Coach Interview Series: Alex Bratty

by Brandon

Alex Bratty

Workplace Culture Consultant

Our main objective here at the National Coach Academy is to enable aspiring coaches to reach their full professional potential. One of the most effective ways to educate students about the world of coaching is by offering them a window into the world of real, practicing coaches and showing them all the different ways coaches make a difference in the lives of their clients.

Today we are interviewing Alex Bratty. Alex is a Workplace Culture Consultant based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

NCA: Can you describe your consulting practice and the kinds of clients you typically work with?

Alex: My company and my brand is Happiness @ Work. I work primarily with corporate clients. I go into organizations who sometimes want their employees to be more engaged. Sometimes they want to work more in leveraging strength. They want to take a strength-based approach to their leadership and also to developing their teams. Sometimes there is breakdown in communication and they want their teams to work more cooperatively and gel together more coherently.

There’s a range of different things that I do, but it all comes under this umbrella of applying the principles of positive psychology and a strength-based approach to organizational development.

NCA: I understand you were a coach for some time and your business was thriving, but you decided to close it because you didn’t quite enjoy it. What lessons have you learned in that process? How do you feel your work today better reflects the goals that you’re setting out to achieve?

Alex: I had a long career in research. I was a partner at a firm in DC. Long story short, it’s that classic story. It looked like I had everything going on—big money, big title, big clients, all the rest of it. I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. I was really miserable. I was totally burned out. I took the semi-crazy step of walking away from a very successful, lucrative career and deciding I don’t want to do that anymore. I was burned out. I was done.

Part of that was I did too much travel. My husband had previously had cancer, which realigned all of our priorities. I no longer wanted to be on the road because here I was, married to a man who I almost lost. We are so grateful and blessed he is a survivor and he’s strong and healthy today, but I found myself wondering, “What am I doing? Why am I spending all this time on the road away from my family?” That was a big part of the decision.

Long story short, I walked away from all of that. Of course, I had to figure out what I was going to do. I decided in my infinite wisdom that I would become a coach. In hindsight, I didn’t really think about, “Was that what I really wanted to do?” I think that’s what I would emphasize to the audience reading this: really examine why you want to be a coach.

I absolutely enjoy helping people. I still do it as a consultant now. I very much enjoyed mentoring when I was in my former career and I had a team working for me. I love supporting people. I love seeing people grow and I thought that was enough. I thought that it was a nice fit to be a coach.

The beauty of it for me, in terms of my lifestyle, was that I can do this from home. My plan was to be an online coach. It doesn’t require travel, and hey, presto! I have a new career and I’m going to go after it, which is what I did.

I did a year-long coaching certification. I highly recommend getting a certification, by the way. I know the industry isn’t regulated and you don’t have to, but it’s better for your clients and for you. It gives you more confidence. It gives you more credibility. You’re serving your clients better if you actually have studied this and learned it along the way.

I set up this coaching business and I grew it for two and a half years. It was pretty successful and I was doing very well with it. I was poised at the end of those two and a half years to grow it even further. I had all of these big plans on different programs I was going to do.

Then I hit this metaphorical brick wall.

All of a sudden, I didn’t want to do it anymore and I couldn’t figure that out. I kind of coached myself, applied what I learned to myself and said, “Okay, what do you like about this business? What do you not like about this business? Maybe we can minimize what you don’t like and build up what you do like.” So I did that.

It was a bit of a soul searching exercise and what it revealed was that, at the heart of it, I actually did not enjoy the process of coaching. I didn’t enjoy being a coach. It was a little crazy for me to still build a company and build a practice around something that fundamentally, I wasn’t enjoying.

That’s when I made another semi-crazy decision: to shut down a perfectly good business and figure out again what I was going to do. It was one of those moments where it’s like, “I just spent two and a half years building something I don’t want. What is wrong with me here?”

The big lesson learned was you really have to look at the concept of “flow” and what puts you in flow. Flow was originally discovered, labeled and conceptualized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Some people call it being “in the zone.” Effectively, it is those periods of time where you get so absorbed in what you are doing that you lose awareness of everything else around you except what you’re doing. Time falls off the clock. You look up and suddenly it’s dinnertime and you think you’ve only been working for five minutes, but it’s been five hours. It’s that type of experience.

