What is Coaching?
People often think of coaching as a set of communication or cognitive skills. While it’s true that coaching does require the ability to communicate and interact with others successfully, I would argue that coaching is something you do with your whole self. Listening effectively, asking good questions, and assertively expressing your point of view are all essential coaching abilities, but they don’t tell the whole story. Being a great coach encompasses the way you act and behave as you go about all of your activities and routines, no matter how big or small they may be.
After decades of researching the behaviors of effective coaches, I have concluded that coaching is an approach to life and work in general. It is reflected in the whole person and illustrated by how we respond to many situations we encounter. So while it is important to develop the behavioral skills of great coaches, we also need to develop our core beliefs and our strategies for relating to people. These deeper drivers will come out in the behaviors we model for others and in the way we respond to virtually every situation at work (and in life).
Characteristics of a Good Coach
As a coach, it is important to really listen to people. Good coaches are supportive during a coaching conversation, but they are also just supportive in general. Coaches provide support whenever it is needed, and especially when someone is encountering challenges or adversity. A good coach sets up a sustainability plan at the end of a coaching session, but in reality, coaches should check in and follow up with people as a matter of routine. Rather than being something extra, this behavior is simply part of their daily practices; it’s the way they go about accomplishing their work each day.
Good coaches help people think through a plan of action, but more importantly, they are naturally solution-focused in life and at work. In other words, they choose to focus on solutions rather than problems in their everyday approach to their responsibilities. If there is a problem, they come up with a range of solutions and ideas rather than venting and making complaints. They seek out the input, ideas, and suggestions of others to the greatest extent possible and use the information they gather to come up with collaborative, mutually beneficial solutions to the problems they see. They tend to be optimistic about the future and believe that everyone can do better and make positive changes for the benefit of themselves, the team, the organization, and beyond.
Good coaches don’t just compliment people during a coaching conversation, they look for moments to congratulate or acknowledge people’s achievements as they occur and in the moment. They also model and demonstrate their own commitment, accountability, and ownership for results; they don’t expect others to do things they are unwilling to do themselves. Good coaches are coachable. Not only do they give constructive feedback to others, they proactively seek out and ask others to give them honest, clear, and unfiltered feedback so they can grow and develop as people and coaches. This willingness to coach and be coached demonstrates to everyone in the organization that a culture of coaching is encouraged and simply part of how the business is run.
The Making of a Great Coach
Great coaches truly walk the talk when it comes to coaching. Coaching is part of their regular actions and who they are at the core. Good coaching practices certainly come out during important conversations and interactions, but ultimately, being a great coach is much more than being a skilled conversationalist. It’s about who coaches are at the core, what drives them, and how they can support others in pursuit of their greatest potential.