013 & 014: ADHD Coaching with Shelly Collins
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Shelly Collins: We all have similar coaching tools, we all have the same toolbox that we’re working from. But there’s something to be said about really showing up as yourself for your clients. Because if you do that, you will attract the right people.
Fabian Luetzig: Welcome to the Global Campfire of Coaching, an ongoing discussion between coaches, coachees and anybody else interested in the Art and the Science of coaching, spreading information and exchanging opinions so that we learn and grow together as a community. I’m Fabian Luetzig.
Joining us at the Campfire today is Shelly Collins. Shelly has been organizing individuals, work teams, and businesses since 2011. After receiving an adult ADHD diagnosis in 2015, she shifted her focus to understanding her own ADHD and reforming a business that allowed her to express this side of herself while helping others with similar struggles. Today, she specializes in coaching adults with ADHD and other productivity challenges to create lasting change.
Shelly Collins: I actually first encountered coaching by accident: I was working as a professional organizer; I was mostly working in homes and in some businesses. I have this amazing colleague who has been in the organizing industry since the 70s and who actually founded a coaching program called ‘coach approach for organizers’ for professional organizeers who wanted to add coaching to their organizing practice, believing that organizing and coaching really go hand in hand.
Fabian Luetzig: And when you talk about organizing, sorry to jump in right there, but just to make sure that people understand. What is the organizing profession?
Shelly Collins: So, the organizing profession in general is the physical act of showing up on site in a home or in a business and helping someone organize their spaces. So, closets, kitchens, bathrooms, basements or in businesses: papers, workspaces, supply closets, that sort of thing.
Fabian Luetzig: A really famous right now – or notorious, depending on who you ask – would be Mary Kondo, for example.
Shelly Collins: Yes, Mary Kondo identifies as a professional organizer and she works side by side with her clients; whether or not you like her methods, she is a good example and one that everyone will know.
Fabian Luetzig: Alright, Coaching for Organizers, how did that find you?
Shelly Collins: We have a way of distinguishing organizing clients in the organizing industry. That distinction is ‘situationally disorganized clients’ vs. ‘chronically disorganized clients’.
Situationally disorganized clients are clients who might have just moved or gotten married and they are combining households, or they had a death in the family or they changed jobs or they had several of these live events all at once. So, their previous organizing systems aren’t working, they just need somebody to come in and ‘right the ship’ for them, if that makes sense. For that type of client and instructive way of working with them, the organizer telling the client “Ok, let’s tackle it this way and let’s organize it this and let’s try it this way” usually works really well.
For a chronically disorganized client, you add in an element of some brain-based condition that is causing additional challenges. ADHD is a big one, other brain-based conditions come into play. There is hoarding disorder in that category, too, although I’m going to park that to the side, because hoarding disorder and coaching aren’t really appropriate for one another. But for the other chronically disorganized clients, the ones dealing with things like ADHD and other brain-based conditions that make self-organizing challenging, coaching can be a great way to draw out of the client what solutions might work for them. Traditional ways of approaching problems, traditional systems, traditional ways of setting up things and time don’t always work for those clients. Trying to force that type of solution on that type of client usually does not end well.
Fabian Luetzig: So, your colleague who had been in the industry for quite some time, he gave you that … book it was, right?
Shelly Collins: She founded this coach training program. Funnily enough, I had won a free course. So, my first foray into coach training was because I won a class for free – and who doesn’t like free stuff? Of course I took the course and fell so in love with coaching that I then continued through the entire program; not even knowing that coaching would become my primary practice. I still thought that it would become a tool box in my organizing practice. But as my love for coaching grew and as the way I looked at my chronically disorganized clients changed, I discovered that I would rather coach them to solutions that organize them to solutions, if that makes sense.
Fabian Luetzig: What was it about coaching that made you fall in love with it so much?
Shelly Collins: It’s those ‘aha-moments’ with your clients. I can tell you my very first one: I had a client who had a home-based business and who was tremendously busy all the time. We were mostly working in her home office on her business; we worked a lot with organizing her time. In addition to her business, she had three or four different volunteer roles, she had a lot on her plate. Her business was very mobile, she was going on-site to meet with her own clients frequently. So, she’s in and out of the car, all over the place and volunteer stuff every which way of Sunday; way too busy. I had told her many times over: “You need to learn to start saying no! This is a problem of too much to do and not enough hours in the day. We cannot make this work; you need to learn to start saying no.”
Once I started taking coach training, I asked her if she would be open to doing some coaching during our sessions and she said yes. We started coaching around her time management challenges. I can’t even remember how the coaching conversation went, because this was many years ago, but I do remember the light bulb moment: She stood up and she said, “I need to learn to start saying no!” She wrote it on her whiteboard in big, red letters. This is something that I’d been saying to this woman for years, but it took the coaching to getting her to get a new perspective on this challenge, for her to actually see it. That’s when I went “Huh, that’s different…”
It kind of grew from there, noticing places where clients benefitted much more from a coaching conversation than they did from me trying to tell them what I saw as the organizer or as the expert.
