This is the number one question I get asked.  Although it might come disguised as “I’m not really sure what you do.”

Every man and his dog is a coach these days

I’m not surprised by people’s confusion considering there are over 1.5 million people on LinkedIn with the word ‘coach’ in their job title, so in all likelihood, there are many definitions of what a coach might be and what they might do. However, if you’re an accredited coach like I am, no matter what body you’ve been trained by, you will broadly agree on what coaching is.

Are you qualified?

I would suggest that this is the first thing to ask if you’re ever looking for a coach.  Don’t be afraid to ask what kind of training they went through and how much work it entailed.  Follow that up with an even more important question: do they have a coach themselves?  As an accredited coach, it is a recommendation, but it’s not compulsory to have a supervisor who essentially coaches us and keeps us honest and keeps us focused on what we might be doing.  I don’t think I would ever consider a coach myself who wasn’t prepared to walk the talk and be open to the kind of change and the kind of challenge that coaching can provide.

Coaching is one example of a quality conversation

Essentially coaching, or the skills that coaching requires, is a good example of a quality conversation; it has some kind of discipline and framework around it. The coach is not there to “have a chat”.  A coaching conversation is an equal measure of support and challenge and the coach themselves needs to bring a really high quality form of attention, a form of acceptance and a form of non-judgment to the coaching conversation so that the person that they’re coaching feels able to explore their concerns in a really safe environment.

Coaching is a combination of BEING and DOING

For me, coaching is a combination of BEING; being accepting, being non-judgmental, being focused, being caring, being compassionate, being challenging and being trustful.  The DOING aspect is obviously providing the attention that leads to high quality questions, deep listening, summarising and helping the other person to make sense of what they want to explore. This is the kind of coaching that I do with both individuals and teams, and the kind of coaching that I help managers and teams to develop in my coaching skills at work programs.

You have the answers (even if you don’t know it yet!) 

The fundamental starting point is that I believe that each one of us has within us the resources to figure things out even when we’re really stuck.  We just haven’t had the chance to sit down and really think about it – to think clearly and creatively and compassionately about what it is that we really want to do and what our options are. 

The coach doesn’t search for the answers – the client does!

It isn’t about the coach coming with all the answers. The coach shouldn’t have the answers, the coach should be there to simply ask great questions, to listen, to summarise, to push and to support. The coach is there to bring that quality of attention, to provide a safe space and a safe route through that conversation.

The biggest trap we can fall into is advising

What most people tell me, particularly when I’m training other people to coach, is that the biggest challenge is to step back from advising, step back from saying “if I were you” or “why don’t you do this?”.  This is the common trap and if you ever feel like that it’s fine to say: “ I’ve got this thing in my head, I’m thinking that maybe you should do this” but I would never suggest that you sit there and you ask somebody a set of questions hoping that they will eventually come up with the answer that you came up with 10 minutes ago because that’s manipulation, that’s not coaching!

You need to know when it is NOT appropriate to coach

Never pretend to coach, never tell yourself you’re coaching if really you just want them to do things a certain way.  I think the best thing that you can do for the people that work for you is to take on coaching skills and take on that belief that the people who work for you can find the answers.  

Coaching is not appropriate if that person could never know the answers in a million years, no matter how long they sat quietly in a room contemplating it.  Learning new things is not coaching, but once the person’s done the job and now they’re looking at how they’re doing the job then coaching is a great way to make that person feel empowered, to give them the accountability that they need and to encourage a learning mindset, which is key to getting things done. 

If you want to encourage a learning mindset in your team and need help building your coaching skills, click here to start a conversation with me on how we could work together.

I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank