The original article was published January 5th, 2022 on Authority Magazine
Continually adapt to the market and innovate your services. Crisis often serves as a catalyst for creativity. The pandemic, supply chain shortages, and health and financial challenges have spawned innovation in coaching. Now is the time to let your creativity spark how you will deliver your coaching services. Nature coaching, on-premise coaching, online coaching, group coaching, and one-on-one coaching are examples of services that can be combined to best serve your clients.
The coaching industry is now tremendous. It is a 15 billion dollar industry. Many professionals have left their office jobs to become highly successful coaches. At the same time, not everyone who starts a coaching business sees success. What does someone starting a career as a life coach, wellness coach, or business coach need to know to turn it into a very successful and rewarding career?
In this interview series, called “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach” we are interviewing experienced and successful life coaches, wellness coaches, fitness coaches, business and executive coaches and other forms of coaches who share the strategies you need to create a successful career as a life or business coach.
In this particular interview, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Julie Elledge, Founder of Mentor Agility.
Founder and CEO of Mentor Agility and creator of the Hero’s Journey® Change Model, Dr. Elledge is a highly experienced coach and renowned educator specializing in the use of storytelling in coaching. She is a licensed family therapist and professional coach in national practice with numerous credentials including the prestigious International Coaching Federation (ICF), the National Board Certification for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBC-HWC), and Board Certified Coach (BCC). Dr. Elledge is recognized as an expert in creativity and organizational dynamics and has created education and training programs for Apple Education, Twentieth Century Fox, NOAA, BP and INEEL. Using her gift for storytelling she has pioneered the areas of creativity, financial well-being, and nature in coaching.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and what brought you to this particular career path?
Ibegan my career working for Caesars World Merchandising at corporate headquarters as an account executive in their fragrance division. I had the opportunity to work under the example of many corporate giants during this time and received amazing training. This early education in business has served me well throughout my career as an entrepreneur.
As much as I loved my work with Caesars World, I could not deny my interest in people’s well-being. I turned my attention to becoming a therapist which I did exclusively for ten years before finding coaching. Marc Anthony once said, “if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.” I believe this to be true. For the last twenty years I have had a full roster of coaching clients and love every moment of it.
After getting my PhD in Education, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Apple Education during the development of their Challenge Based Learning framework.
My team and I have taken our experience with curriculum design and multimedia education and brought it into coaching and Mentor Agility. In addition, we have infused some of the elements of Challenge Based Learning into our coaching method that has a proven track record for improving performance, achievement, and collaboration.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The three character traits that have driven me to success are insatiable curiosity, tenacity, and innovation.
Years ago, I became incredibly curious about the Hero’s Journey — Joseph Campbell’s exploration into narrative structure and how it applied to human behavior. The more I learned, the more I realized it related to how people changed their lives for the better by making the right decisions at the right times in their lives. And it reflected how Jung and others related it to human behavior. So I devised what I called the “Hero’s Journey® Change Model” and began using that narrative structure, which can be found in countless movies and novels my clients were familiar with, and it helped illustrate how they could advance their lives, their relationships and their careers. It made me a better therapist, a better coach and now, it guides how I train coaches by focusing on storytelling with their clients to help guide them to the right decisions.
Our company’s focus in training coaches is based on storytelling and narrative structure, and we are the leading training company in emphasizing storytelling — including the Hero’s Journey® Change Model as a core element of advancing clients’ lives. And while others have integrated the Hero’s Journey in their work in recent years, we’ve been recognized by the Joseph Campbell Foundation for our fealty to his interpretations of narrative structure and behavior.
Tenacity is a gift I received from my Irish family and my training. People told me the Hero’s Journey® was too ethereal for clinical or coaching use. Today, many are replicating a process I’ve been using and evolving successfully for over 25 years, and storytelling is the core of our training. When we started our company 6 months before the COVID pandemic, when coaches and their clients struggled to maintain their practices much less invest in innovative training, our team of instructors wanted to do something to support coaches. We took our individual expertise of crisis work and turned them into a $5 class series to prepare coaches for what was ahead.