Fabian Luetzig: How would you describe your personal style of coaching, then?
Shelly Collins: I’m very laid back with my clients. Most of my clients are adults with ADHD and I am also an adult with ADHD, so I like to show up as just that: As somebody who understands their experience, because I too am living that experience. I think it’s important for clients with ADHD, because we so often move through life feeling misunderstood. Often, we don’t understand our ADHD ourselves, much less the neurotypicals around us understanding it. So, to feel authentically heard by somebody and to know they understand is incredibly, incredibly powerful. I find myself sharing my personal stories, things that I don’t share with many people, with my clients, so that they can really understand that I get it. I walk in these shoes, too. I’m not just your coach, I’m also a coaching client.
Fabian Luetzig: And just to explain that other piece of vocabulary for the audience: A neurotypical would be somebody that…
Shelly Collins: … does not have ADHD. That is a blanket term used in the ADHD world to distinguish those of us with ADHD from and those of us who are ‘neurotypical’.
Fabian Luetzig: So, you are one of them, in a way, you’re the same as your client is what you’re saying. You’re coming across very authentically, how do you achieve that? How do you build that bond with your clients?
Shelly Collins: You know, it actually just comes naturally. I think that it was more a process of letting go for me; meaning letting go of feeling like I had to show up a certain way or that I had to be a certain person or that I had to present a certain way, that I had to be the expert or that I had to speak this way or act this way in order for my clients to see me as professional. It was more about letting go and learning how to just show up as myself.
As myself with the coaching tools I have, of course; as their coach and doing the things I should be doing as a coach but still letting myself be myself.
Fabian Luetzig: That journey between that ‘aha!’ moment of your client saying “I have to learn how to say no!”, you realizing that “Wow, coaching really works!” and coming into your own as this coach with ADHD for clients with ADHD – what was that journey like?
Shelly Collins: It was long and bumpy. After I started coach training, I did not yet know that I had ADHD. I was actually at an industry conference, sitting in a session on working with clients with ADHD and realizing as that session progressed that “Oh my gosh, these symptoms not only describe me, they describe all of the challenges that I’ve had my entire life”.
Most people with ADHD, especially those of us that don’t discover that we have ADHD until adulthood, go all the back to elementary school. We were that kid that was smart but lazy and those around us couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just apply ourselves. “If you would just work harder… you’re so smart… you could do anything you wanted… if you would just do the work… if you would just not be so lazy”.
Coming from that experience, where your entire life people are telling you: “If you could just…” and you can’t figure out “I don’t know why I can’t just…” to understanding “ok, there is a reason I can’t just…” – it’s a big shift!
A lot of my clients are adults that come to me who are just now figuring out that they have ADHD. They start looking at their life experiences through that lens: “Ok, now I get it, now I get why I can’t just…”.
For me, that was a diagnosis that I didn’t want to initially accept. I went into a psychiatrist; I fully expected him to tell me that I did not have ADHD and that I just worked with so many clients with ADHD that I was just starting to feel like I had ADHD. When he diagnosed me, it threw me for a loop. I didn’t know what to do with that. I was sitting on this half organizing, half coaching business and I was putting ADHD off to the side as something else that was my own personal thing I needed to deal with. I wasn’t talking to clients about it; I certainly wasn’t talking to my ADHD clients about it. I just parked it off to the side as something I needed to keep separate.
I can’t really tell you how it all came together, but over time I hired my own coach, for my own ADHD. My coach is also someone who has ADHD and speaks the language of ADHD and shares his experiences with ADHD. So I certainly think that was part of it: his modeling to me of how he works with his clients showed me I too can be open in these ways.
I think another part of it, I just got exhausted of trying to pretend to be somebody I wasn’t. When you own your own business, you should love what you do, so if you’re showing up as somebody you’re not is just exhausting.
Fabian Luetzig: So, over time it came together, you said. Are there any particular moments that embody that, that sort of signal that or is that just so gradual that it’s tough to pin down the moment where it integrates and clicks.
Shelly Collins: I think there are just little moments over time, of showing myself to my clients, either on purpose or by accident and feeling their acceptance; that nudged me along the way. Also noticing how I could show up for them if I was being more authentic.
