How can you benefit from a coach? Well, they can inspire you with confidence, guide you through transitions in life, allow you to see new perspectives, prompt positive change, provide a sense of clarity and help you reach your potential. In short, coaching is an investment in yourself and more people are realizing it every day. It’s easy to come up with a list of benefits of coaching on an individual level, but as a business having your employees coached is just as much of an investment. Improved communication, better working relationships, increased employee engagement and identifying and developing talent are all recognized advantages.
Whilst it’s often difficult to wade through the thousands of coaches out there and find the right one, there are several traits that seem to be constant among the best coaches. A positive mindset, an ability to listen well, a passion for people and coaching, a good communicator and someone who has the capacity to relate to your needs and desires in some way. After all, a coach is someone who is the sounding board to your thoughts. They are the people who allow you to see past your own preconceptions, opinions and mental blocks to a world of clear skies.
Nico Pilkes, founder of Across the River, is a coach who seems to tick a lot of those requirements. Having worked in countless companies and roles, as well as going through a time in his life that changed everything, Nico is a rare example of positivity. We talked to him about the importance of talking, advice that everyone can use and the darker times in his own life.
What motivated you to start Across the River and what’s the meaning behind the name?
In my mind I’ve had two lives. It sounds a bit strange, but eleven years ago I fell over and, as a consequence, a tumor grew in my brain. I had to start my life all over again. Before all of that I was a teacher, a Sales Manager and a Managing Director amongst other things. I’ve been involved in takeovers, integrations and negotiations with every type of person you can think of. I didn’t realise it at the time, but all of my experience working for big and small companies in a way primed me for what I do now. Anyway, I had an operation on my tumor and they managed to remove 40% of it. I then had radiation for two months and because of that I became unbelievably tired, I had no energy to do anything.
Fast forward three years from then and I had a meeting with my doctor where it came to light that some of what they thought was leftover tumor was actually a byproduct of the radiation, so there was a lot less tumor than they thought. I can’t describe the feeling being told that news, but I was crying for half an hour. It was truly overwhelming. In the aftermath of this, I did all kinds of work for free with handicapped people and that was in a way the start to helping people in a more focused way. I was asked to coach some people who were in the final stages of operations or people who were in similar situations and that’s when I started coaching. Across the River started from there with the idea to help people cross the rivers that they face in life, and the actual name came from the Peter Gabriel song Across the River which touched me on a very profound level.
Why do you think coaching has become more popular in recent years?
It’s definitely becoming more mainstream, but coaching isn’t becoming more popular because people have more ‘problems’ necessarily, it’s more that people are realizing that coaching is an investment in yourself. When you have the right person in front of you with some experience it can really help you. I believe I’m a good coach not because I’ve read hundreds of books on the topic, but because I’m using my own experiences as a foundation for relating to other people, and I think there is value to be found in that. And coaching isn’t just an investment for the person who comes to Across the River, it’s also an investment for the companies who send their employees to be coached. It’s now seen as a way to develop talent within your business and a way that has real results. I also think there’s an element of human connection to it all. People are seeing the value in talking with other people rather than being online all the time. There’s something unique in talking to another person, face to face in the real world.
How do you grow yourself?
I’m coached myself. I know how important it is to develop myself as well as helping others to do so. Being coached pushes me to reach my potential, and that trickles down to the people who are coached by me. I’m very hands on when it comes to growing. Constantly talking and learning from those conversations is how I grow, and I also admit that I don’t know everything. I don’t know about a lot of things in life, and that acceptance drives my curiosity which in turn drives me to learn more.
Is coaching for everyone?
It’s a difficult question because I believe that I really can help anyone, even if it’s on a small scale. But coaching is a two-way process and a person has to be open to the idea of coaching and they also have to want to be coached. If they’re just sent by their company to be coached but internally they’re not open to the idea, it won’t work. Luckily, as we just talked about, coaching is becoming more accepted, so there’s more people who are opening up to it.
What’s the most difficult part of coaching?
At Across the River, coaching is always based on the individual as it should be, and the first thing I do is find out what’s happened on that person’s road that led them to sit across from me. If you’re a very private person, or someone who has gone through something traumatic, it can be really difficult to open up about why you’re talking to me. It can be tough trying to encourage someone to open up and build that trust.
What do people get wrong when dealing with their problems that you perhaps can help with?
When someone starts to open up about their problems and frustrations you see the potential for progress. You can see lights turn on when that genuine conversation starts because there’s an exchange of perspectives, ideas and thoughts. It gives them perspectives that are hard to get if you’re on your own. I think a lot of people try and deal with their problems internally, and they don’t want to offload all these things to other people. But if you’re trying to deal with something in your life, always talk with someone else. It will always be better than being on your own.
What’s your definition of success?
I just want to be a happy guy. And after someone has talked to me, I want them to have an extra light on in their heads, hypothetically speaking. I want them to take away something that they didn’t have before, that’s a core idea behind Across the River. On a more personal level, eleven years ago I didn’t know I was going to be alive today, so now to see people in my life like my two daughters with soon to be children of their own also makes me a really happy guy.
What’s one piece of advice you can give to anyone and everyone who’s looking to achieve something?
Be yourself, love yourself, have confidence in yourself and be honest with yourself. Accept that no one is perfect, and no one has to be perfect. Everyone has imperfections and that’s good, that’s human. These kinds of thoughts put whatever you’re trying to achieve in perspective, and I think that’s a good starting point.