Harris Fanaroff

The Youngest By 8+ Years In My Coaching Certificate Cohort

My classmates in the American University Leadership Coaching Certificate class called me Doogie Howser in my 360 review, and I was young enough that I didn’t understand the reference. This made for a pretty good joke when the title slide for my final presentation was a direct quote from a classmate, “Doogie Howser was a great doctor.”

I was the youngest one in my leadership coaching class by 8+ years which gave me an interesting perspective. Going into the class, I had an assumption I would be one of the younger ones given the stigma around leadership coaches being older, but I did not think there would be as few people in my age range. I got into this world after I was coached and able to work on things that I had not previously made the time or had the space to do so. I was amazed at how powerful an experience this could be and how I wanted to make this my career to do this for other people. Since taking the class, I’ve had numerous people in my age range pick my brain about my experiences in the class, so I figured I’d share what it’s like to be the “Doogie Howser” of a Leadership Coaching certificate class.

Below are the 6 major things I learned while going through the AU program.

  1. Good coaching has nothing to do with age

Unlike a consultant who will analyze situations and tell you what to do, a coach helps people look within themselves and draw their own conclusions. A great coach raises probing questions and the client comes to the conclusions on their own. A great consultant tells you what you need to do. You don’t need to be a certain age or have a certain amount of years under your belt to ask the right questions to help someone get the answer for themselves. A coach is an expert on the development of people in general and helps people move forward on a unique path for themselves. In the purest form of coaching, it is often tough for people with a lot of experience (or former consultants) to resist the urge to tell their client what to do, but instead let you get the answer for yourself. This was where I excelled in the class, never telling my classmates with more experience what to do but rather letting them uncover the answers through the powerful questions I was taught to ask.

2. We are often our own biggest critic

I spent my first few weeks in the cohort constantly worrying about how other people in the class would view me as a young coach. Would they think I have no experience, do they think I can’t do this because I’m young, are they judging me for spending my money on this class as someone that is young? It took a lot of open and honest conversations with others in the class to understand I was my own biggest critic. Most people in the class told me up front they liked that I was younger and brought unique experiences to the cohort. The few that were skeptical (and willing to share that with me) told me that after I was able to share my experience of why I got into coaching (more on that below), they understood why I was a 26 year old trying to get into the coaching world.

3. A parent’s relationship with their child is often their most important

A very high percentage of the coaching conversations I had with people in their 50’s and 60’s was related to their relationship with their child. Maybe it was because they saw my age and face as someone that was like their children, but this is what got my classmates deeply emotional and this is what they cared about. So many of the conversations were incredibly fruitful and helpful for the classmate to take a step back and review the behaviors they were portraying to their children. What became apparent to me is that we often go on auto-pilot with the people that are most important to our lives, but when you get asked the question, “what do you want to work on today?” those are the people we think of and want to improve our relationships with.

4. A good “why” turns skeptics into believers

There will always be people that are skeptical, and that is the case for some people that I have told I’m getting into this industry. In the cohort, we went through an incredibly moving experience where we shared a time when we were vulnerable or went through something very difficult to practice being with emotions in a non-judgmental way. I shared the story that I have shared in my about me section about going through a difficult identity transition way before I was “ready.” Besides being an incredibly valuable experience and something I will always remember, I had several members of the class tell me they now understood why I was in this industry and how my “why,” should get rid of any pre-conceived notions others may have about me being a young coach.

5. Being different causes you to think about how to differentiate

While my goal in this industry overall is to make an impact in people’s lives and help them to live a happier and more fulfilled life, I have spent time thinking about how I can provide value for an “older” executive. I can of course provide an open space and ask them questions to help them unlock their potential, but I can also provide a perspective of what it’s like as a young leader in a company and what that type of person values. As a more tenured exec is looking for a person to bounce ideas off to understand how to motivate and engage millennials, I know I can be a huge value add. I am not someone with a ton of expertise in their industry or expertise as a CEO, but I do believe I can help them to better understand their future leaders who will be one day leading their company. As leaders think about the future of their organization, and how to succeed in the coming years, it’s so important to engage and motivate the future leaders in a meaningful way.

6. Not just Executives need coaching

Everyone can benefit from a coach. It doesn’t mean that you need a certain title or certain amount of people underneath you to value from an open space where you are asked the right questions and can learn about yourself. Everyone is going through something, and everyone can improve aspects of their life if they take the time to do so. As I share my story and interest about corporate coaching with my friends (who are not in the C-Suite of their organization) I have been amazed with how many people share how helpful coaching would be for their current situation. There is a need and desire for anyone to have a space to work on themselves and get pushed to be the best version of themselves that they can be.