Can anyone be a coach?
A question that I am often asked is “Have I got what it takes to be a good coach?” It’s an understandable question. We are in a world of algorithms, of early labelling of children in school groups. And there is still the belief that we have to be a “natural” to excel in any field.
Apart from people who may be on the edge of normal functioning in society, we can all be good coaches. And it depends much more on the future (what you are prepared to do), than the past (who you are, what you are currently good at, what your qualifications are).
Coaching: the illusion of elitism
With some professions, a mystique emerges within it that goes something like this. “Only really special people can join this profession, this group. You have to have that magical quality that allows you to be part of this club.” Coaching is no different from other niche professions – that mystique has emerged.
During my years employed as a mentor in secondary schools, some of my colleagues had that belief. I used to challenge them, by saying that any teacher in the staff room could do our job.
What was special about us was not any magical skills. No, it was that we were given the time and permission to have our weekly 1-2-1 mentoring sessions. That allowed us to have our impact.
Coaching: all skills are learnable
I have to declare my hand here. You will see that I am a strong believer in the principle of the learnable skill. Anything can be learnt, and it is a belief that we can learn and develop that will unlock that possibility. It doesn’t mean that we can all learn to run 100m in 10 seconds. But we can all learn to improve and transcend our current levels.
And this is as true about coaching as about anything else. Coaching is as much about skills, process and structure as it is about a mystical innate ability. The people I train who become high quality coaches are definitely those who fully engage in the learning process. They recognise themselves as perpetual learners and take the steady steps to improvement. They study coaching, review their coaching sessions looking for improvement, and are open to taking recommendations.
Coaching as an extension of our relationships
Coaching skills aren’t separate from the great skills of a good employer, a good partner or a good friend. Listening intently, not hijacking conversations, asking useful questions, helping people when they are stuck. These are all things that are used in everyday life. Perhaps not to the same degree as in coaching– in relationships we expect a bit of reciprocation, and our turn to be listened to but certainly good relational skills are things that we use every day and are highly effective in coaching too.
When teaching coaching, I say that new coaches are not starting from scratch. They are bringing in many, many everyday skills that can be slightly adapted to be used in the coaching environment. Most of us have already started learning to coach, just by being good friends, partners, sons and daughters, colleagues.
But surely some people are more “natural” as coaches than others?
This again is something that I am often asked. We do need to be comfortable with people’s difficult feelings and be patient. We must be prepared to hold back from advising, and not have any level of judgement. Although all of these are learnable, some people have already learnt this, and so are more “coach ready” than others.
One of my favourite expressions is “just because someone else is good at xxx already, that doesn’t stop me from being entitled to learn it”.
I find this empowering, because it breaks the myth of the natural. There may be some who are more advanced in these interpersonal skills than us. That’s not what we need to focus on. The real question is “are we prepared
to put in the effort, and to learn and develop these interpersonal skills?” If so, then we’ll make every bit as good a coach as them.
And even “naturals” have to adapt. Just being empathetic isn’t enough. The empathetic person still needs to learn how to challenge respectfully and to hold the coachee to account. (a great struggle of mine in the early days!)
Can we make everyone in the team become coaches?
Here’s a question that managers often ask. In the plan to move to a coaching culture, there is a genuine desire to have everyone adopt a coaching style. I’m strongly in favour of this. But also, we have to respect the reality for people for whom coaching isn’t a comfortable approach.
It has a reputation of being fluffy (it isn’t!), of being lots to do with feelings (it is!), and of not producing results (it does!).
If a manager doesn’t want to adopt a coaching style, this can’t be imposed on them. Coaching is compatible with great management (apart from in high stakes situations), but there are other good approaches that can be used. Mostly, the manager has to decide that they want to embrace a coaching approach, before insisting that this must be their style. Many do, but some don’t, and we need to accept that reality.
When one of my daughters was at school, she did an online career recommendation test. She entered lots of data and was given some ideas of careers to pursue. The recommendation for her – either a newsreader or a yoga teacher! Very random, but probably about as accurate as these things get.
If you are worrying whether coaching is right for you, then you are in a good place of enquiry. Can you accept that you already have coaching skills that you have learnt? Can you accept that coaching is a skill and approach that is learnable? Then you are in a good place for progress.
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Charlie Warshawski is a leadership coach and coach trainer. He runs an accredited coach training organisation, Love Your Coaching, offering coaching qualifications. In his coaching, he works 1:1 with leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs, supporting them on topics that are both professional and personal – according to their needs
If you were stimulated by this article and want to know more about how to use coaching for your career, your organisation or your life generally, then get in contact. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or book in a time for a 30 minute phone or Zoom call https://loveyourcoaching.10to8.com
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