, my boss, he drives me crazy…”

“Really? Tell me more about that.”

“He always makes unrealistic demands of me and tries to humiliate me in front of other employees.”

“No kidding! What do you do when he does that?”

“Well, I don’t know what to do. I just think he’s an idiot and I just need to leave that job.”

“Okay. Let’s start there because if you can’t set boundaries with a boss who humiliates you in front of other people, there are a couple of things going on.

Number one, wherever you go, you’re going to have the same problem right there so we need to address this problem first. Secondly, if you can’t set limits with a person who treats you that poorly at work, I guarantee you are not able to set limits with people who treat you poorly outside of work.” Those are two skills that must be learnt if you want to live a great life, regardless of whether you are living your passion or not. The coach’s job is to deal with the source of the problem not the symptom. So, you really want to look at what’s going on in that regard.’

What vision are you working towards now?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘I’m currently working on my next book which is called The Art of Extreme Self-Care and I’m in the middle of finishing building a home – it’s been a three-year project with my husband to build our dream home.’

How did you become involved with Oprah Winfrey?

Cheryl Richardson: ‘She read my first book, Take Time For Your Life and wanted to do two Lifestyle Makeover shows. After several conversations with the producers, I was invited to do the first show. I did that and it went very well and they asked me to come back and do the second show.

‘The two shows were very, very popular and they decided to continue and it turned into a whole series. That was something that I could never have imagined in a million years.

‘As we got to the end of the year doing the lifestyle makeover series, she invited me to join her on the first ‘Live Your Best Life’ Tour. It really helped put coaching on the map because suddenly millions of people were hearing about coaching for the very first time. It was wonderful.’

What is your big passion in life?

Cheryl Richardson: Community and connection. I have always been passionate about community and connection ever since I was a young girl, maybe because I come from a large family. I’ve been a community builder ever since – it just occurs as naturally to me as breathing does. I can’t imagine not doing it and I still feel deeply passionate about it.

‘I feel passionate about my husband, I’m really blessed to have a really good marriage – we have been together for nearly 14 years. I wouldn’t be here today without him.

‘I feel passionate about coaching, about the power of partnership and what happens when we reach out to one another in support of our hearts and in support of the things that move us in the fullness of our gifts and power. We are so blessed to be in this profession. Those of us who really love the work, and are committed to it and do it well, are spiritual pioneers, helping to raise consciousness on the planet. This starts with our own work, of course the raising of our own consciousness, and then permeates out into our world as we help others to lead more conscious lives. I can’t think of a lot more to be passionate about. It’s really exciting work. We are consciousness builders and the work that we do has a direct and clear ability to improve life on the planet for everyone. That’s something to be passionate about and to be proud of.’

You can visit Cheryl Richardson’s website here:

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