Innovation is hard wired, it seems. I simply can’t do what others do. Working with Apple was inspiring. Innovation is in their corporate DNA, which is why we worked so well with them. When I moved my family and my practice to Jackson Hole, I began integrating the wild places that surrounded us into my coaching. Nature coaching is now a core element of my practice and what we teach at Mentor Agility, and is becoming increasingly sought out by coaches and clients alike.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Habits are the engines of success. There is a lot of research around their benefit for performance or how they can disrupt goal achievement. I work with a lot of high performing athletes, military, and martial artists who are prime examples of the advantages of developing good habits. What you practice becomes part of your subconscious response to threat. If your habit is to yell at someone when you are angry, then that is what you do. If you habit is to breathe through your anger, then that is what you will do. When you are under stress, you want to rely on a cellular level response that will renew your resources instead of drain them and that is what good habits do. My training with the Chopra Center taught me that where you put your attention grows. Be intentional with your attention. That is your life coming into focus.
My most important habit begins with how I launch my day. I commit to myself and my family that we all leave the house to face the day at peace with each other. No client wants to work with coaches who are distracted by an argument they had that morning with their kids or a partner. I use an early morning meditation to center myself so I can be present and mindfully connect in a meaningful with myself and my relationships.
This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Habits, tucked away in the shadows outside of conscious awareness, have the capacity to conflict with and even derail conscious goals, intent, motivation, and purpose. The emotional brain is particularly sensitive to the subconscious because it is constantly scanning the environment for threat and opportunity. Those habitual responses are triggered by threat and opportunity. So even though you want to lose weight but find yourself gorging on the dessert plate you swore you wouldn’t indulge in or you made a commitment to yourself to save money for your education, a car, vacation, first home, or retirement. The sale at your favorite boutique becomes a conflict with saving. The conscious mind begins to rationalize away with, “start your diet tomorrow” or “this purchase won’t be a problem. It isn’t that much.” Then starts the self-incrimination: “Traitor! You’re weak! You have no willpower!” As the impulse passes self-doubt, guilt, and shame invade. Coaches join clients in their constant battle between conscious and subconscious goals. The trick is to unveil those Shadow Stories and take away their power. That is what we help coaches do at Mentor Agility.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
Instilling a good habit can disrupt a bad habit. The conventional wisdom is to wake up the mind with mindful awareness, which is a good approach. Evaluating the cue, behavior loop and reward cycle and replacing the behavior loop is another possibility. Restructuring the environment to support cues for positive behaviors and removing triggers for poor behavior is yet another strategy. These are all good techniques.
However, the Transtheoretical Model of Change informs us that these methods for behavior change but their success is dependent upon where the client is in the change process. A mismatch between technique and the client’s place is in the change process will never lead to success, even though the technique is a good one. That is where the Hero’s Journey® Change Model comes into play. The coach partners with the client to identify where they are in the change process and match the right approach. Then clients are successful and feel a sense of self-efficacy.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else’s path.
You are not on your own path.
If you follow someone else’s way,
you are not going to realize
― Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work
We focus on bringing out clients creativity at Mentor Agility. Often times companies look for that one superstar employee to hang their hopes and dreams on and pay a lot of money for it. In reality, creativity is a birthright for everyone. We train our coaches to see each individual as a star in their own right and they are part of a constellation of creativity. There is a joy of being valued by a group that is productive and performing as a united team.
Joesph Campbell stated, “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.” A new path brings challenges to overcome that is unique to your path. It is the process of overcoming that we learn who we are and what we are capable of that our knowledge, skill, self-confidence, and self-awareness grow.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
When we started Mentor Agility, we began working with a gifted storyteller and educator, Dr. Kwame Scruggs and his Alchemy Method — a way of using myths to help people open up, uncover thoughts and feelings and transform their lives. His work has been chronicled in a documentary and he has received numerous awards including the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities — the nation’s highest honor for after-school and out-of-school programs.
Today, we are training veterans’ organizations to help our veterans open up, recognize and process the inner feelings brought about by their service in combat and transform their experience into helping others transition into the next phase of the career. It’s both exciting and incredibly rewarding.
We are also training more and more coaches in Nature Coaching as a method of transformation. I’ve used Nature Coaching in my practice since I started coaching, and evolved the practice in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Many coaches think that Nature Coaching is only the province of coaches in rural areas — or places like Jackson Hole. The truth is, nature is where you find it and its capacity to help clients open their minds and explore their inner feelings, whether you’re in a National Forest of an urban park.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many coaches are successful, but some are not very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful coaches from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Know who you are personally and professionally. Most people come to coaching with work and life experiences that are valuable in coaching. At the heart of the Mentor Agility approach is understanding how our training and their skills and experience are the basis for their unique coaching style.
