What does it mean to be a coach?

Martin Hill, Senior Tutor, BSC
Martin Hill, Senior Tutor, BSC

My coaching supervisor, in highlighting further development opportunities, suggested a couple of avenues to consider. One of them was “What is required in ‘being’ a coach- rather than simply ‘doing’ coaching.”

This concept intrigued me and made me reflect on the skills and qualities that I think a good coach should possess. In no particular order, as this was a stream of consciousness thought process:

Emotional Intelligence– Daniel Goleman (1998) “ Working with emotional intelligence”, New York: Bantam Books) outlines five main elements – Wikipedia summarises these as follows : “(i) “Self-awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions. (ii)Self-regulation – involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances. (iii) Social skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction (iv) Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions and (v) Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement.”  In my opinion “being” a coach means being aware of emotions in coaching conversations (both yours and your clients) and managing them.

Curiosity– this is the element that I love – ensuring that I go into a coaching conversation in a “curious” state of mind, means that my questions and listening assist the client in achieving the goal set for the session. Resetting that state of curiosity prior to each session also serves to boost the energy levels I take into that session and assists in preventing unconscious transference from previous sessions. Curiosity is infectious and frequently serves to re-energise the client and achieve breakthroughs on issues that have become something of a blockage.

Competence– one would hope that this would go without saying- but a search of any internet search engine will reveal hundreds and hundreds of hits re coaches- few of whom appear to have any coaching qualification. Competence means that the coach has a range of tools and models to use to assist the client in achieving their objectives – it also implies that the coach knows what they are doing – and more critically knows when those competencies are insufficient for the particular needs of a client- and ensure that they help the client in identifying someone who did have the necessary specialist skills.

Challenge – this distinguishes coaching from a simple conversation and it is from challenge the client frequently gains the most useful and important learning. Challenge does not have to mean confrontation – it can occur in a variety of ways. For example for some the simple presence of another person can be a challenge; for others challenge can be made through silence or tone of voice; questioning and reflecting back the client’s own comments. One of the tools I use in reflecting on a coaching or supervision intervention is to assess whether there was any challenge. I also check this out with the client directly.
Courage– not something that would immediately spring to mind perhaps, but this idea stems from reflections on my own coaching practice. It is not uncommon to find candidates embarking on coaching training, worrying about whether they will know what questions to ask; worrying if they are the “right” question etc. etc. Reflecting on my own coaching and supervision practice now, I am surprised to note how I often have the “sense” of something – and have the courage to follow up that feeling/sense. Obviously this has to be done consciously and carefully, but the courage of following one’s instincts has often uncovered the real heart of the client’s issue.  Courage also is involved in ensuring that as a coach one does the” right thing” – having the courage to decline work if it will impinge on your own ethics, values or beliefs or to ensure that it is the “right thing” for the client themselves.

Integrity–  a key element of being a coach is to ensure that one operates ethically, professionally and with integrity. Maintenance of confidentiality is often an indicative benchmark of the level of a coach’s integrity.
Open Minded–  this links in with curiosity perhaps, but although you may hear the same topics/issues cropping up it is crucial to keep an open mind as it will be a unique experience for each client . Keeping an open mind ensures that you also manage your own values and beliefs and are focused on the client’s objectives.

Resilience– again, not one that may immediately spring to mind. As a coach you are often the guardian of the client’s declared goal or objective. It is not uncommon for obstacles or issues to crop up in the course of attaining that goal/objective. As the coach you must have the resilience to assist your client in navigating through the storm and steering them into the clear waters to reach the intended harbour.

To close, some short bullet points that are also spring to mind and which are self-explanatory:

  • Commitment to excellence- both for self and for the client
  • Commitment to reflective learning
  • Continuing professional development
  • Authenticity- Being Oneself
  • Awareness of Own Values & Beliefs-Knowing Oneself

Those are my starters for ten – what are the ones that you would suggest?

Some of our Clients

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