| Are you a coach?
How would you know? Is coaching about what you do, the skills you have, the kind of person you are or about the impact you have on others? Does the label 'coach' matter? Sports coach, business coach, life coach, instructional coach, leadership coach, executive coach - are they distinct and different or do they share common features? Can someone have the effect of a qualified, accredited coach without ever formally learning to be one?
Below are some pointers for thinking through these questions:
What is a coach?
Here's a broad definition. Do adapt it for your own context:
A coach is a person who can empower others to become more sustainably effective in their lives, work and learning. In an equal partnership, coachee and coach explore challenges, issues and opportunities, agreeing actions and goals for professional and personal growth along the way.
Feel free to take this text and make it into your own definition of a coach. What would you change, add, remove? How would those with whom you work modify it?
Features of a coach: Being a coach vs having coaching skills
The skills, behaviours and actions of a coach are influenced by their beliefs, values and ethics. Someone who has coaching skills focuses on the former: it's about what they do.Someone who is a coach also works with the latter: what they do as a coach will be grounded in a moral purpose. This difference is descriptive not judgmental.
Here's an illustrative but by no means exhaustive list of the skills of an effective coach:
The ability to share meaning clearly and with a minimum of 'noise'. A coach will be aware of their shared responsibility for what is understood during coaching. They will be alert to the barriers that exist to effective communication and will work with verbal and non-verbal modes.
The ability to connect effectively with people. A coach will know themselves and be able to quickly get to know others. They accept diversity in personality, culture and experience and have no trouble bonding with a wide variety of individuals.
The ability to look back at performance and seek out learning for growth. A coach will be honest in their self-appraisal. They will celebrate their successes and learn from their failures. They maintain a proactive approach to continuing professional development.
The ability to manage personal well-being. A coach knows that looking after their own well-being is a prerequisite for working productively with others. A coach aims for a well balanced life and has organised their own coaching and supervision.
Here's an illustrative but by no means exhaustive list of the components of an underlying moral purpose:
The concepts that are held to be important in life and those which you are prepared to defend as 'right'. A coach will be aware of their own values and be able to discover those of others. A coach does not impose their values during a coaching session but aims to discover, respect and work with the unique values of their coachee.
The concepts that you hold to be true even though there may not be irrefutable evidence for them. If beliefs are challenged it can prompt an emotional rather than intellectual response. A coach is aware of their own beliefs and is sensitive to those of others. A coach does not impose their beliefs during a coaching session but aims to discover, respect and work with the unique beliefs of their coachee.
The concept of what is right and wrong. A coach is aware of their own sense of right and wrong; of what is permitted and what is not. They aim to work with the ethics of a coachee rather than impose their own during a session. However there are some important exceptions. For example, if a coach believes that a coachee is at risk of harm or of harming someone else or if a law has been/may be broken. These situations are rare but nevertheless a coach will have discussed them with a coachee before work begins.
Trust can be defined as integrity plus credibility: integrity is coherence between what you believe and what you do; credibility is about whether others think you'll do what you say. A coach builds trust quickly by being honest and by working confidentially. A coach does what they say they'll do, because of what they believe.
Working with these features
Spend some professional time with colleagues contemplating what these 8 features mean to you. You might like to consider:
1. What do we actually see and hear when these features manifest during coaching?
2. How could you adapt the definitions to represent your own understanding?
3. What should the 9th and 10th features be?
4. Is it possible to be a coach if one or more features are missing?
5. What other professional activities display these features?
Read the other two articles in this series:
What is Coaching