- Identify how your clients are like you and how they are different. Recognizing the right client is always better than wasting time and energy for you or potential clients. The skill of distinguishing client-coach compatibility is a core competency related to establishing and maintaining agreements. Common values or experience often provide the foundation of trust between coach and client. Research supports that who the coach is as important as what they do. A white paper published by the Institute of Employment Studies called What makes a coach effective? found that among the factors contributing to clients’ perception of compatibility with their coaches are shared values and prior experience within their industry. This reminds me of why it is so important to have an ongoing reflective practice in coaching — a coaching core competency.
- Continually adapt to the market and innovate your services. Crisis often serves as a catalyst for creativity. The pandemic, supply chain shortages, and health and financial challenges have spawned innovation in coaching. Now is the time to let your creativity spark how you will deliver your coaching services. Nature coaching, on-premise coaching, online coaching, group coaching, and one-on-one coaching are examples of services that can be combined to best serve your clients.
- Begin with who you know and work outwards. Now you have to tell potential coaching clients who you are and what your services are. Referrals will always be the grease that supports your business. If you are a new coach, or want to expand your practice, then you are going to have to cast a wider net. Think about who shares your desired clientele. Then consider how your services are complementary. This is where fearlessness comes into play. Make contact with these people and go meet with them. Begin with listening before you start telling them about your services. Bring with you business collateral to make it easy for them to make referrals or collaborate with you. All of our certifications include a one hour class taught by world class coach Sherry Yellin that helps our trainees make this first contact most effective.
- Believe in yourself and invest. The world is continually changing and to remain relevant, you have to change with it. Sherry Yellin teaches a course with us called Creating Your Signature Coaching Program that addresses the core competency “develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching.” Sherry’s background in neuroscience informs this process and keeps you current and relevant in the coaching marketplace.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen coaches make when they start their business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Self-doubt is the poison of the soul. In our current social media environment where everyone posts their best self on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, we don’t get to see the struggle that brings them to goal achievement. So it is easy to compare where you are now with someone who is further along their Hero’s Journey®. Believe in yourself.
Organizations like the International Coaching Federation and the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching brings credibility to the field of coaching. They are the self-regulating organizations that define ethical behavior, what constitutes effective training, and who is qualified as a coach. Many clients look for credentialed coaches as a qualifying filter. They also refresh that quality of coaching with standards for required continuing education. At the beginning of each year, I evaluate what I have learned about myself in the last year and how I want to grow professionally and personally in the upcoming year. Then I look for training to assist me in evolving into the person. As a qualifying principle, I look for continuing education that also delivers a certification so I build my competencies and better define my niche in the marketplace. This way I am taking the steps to build my self-confidence and self-efficacy.
Another standard I really respect in our industry is to always have a mentor group or mentor coach. This is particularly valuable for entrepreneurs that can feel isolated. Even entrepreneurs who work in large organizations may feel alone. Being part of a thriving community keeps ideas and adaptability fresh and vibrant.
Based on your experience and success, what are a few of the most important things a coach should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience? Please share a story or an example for each.
This is a foundational principle in Sherry’ Yellin’s course Creating Your Signature Coaching Experiences. The first part of the course is self-paced. She uses her background in neuroscience to walk coaches through a fascinating process using short videos. Her proprietary approach addresses each aspect the brain needs to produce the Wow in you coaching experience. Because it is self-paced, the coach can return to it over and over again. This is a great investment for coaches to remain relevant. I use it in my own practice every time I develop a new approach with clients. I personally love it! As the coach moves through the process, Sherry prompts the coach to take an interesting action that ultimately leads to creating powerful coaching materials. Then the group joins Sherry in 10 hours of team coaching training. During the training, each trainee practices their team training skills and present they present their coaching materials for feedback. What a double win!
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business, and particularly in coaching. What are the best ways for a coach to find customers? Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
There is no replacement for personal connection. I recommend sitting down and thinking through who you know in your community. This may be a known a personal friend but it also may be other professionals. Collaborate with other coaches or like minded professionals. This takes advantage of our primal instinct to connect with each other.
The word on the streets is that technology is going to become critical for lead generation in 2022. I can see changes happening that support this trend. At the end of the day, this will only be helpful to you if you are clear for yourself who you are as a coach and what you have to offer. Then you have to be able to articulate that out to your current and prospective clients.