What’s really important about flow is that it’s true definition is that your strengths and your skills match the challenge at hand. That’s really when people get in flow. What I realized was I’m not in flow when I’m coaching. It’s not that enjoyable for me. So I asked myself, “Okay. What does put me in flow?” That’s when I realized I really miss my research. I really miss what I used to do. Not the lifestyle of what I was doing before, not the volume of what I was doing before, but the actual work itself. The craft.

I decided to return to that, but also take it in a new direction with what I had stumbled into in my own personal journey and also what I learned from coaching, as well. How do you cultivate this flow-like state and how do you create an atmosphere where people are happier with what they do? How do you help them be happier at work? Part of that is they do spend more time with flow. They are more engaged. They find more meaning in what they’re doing. That’s how I essentially morphed over to what I’m doing now. Not coaching, but it’s consulting and it’s leveraging all of that positive psychology.

To sum it up, becoming a coach is an attractive proposition from a practical perspective, at least it was for me, in the sense that you don’t have a lot of overhead. You can do it from home. You can do it online if you want. If you want to work in your jammies or your sweats all day, you can. If you enjoy helping people, it’s a really nice fit. But at least from my perspective, what I learned was that’s not enough. Really look at different types of coaching, and ask yourself, does that process really put you in flow? Is it truly a calling?

When I look back now, I know it really wasn’t. But we all have a journey. We all learn lessons along the way. I’m certainly applying a lot of what I’ve learned in the new business that I’ve grown. That’s what I would urge your audience to really consider: “Why, why, why am I doing this? Deep down inside, why am I doing this?” Because if that Why—as Simon Sinek always says, start with Why—if that’s not big enough, then it’s not going to work long term. You can soldier through for a while but ultimately, you’re going to find yourself being pretty miserable if your Why is not aligned with who you are and where you really want to go in life.

NCA: Can you give a summation of what you feel is the difference between the work of a coach versus the work of a consultant as you are today?

Alex: Sometimes they seem to go hand in hand, but there is a distinction. The way I think about it is coaches are very much hand-holding and walking alongside their client step by step. With consulting, yes you’re walking with your clients step by step, but it’s not so much hand-holding. Very often you’re brought in as a subject matter expert, whether that’s organizational development or whatever it is. Sometimes you’re diagnosing what the problem is because the client doesn’t always know what their true problem is. That’s true in coaching, too, but you’re coming in as an expert to diagnose and then recommend a path forward and actually implement it, whereas a coach will often simply facilitate the client’s own journey. The client comes up with the answers ultimately and the coach is holding up the mirror.

If you’re coaching someone and you start telling them what to do, you’re no longer coaching them. You’ve crossed the line into consulting. That, to me, is the differentiator.

Really consider: “Why, why, why am I doing this? Deep down inside, why am I doing this?” Because if that Why—as Simon Sinek always says, start with Why—if that’s not big enough, then it’s not going to work long term.

NCA: In your own career, what would you say has been the most challenging, the most difficult, or the most unexpected aspect of the work you do?

Alex: I’ll speak to this from both a coach and a consultant perspective: it is having your own business and the marketing that is required to actually have a business. You can get trained as a coach, but the downfall of nearly all of those programs is that even if they cover anything about the business of coaching and how to grow your own practice, they only do one module on it. It’s just 101. It’s not going to get you where you need to go.

Growing a business is in and of itself a full time job. Especially for folks who are coming into this and maybe they haven’t run their own business before and all of that is new, I would urge working with a business coach because it will get you further and faster. Because all the marketing and the advertising and all the rest is an entirely new learning curve.

Particularly in the online world, copy is crucial. If your copy doesn’t speak to your potential audience, forget it. You’re dead in the water. There you are, you’re a coach and you’ve got your new certification and you’re like, “Great, awesome. I’m going to get clients.” You set up your website.

And it’s crickets. Nothing happens.

This is really common. And nearly always it’s because a) we’re not marketing ourselves effectively, or b) we’re trying to market to everybody. I made that mistake at the very beginning of mine because we tend to think, “Oh I don’t want to minimize who can work with me. I want to help everybody.” It’s admirable and noble, but you will go broke very fast with that strategy.

You’ve got to get really clear on who your target audience is, what do they care about, and what are their problems. You’ve got to be able to use language and materials that actually speak right to them like a mirror is being held up to them. Then they think, “Wow, this person really understands my problems. They really understand my pain. I’ve got to reach out because it looks like they can really help me.”

