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How about a life coach?

More farmers are turning to life coaches to help them strengthen themselves, their families and their businesses

In the 30 years since the first coaching programs were developed, the field of coaching has exploded. You’ll find coaches who specialize in a broad range of areas including business, leadership, personal development, wellness, financial management and more.

While coaching has been gaining popularity in the corporate world for the past decade, farmers are now increasingly seeking out coaches for themselves. Country Guide reached out to coaches who are working in agriculture to find out how farmers are using this tool in their businesses and personal lives.

What exactly is coaching?

Kellie Garrett.
photo: Supplied

Coaching is all about helping people make positive changes. It’s about “exploration, inquiry, uncovering obstacles, finding blind spots, identifying patterns and ways to shift behaviours,” says Regina coach Kellie Garrett.

Ottawa farm and life coach, Jonathan Bruderlein, agrees. Farmers aren’t beginners. They are the experts on their farms and already know the two or three things they could change that would help them improve quality of life or income, he says.

“Coaching helps them uncover the answers within.”

Farmers are so busy with the everyday demands of production, and are so heavily invested, both financially and emotionally in the farm, that it can make it difficult to see problems clearly and recognize what changes need to be made, says Bruderlein, who is also an organic vegetable farmer.

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A coach can serve as an objective thought partner, helping a farmer get clear on what they want to accomplish and also helping establish accountability so it gets done, says Bruderlein.

Sometimes people are unsure if they should be seeking a counsellor, a coach or a consultant. These roles do operate on a continuum, says Garrett, who differentiates the roles this way. Coaching is about helping the client shift from the current state to a desired future state. Counselling by contrast tends to have a mental health focus, often based on recovering from past events.

Consultants, in turn, deliver recommendations rather than helping you learn and explore on the go.

Coaches don’t provide the answers, says Garrett. “The clients must still do the work.”

Helping clients manage change is a common theme in coaching. For instance, many of Bruderlein’s farm clients are scaling up from artisan-sized operations to larger enterprises with employees. Helping farmers develop checklists for routine jobs allows them to delegate to employees or even reduce the mental fatigue that comes with repetitive decision-making. “The mind is made for having ideas, not storing them,” he says.

Garrett agrees farm owners can benefit from coaching during an expansion. As a farm grows and adds employees, owners can find themselves in a leadership position without the necessary skills, she explains.

“Coaching can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in how you show up as a leader,” says Garrett. When you are also an owner there’s a tendency to be a very top-down, hierarchical boss, and employee engagement may suffer, she explains. “Coaching can help you unlock your talents.”

It was through coaching that Garrett was able to improve her own leadership skills while serving as vice-president of FCC. She had previously been unaware that her naturally strong presence could be intimidating to staff, she explains. With the help of a coach, she learned to throttle back this tendency and to become a better listener, and this in turn improved her effectiveness, she says.

Coaching not only helped her to become a better leader but also improved her personal relationships, says Garrett. “You take your good and not-so-good habits everywhere.”

It was her positive experience being coached that led Garrett to train as a coach. When wearing her life-coach hat, Garrett and her clients explore topics such as purpose, life transitions, holistic wellness, self-awareness, stress management, resilience, authenticity and courage.

Jonathan Bruderlein.
photo: Supplied

Bruderlein has also seen the overlap between business and life coaching when it comes to farming. “Quality of life may sound ‘pie in the sky’ but it’s a core piece of the sustainability of the farm,” he says. Farmers can have the best budgets or technology but if, at the end of the day, the farmer is suffering from burnout, it isn’t going to be sustainable, he says.

For this reason, Bruderlein starts the coaching process with the client articulating a clear vision for their farm business. “You need to begin with the end in mind. The farm is a tool to live our life’s intention, which could include financial success, being a loving family member, spiritual development or contributing to the world.”

Too often, the quest for continuous improvement robs farmers of the enjoyment and the ability to savour the experience, continues Bruderlein. “Coaching can help farmers reconnect with the pleasure of farming.”

Transferring the farm to the next generation can be a particularly difficult change to navigate for some farm families. Boissevain, Man. farm family coach Elaine Froese has coached many farm families who have become stuck during the succession process. This has included helping families learn to resolve conflict, helping couples create a vision for their lives when they are no longer farming, helping daughters-in-law find their roles on the farm or giving people permission to let go of expectations that no longer fit.

A coach can tailor the program to a client’s needs but, typically, coaches recommend a minimum six-month commitment with weekly or twice-monthly calls via phone or video conferencing. These appointments create a structure for change with buy-in and accountability. Six months is needed to give the process sufficient time to work, says Bruderlein, noting that habits don’t change overnight.

As a result, coaching can be a significant financial investment so it’s important to find a coach who is both affordable and a good fit. Coaches vary in their experience, expertise and coaching style so do your homework.

Here are some tips on finding the right coach for your particular situation:

  • Check credentials. Where did they do their training, and are they certified? Beware that some people call themselves coaches after only taking a weekend course. The main certifying body is the International Coach Federation (ICF).
  • Try to be clear on what you want to accomplish. Google specific keywords or questions to help you narrow it down, if necessary. There are also many books available on the topic.
  • Check out blogs or articles written by coaches or watch interviews to determine if there is a fit. Different coaches have different working styles. Some are more nurturing while others will come across as being tougher.
  • Also remember that you don’t need to limit yourself to coaches in your immediate area. Most will work remotely via phone or video conferencing. Bruderlein has clients in Mexico, California and Australia. Most coaches offer a one-hour discovery session free of charge to help explore fit.

After the session, says Froese, ask yourself, “How does it feel in your head, heart and gut?”


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