Coaches are similar to startup founders who often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to end up burning the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to your fellow coaches about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting their business?
Your interview questions are building towards the solution!
I believe every coach should see themselves as founders of their own business, even if they work within a company. This shifts their mindset from the head into the heart and every client can sense the difference.
The word Ikgai is an untranslatable Japanese word that is believed to be a source of long life. The word roughly translates into purpose but goes further by indicating both the long term goals and the daily impetus to get up each morning and move into meaningful action. Understanding our underlying purpose, which may be a Shadow Story, is the first step to finding that kind of motivation. Then building your daily challenges around that purpose makes each day meaningful.
For some reason, American culture has been feasting on the idea that working long hours and sacrificing our health and well-being is the way to get ahead. This of course is fallacious thinking. The body is worn down by too much stress and of course the body is the brain constantly scanning the environment for threat and opportunity. When stress overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, it negatively affects their health, emotions, motivation, attention, creativity, and relationships.
Stress management is a critical factor in manifesting creativity that is built into our curriculum. We teach many techniques so that every coach can manage stress for themselves and promote it as part of clients creative process.
When the environment provides challenges that target the sweet spot of stress called eustress, it positively motivates clients into action. Here is where stress management comes into play. When used strategically, stress management becomes an important part of keeping the stress in check for peak performance and goal achievement. It is literally a part of the creative process. If companies want to build powerful constellations of superstars, then supporting stress management has to be a part of the strategic plan. If coaches are going to see themselves as entrepreneurs, then they will have to self-manage their stress by building a lifestyle that supports their purpose and a lifestyle that supports a healthy mind and body.
Our instructor John Bucher teaches a series of classes called Ecosystems of the Mind that presents an interesting paradigm disruptor to work-life balance. Work-life balance is a metaphor that came out of the 1950s when men worked eight to five and then went home to a wife who spent the day attending to the house, meals, and children. This paradigm is rare in our culture but we persist in using this outdated paradigm. In my work with executives, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and even stay at home parents, this metaphor produces a lot of guilt but does not lead to change mostly because work-life balance implies we are out of balance most of the time! Who can maintain the separation of work from the rest of life when we carry work in our pocket 24/7? Besides, this way of managing life had a very short span in terms of humanity. John’s course presents a new metaphor to work with clients that evokes their creativity without guilt. It takes advantage of the mind’s tendency to think in story and inspires decision making that manages stress and honors clients’ professional obligations without sacrificing their emotional well-being.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The world is floundering and cuing up for a massive transformation. I believe coaches will lead us out of the chaos we are currently living through. According to market projections, the average yearly growth rate of coaching is 6.7%. The shifting perception of coaching as a significant contributor for improving performance and goal achievement is taking hold. After all, good coaches are change agents.
Coaching has the potential to fulfill niches where there are shortages in professionals. For example, There is a shortage of 6 million nurses and 1 million mental health professionals globally. Health and Wellness Coaches can fill a portion of the needs for nurses and mental health professionals. While coaches can’t diagnose or treat mental illness or chronic illness, they can play a role in post traumatic growth, improve clients self-efficacy, and develop their ability to help themselves grow and evolve.
As I have said, I believe that coaches are going to play a role in leading us out of our current crisis physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. It will move from being a luxury to a more mainstream solution.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would also like to meet President George Bush to learn about his work with veterans and his use of painting to process his own grief. Our work with veterans remains a high priority for us along with the use of creative expression such as painting, journaling, and music. I am very interested in his process and how it has helped him, and in turn sharing his art has affected others positively.
First Lady Obama sponsored one of the many awards that The Alchemy Method has received. Her initiatives for healthy families and service members and their families very much aligns with several of our initiatives to improve overall health of Americans and the lives of veterans. I am very interested in her perspective as a change agent.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We have a blog series on the ICF website and we have blogs on our own web site. We are active on the NBHWC Facebook site. And, COVID permitting, we are giving talks at ICF local chapters around the country.
What we’re really excited about is the ability to invite members of the coaching community to our home in Jackson Hole, where we can share ideas with coaches from around the country (and world) on Nature Coaching, Storytelling and other topics that are of interest to new and experienced coaches. We’ve had plans in the works for awhile, and will announce plans when COVID permits.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!