What makes a great coach: Part 2

Great coaches help people meet their objectives, move forward and grow. People often think coaching is “psychology” or “getting into your head”. While having some ability in psychology is an asset, coaches are usually not trained psychologists. Coaches help clients make change without getting into depth on the “whys” of the behaviour. How do we do it? We use a variety of techniques including targeted questioning, challenging assumptions and role modelling specific behaviours.

If you read our last article What makes a great coach: Part 1, we identified four attributes of a great coach. Here are four more. All are equally important.

1. Intellectually Curious: When I listen to a coachee, questions immediately pop into my mind like, “What caused you to take that action?”, “What did you hope would happen?”, “What do you think worked?”, “ What didn’t?”. A coach without this sense of curiosity may only have a list of questions taught to them during their training or may be ready with what they think are the right answers. Inexperienced or ineffective coaches can miss out on opportunities to ask really well informed and thoughtful questions that help the coachee move forward beyond old patterns of behaviour. Coaches like to call this a “breakthrough”.

2. Forward-Thinking: Great coaches have the ability to anticipate possible options while focusing on the coachee. Experienced coaches do this without telling coachees what to do. They listen intently to a client and hear everything the client is saying including the things that are not said. At the same time, they are thinking ahead about what the person most needs to know or might be missing so the coach can be prepared to ask the right question at the right time. That is a skill that takes time to develop. When we teach people to coach, this is the skill we hear is the most difficult to learn — complete focus while thinking ahead and challenging but not leading the coachee.

3. Varied in their Approach: Our role as coaches is to help. To do so, we employ a wide range of techniques. Effective coaches know when to challenge, when to stay quiet, and where to spend more time or less time in a coaching conversation. Even if that makes the client uncomfortable. Our job is to really help the client explore the issue and make a change.

4. Courageous: Some coaches are excellent coaches but so focused on asking questions that they don’t take enough risks. The best coaches are unafraid to ask questions that really challenge the client. I worked with a client who is very senior and maybe one of the smartest and toughest people I have ever worked with. He had a blind spot around how he dealt with certain situations. In the midst of a coaching conversation, I spoke up and identified his blind spot. The conversation stopped. He was clearly annoyed. He ended the conversation – politely but abruptly. I wondered if that would be our last conversation. It wasn’t, fortunately. That challenge helped him with this blind spot and as a coach, I was glad I took the risk.

These are some of the attributes we look for in our coaches and certainly some of the things you should look for in hiring coaches. If you are a manager of people, these are attributes that you can acquire.

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