January 26, 2024
Steve Maher is an award-winning professional coach and psychotherapist
Steve Maher is an award-winning professional coach and psychotherapist, who has over two decades’ experience helping people improve their lives. Originally from Manchester, Steve moved to Guildford, where he met his wife, 20 years ago and they now have three children together. Here he talks about his journey to become a life coach and offers some tips on how to stop anxiety from preventing you to achieve what you want to achieve in 2024.
Why did you become a life coach?
I wasn’t always a life coach. My first career was spent in project management implementing large IT systems primarily in large Tier 1 banks. Towards the end of my first career, I worked at Barclays and ended up as Senior Director at world-leading software company FICO, managing large portfolios of projects worth £50m and leading large teams of project managers. My career path changed when one day one of my senior leaders said to me that ‘You’re more like a coach than a manager’ (which I was rather taken aback by but took as a compliment). This got me interested in coaching so I started to read up about it, what it is and how it can help people.
Tell us more about your journey to become a life coach…
I studied for a professional executive coaching qualification at Henley Business School and found it fascinating. I realized that what I learnt would not just help me in my current job but might be something I’d like to do full-time in the future. I began doing coaching sessions as a sideline in evenings and at weekends on top of my day job. Working with people made me realise I needed to understand better how our brains and minds work, so I then went on to study psychology and became a qualified and registered psychotherapist. By then, it had become a real passion and I made a pact that I would set up my own business and work for myself by the age of 50 as a coach. I set up my full-time private coaching practice when I was 50 years and six months, so I almost hit the deadline! In addition to my private practice I now also work as a consultant and an associate for some of the world's leading executive coaching companies.
What does life coaching involve?
The first thing to note is that people are incredibly diverse and complex. No two clients are the same. However most people have a narrative or story in their head about themselves andwho they are that might not necessarily be true. So, it's asking people to tell their story and then asking questions to work out how that story might be limiting and holding them back from achieving their true potential. In addition, I’ve learnt through my training and through helping hundreds of clients that the brain has certain traits or characteristics that are like a double-edged sword. These traits can be hugely beneficial to us but they come with a significant downside. An example of this is anxiety, which I spend a lot of time helping clients with. Anxiety is only really seen as something bad but from an evolutionary perspective having anxiety is actually pretty useful. It just comes with baggage that we really don’t like. Helping people to understand that and accept that anxiety is actually okay and is trying to be helpful, rather than something to be fought against, is a common feature of what I do.
Who is your typical client and what problems do they come to you with?
My typical clients are men and women between 35 and 60. I think there's something that happens in our middle age – people often call it a midlife crisis – it’s not really a crisis but we do tend to start to think differently during this phase of our lives. Something changes. We start to become a lot more reflective and ask certain questions, which challenge us, such as ‘what am I here for?’ and ‘what’s my purpose in life?’ So, my typical client is usually feeling a bit lost or overwhelmed. The typical manifestation is that they want to change jobs but really, if you're getting into your 40s and maybe 50s and you're not sure about your career, there might be something else you’re not happy with.
What are the biggest misconceptions about coaching?
That you go to a coach to get ‘fixed’. I don't think that people need fixing as such, I mean, you might have a serious psychological condition like schizophrenia or bipolar but those clients need help from a psychiatrist rather than a coach. People aren't inherently broken, theytend to have either lost their way, forgotten who they really are or they are living someone else’s story. So, the coach doesn't fix you, they help you think and look at things from a different perspective. The coach doesn’t have a magic wand though, it’s about forming a close working team between the client and the coach to make changes and move in a better direction.
What are your top tips for managing anxiety?
Anxiety is the biggest issue that most people struggle with. The best approach to help people with anxiety is to understand how our minds work and learn to calm it. If you can do that, it will have a profound impact on your wellbeing. So, I would start with learning to understand our threat response. My second step is to learn how to manage it better. This can be best achieved by learning to breathe and breathe in a certain way. If you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, you will automatically calm down. And third is to have comfort in the fact that anxiety is there for a reason, it's there to help you and sometimes, if you can sit with it for a bit, it can help you figure out what to do about the situation.
What is your initiative Let’s Talk Men about?
Men are not the greatest at talking about their problems. As children, boys are generally taught not to express weakness or vulnerability and that feeds up into adulthood. When guys go out together, there's a lot of bravado and talk about sport, because that’s a safe topic. They don’t tend to talk about the things that are really troubling them. Around three quarters of suicides in the UK are male and I think a lot of that is because men don’t talk about things that are bothering them and then it gets too much. I think men in general are confused about their role in society; they're often told that they're either useless or that they are the problem and I think men are withdrawing and backing away from things because they don’t feel they are able to talk about their concerns. This initiative is about making it easier for men to talk about their feelings and open up more.
What do you like most about your job?
When you start to work with someone, they tend to come to you with something that isn’t actually the real problem. But as you work with them and they begin to trust you more, you start to unpack what that deeper problem is – it’s usually something that has been bothering them for a long time and has really held them back. Sometimes you have to become a bit of a detective to try and work out exactly what it is but it’s a real privilege to go on that journey with them and help them overcome it.
From the sports field to the school classroom to the boardroom, Steve has helped hundreds of clients with life’s challenges. He is a certified Senior Coaching Practitioner with the EMCC, a member of the Association of Coaching and works with some of the world’s leading coaching companies. He qualified as an executive coach through the world leading Henley Business School and as a psychotherapist through the Human Givens Institute.
TO FIND OUT MORE:
Need more clarity in your life? Visit www.stevemahercoaching.com or connect with Steve on LinkedIn @Steve-Maher-Coaching.