An example of a client being accepting of me was early on into a coaching relationship with a client that I still work with today. She didn’t know that I had ADHD; I was still on my own journey on how to bring that into my practice. I completely missed one of our appointments, just completely forgot that it was on the calendar, somehow didn’t see it. She thought it was the most hilarious thing ever. We then actually went on a cycle where she forgot the next call, so we didn’t get together for, like, three weeks. It’s been a running joke between us ever since, about our time management and our ADD. The fact that she was being so understanding of me and so grateful when I extended that courtesy back to her – it’s become a foundation of our relationship.
An example of sharing and empathizing with a client: I had a client who was in a really bad place. She was about to lose her job due to ADHD-related issues and that was part of what we were coaching around. She sends me a text message, ten minutes or so before our session or so, and says: “I forgot to pay my credit card bill, which means I can’t pay my coaching bill – do we have to cancel?” This is a client that always pays, I’m not worried about her paying me. It wasn’t even that she didn’t have the money to pay; she just didn’t have the credit card access to pay. So, I sent her a text message back and said “Of course not! Let’s go ahead and meet.”
When we got on the phone, I shared a story with her about how when we moved houses, I was so distracted and my ADD was so out of control that I somehow missed the cable bill for, like, six months. They actually cancelled our internet; I had to call and have the internet turned back on. And, again, I had the money in the bank, I just didn’t realize the bill was not being paid. So, I understood what she was going through.
She actually broke down in tears; they were not sad tears, they were ‘Oh my god, you hear me’ tears. That was really powerful. We had a great session after that, that I don’t think would have been possible if she would have showed up feeling embarrassed or ‘less than’, because she had a hiccup.
Fabian Luetzig: It sounds like you have a real knack for attracting clients that will benefit a lot from working with you. And the same is, if I hear correctly, true for you; that you have a knack for attracting clients that you benefit a lot from working with.
Shelly Collins: Yeah, I think you’re right about that! I think that goes back to authenticity. We all have similar coaching tools, we all have the same toolbox that we’re working from. But there’s something to be said about really showing up as yourself for your clients. Because if you do that, you will attract the right people.
I go so far as to tell prospective clients “If you’re not sure, call a couple of other coaches. You shouldn’t hire me just because I’m the first coach you spoke to; you should hire me because you feel like we click. If you’re not sure that we click, then make a couple of more phone calls and see if that doesn’t help clarify it for you.”
I think if you’re not starting from that place, then you’re already off to a potentially rough start. I used to have that with organizing clients, clients that weren’t a good fit. I learned that taking that type of client was not good for me or the client.
Fabian Luetzig: What are some other things that you might be doing – maybe naturally, without even thinking about it – that you think really help you in attracting the perfect type of client for yourself?
Shelly Collins: When a client asks me a question – especially a prospective client – I give them a 45 min to an hour long consultation. If they ask me a question, I give the answer that comes to my mind. I don’t have canned answers, it’s very conversational and very open in those consultations about my own experiences, if it’s relevant. For example, if a client is telling me “I’m newly diagnosed with ADHD”, I tell them “I know exactly what it feels like to be in that place, because I was there a few years ago.”
It’s almost like I don’t know how to not to just be myself. If somebody is reacting poorly to that, I can tell. And I’m very kind about it, but I say “Maybe we’re not the best fit. Can I give you a couple of names of colleagues that might work better for you?”
I don’t want to diminish that first step for anybody, because sometimes that first step of reaching out for help and saying “I need support here; I need some help” – with ADHD clients, usually, when they’re calling for coaching, they’re usually in a place where they are in overwhelm and they feel like things are falling apart. That is the point that they’re looking for coaching and looking for somebody to help them get out of that – so I don’t want to diminish that for them or scare them from reaching out to somebody else.
I’ll very kindly say “You know, I’m not sure if we’re the right fit. If you make a couple of other phone calls and you feel like we are – by all means, call me back”. And if they call me back, I will tell them the reasons of why I’m concerned that we’re not a good fit and give them an opportunity for us to talk it out.
Some of my best coaching clients are clients that our first few sessions we’re doing that co-creating. It took a little more work; there was some disconnect in the way that we were communicating, or they were understanding the coaching process. There was something that didn’t feel right to me and instead of letting that sit and hoping it would go away, I dig into it. That’s a perfectly valid thing to coach about: “Is this coaching relationship what we both expect it to be?”
Fabian Luetzig: What comes up for me there is that that probably takes quite a bit of courage and confidence on your part to not chase after every dollar, to not go: “Whatever, I’m an entrepreneur, I need the money. Let’s just see… Let’s just do the five hours or something and probably something will come out of it.” You’re really putting the finger there where it hurts and saying “Look, if it’s not right, I want you to have the best experience possible. Here are some other options.”
That really shows a certain… I’m coming with my own value words here, tell me how you interpret it: For me, that’s really a mindset of abundance and a true, genuine love for the people that you’re working with by wanting to give them what they need, even if you’re not involved in it.
Shelly Collins: Absolutely!