I still have a lot of friends who are in the coaching world. The business side is where they tend to struggle. They’re fabulous coaches. They could help everybody, but they don’t have nearly enough clients because they haven’t figured out, “Who am I actually helping?” It’s about really niching down.

NCA: Absolutely. This is advice that pops up again and again from so many of the coaches I speak with. I think part of the problem is that “life coaching” is the most common form of coaching that folks are familiar with, so they get trapped into thinking that life coaching is the only way forward. So they end up becoming generalists.

Alex: You won’t be in business long if you’re a generalist — particularly now that coaching is so saturated. Just type in the word “life coach” online and you will come back with millions of hits. It’s quite overwhelming how many coaches are out there.

I can’t state the importance of the niche enough. It is so important. Think of it like an hourglass. When you niche down, you’re going into that tiny little channel in the middle and it feels like “I won’t be able to reach anybody.” But what happens is when you really figure out that person and when you really figure out that language, the whole world opens up to you. The sand comes out and goes back to the other side and it’s a bigger area.

Whatever niche you choose, there are so many people that fit that niche. You’re never going to have a shortage of people. That’s what new coaches always fear, “If I niche down, there won’t be enough people to serve.” There will be more than enough.

As you grow your niche and you become known for what you do, you start to attract some people that aren’t perfectly in it just because they feel like, “Oh, this person might be able to help me. It’s not exactly what I’m looking for, but I see all of this great stuff that they’re doing over here.” Ultimately, you end up pulling along some other people anyway. But you’ve got to go through that initial, very narrow channel for all of that to happen. You can’t just start out with it all being big and broad.

The other thing is if you’re not sure about your niche, pick something that you love and go with it because the only way you can figure this out is if you do it. Don’t sit around trying to perfect what your niche is and hand-wringing over, “Should I go up to these people or these people?” Just pick one and do it because as you do it and as you pick up those people, you will evolve your niche. That’s the other thing that people don’t realize. It’s not chiseled in stone.

Case in point: when I first niched down, I niched down to helping women like me. This meant those in corporate, burned out and trying to look for other options, maybe looking for a career change or trying to just make life better for themselves with where they’re at. It was great because I picked up clients. But what I realized quite rapidly while working with them was the energy of this does not sit well with me. A lot of these women are just resigned to living in their misery and they actually don’t really want to do much about it. For me, that was very frustrating and I only learned that by working with them.

After doing that for a little bit, I said, “You know what? I’m going to move my needle 30 degrees. I’m going to go after the women who are in corporate, who are miserable, but they’ve made a decision that they want to do something new and different. They want to build something, whether that’s a new business, whether it’s a new career, whatever it is.” I refined my niche to those people, started picking them up, and that was so much better. The energy was different because they wanted to create something new. They’ve made that decision. They were done sitting in their misery.

Over my two and a half years, I probably moved my needle on my niche two or three times, but it was only by taking the steps and doing it that I was able to actually figure it out. Please don’t hand-wring and sit there for months trying to figure out who your niche is. Just pick one, go with it, and you will learn by doing it where you really want to be.

NCA: One of the most common challenges new coaches face is self-doubt. Some coaches call it Imposter Syndrome, where early on they feel somehow inadequate to take on the role of coach. What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who is in the beginning stage of their coaching career and dealing with these doubts in their mind?

Alex: Yes, of course. Mine would usually show up in the form of imposter syndrome, like who am I to be doing this? Others out there are so much better than me, why would anyone choose me…and on and on. I used three strategies to help with this.

First, remembering that while yes there are millions of coaches or consultants out there, none of them are like me. We all are unique and we all bring a special combination of personality, strengths, and skills to the table. Your clients will resonate with YOU, so don’t try to change who you are or minimize it. Be yourself, and embrace it.

Second, keep a file of testimonials. Even if they’re just a single line in an email or something a client said in a session—write it down, add it to the file. When you’re having a tough day or you’re questioning yourself, pull out that file and read through it—remind yourself of how good you really are and the impact you’ve had.

Third, flip the “what if” question. Often, we have self-doubt because we’re afraid of what could go wrong (e.g., what if the client doesn’t like me? What if my business fails? What if I’m just not cut out to do this…). Essentially, the formula is what if + negative consequence. However, what if…you flipped it around and tried out what if + positive consequence: what if I can really help this client? What if this client loves me? What if I can really be successful in this business?

This is a simple, yet powerful way to change the negative programming that is self-doubt.

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