Coach Interview Series: Zen Benefiel

by Brandon

Zen Benefiel

Transformational Life Coach

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.

We hope today’s interview adds another insightful glimpse into the dynamic world of coaching.

Today we are interviewing Zen Benefiel. Zen is a Transformational Life Coach based in Chandler, Arizona.

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

Zen: I would describe my coaching practice as being inclusive of personal and professional endeavors. My best clients are small business owners who are in their mid-life years who are seeking to align their inner drive with their outer presentation and link the two so that business flows better, they work better with their staff, clients, customers, as well as their relationships with their significant others and family.

Typically, I will engage a client for a 90-day process, in which it takes 21 days to change a habit. Many people have habits they don’t even realize need changing. In respect of that, we then develop an action plan with specific goals and objectives. Then I do some hand-holding in a step-by-step process.

The reason I’m able to do that is because I not only have a coaching background, I also have a couple of Master’s degrees in Business, an MBA and a MA in Organizational Management and 20 years in industry as a project manager. Life is really not much different than managing a project. It entails the details of specific action as well as they way we think, which many folks forget.

How we think affects the result as much as action we take. The methodology that we use in order to take action doesn’t necessarily include the deep understanding of how emotions, energy, thoughts and things of that nature become active in the world around you. The key to success is about self-awareness. Our sessions increase the self-awareness of the individual where then they also are able to expand into their spheres of influence and develop others accordingly.

Anyone that is striving to develop a change in their lives has to come upon that on their own. It creates the buy in for their self-discovery and I just lead them through the process. […] I have to be able to sit with it, listen intently, get out of my own way, and respond when I feel the prompting to.

NCA: In working with your clients, what would you say is the most rewarding aspect of that process and on the flip side of that, what is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

Zen: The most rewarding is to see the look in the client’s eye when they “get it.” They have a moment — an instantaneous realization of an insight that I draw their attention to and they shift their thinking into a more compatible way that meets with better results. Patterns shift over time and they go through different levels of shifting. The understanding that develops through the application that brings amazing results. They are able not just to theorize but to experience the results.

The most challenging side is being able to let them have their own discoveries and to be able to ask the right questions to get them to that place. Because as a coach, we often see things much clearer and can say “Oh yeah, you can do this, this, and this.” It doesn’t work. A person or anyone that is striving to develop a change in their lives has to come upon that on their own. It creates the buy in for their self-discovery and I just lead them through the process.

That’s probably the most challenging because every person is different. They have different environments, different life goals, different situations. For each one of those, I have to be able to sit with it, listen intently, get out of my own way, and respond when I feel the prompting to.

The perfect example is the third insight in James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy where you wait until the moment where you feel the need to speak rather than just trying to speak because you think about things. There’s a difference.

NCA: Can you think of a mentor who was the most vital to your success as a coach and in what ways did this mentor help you thrive in your career?

Zen: There were several who have made a huge difference in various ways. One, who I got my initial coaching instruction from, was KC Miller with Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, and their program in association with Coach U. The program that she set up through a healing arts school was more transformational in nature than others seem, though I’m sure the individual’s intent has more to do with their learning outcome.

One of the other mentors I had was Stephen Clarke who became a Certified ICF Coach. He and I worked together in a construction partnering facilitation business. Because he was almost 20 years my senior, he was able to observe and reflect with me on how I handled spontaneous situations that would come up in the partnering workshops which could get pretty intense because we’re dealing with people and agendas and high-level stakeholders.

The third has been a dear friend for probably 35 years. His name is Jerome Landau. He’s an instructor and is a prominent figure in arbitration and mediation circles internationally. He shared with me years ago that there really is no conflict, there is just miscommunication. Each party has a different dictionary and they’re speaking from it and the other person has no clue what their definitions are of certain key terms and understandings.

What happens in a coaching relationship is there’s the cognitive dissonance that comes up where beliefs and behaviors don’t match up. It’s because you are looking at it and you don’t have the dictionary in place to understand yourself well. It’s because there’s the internal dialogue that is constantly going on that never spills out unless it’s with a coach, a trusted friend, a mentor or someone like that.

With Jerome’s help, I was able to see things and craft conversations delicately. When you shine a mirror on someone, the first thing they want to do is run. You have to present things in a compassionate, gentle way to get best results. Some people can take the straight-forward and often curt responses, but that’s usually after developing the relationship and building trust, so they know that they are in a safe space and you’re not there just to weigh their world. You’re actually there to help. Sometimes, you have to ask those questions to both disambiguate and dismantle a previous belief system in order to build the ones that are necessary to move forward in a more congruent fashion with their beliefs and actions.

NCA: What is one piece of guidance that you would offer to somebody who is just starting out in their coaching career?

Zen: Get guidance from someone who’s already done it. Hire your own coach. That way, you example what it is that you’re doing. In life, to be the best coach, we have to follow the guidance that we set forth for our clients. Otherwise, what good are they? If we don’t follow our own advice, how can we grow as a coach or learn the process of our own growth?

In order to be the best life coach that you can, you need some background. You need some experience. You have to have some life experience from which to draw your insights and wisdom. I would suggest writing a book about coaching as it is not only cathartic, it increases credibility substantially. There are several featured on my website.

I see a lot of younger folks wanting to be coaches and getting the training and things like that but not really having the life experience in order to do it. The best coaches, from my perspective, are those who trod the path, know its pitfalls and its peaks, and are able to discuss those rather eloquently with others.

I’ve worked in multiple industries over a 30-year professional career, nearly always in a project management role. I have striven to accomplish things just because I wanted to do them and I figured out how to. I’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit applied in various environments, personal passions and professional arenas; aerospace manufacturing, construction projects, radio and television shows, large public events as well as working with small business peer advisory groups. Discussions and strategies for peak performance accentuate a coach’s ability to perform – putting attention, intention and action into perspective for best results. There are those kinds of things that I think at least accentuate the coach’s ability to perform at his/her peak.

I appreciate the effort you all put into helping the coaching profession grow, offering insight and opportunity for current and future coaches. Thank you for the opportunity to address your audience. Congratulations to those who choose to become coaches, grow their own awareness and share their expertise with clients and the world.

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