“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them learn rather than teaching them.”
So says Sir John Whitmore, a former British racing driver and a pre-eminent thinker in leadership and organisational change.
Indeed, just as every top athlete works with a coach who helps them realise their full potential, so even the most gifted and dedicated in their field still benefit from working closely with a qualified coach.
Types of coaching
For a lot of people, sport is the first thing that comes to mind when they think of coaches. But when we talk about professional coaches in the context of what Erickson International calls the world’s second-fastest growing profession (after information technology), we’re describing a type of coaching that falls broadly into two categories: life coaching and business coaching.
The life coach focuses on the client’s personal life, while the business coach deals with their professional life, but in both cases, the general approach is to help the client determine where they want to be, and show them how to develop the skills and methods that will get them there.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Here are the skills you need to succeed as a business or life coach:
1. Cultivating talent
Most people are actually surprisingly bad at recognising and nurturing their own talents. A skilled coach is something of a “talent whisperer”, able to connect the dots and identify the uniqueness in us that we might just have overlooked.
Part of this is helping the client identify and play to their own strengths. As Monique Catoggio, the CEO at Monique Catoggio Inc, says in Forbes’ article, 10 Coaching Skills EHomevery Leader Should Master: “Today’s leaders must embrace and capitalize on the uniqueness and strengths of each of their team members.”
2. Relationship building
Effective coaching happens in a collaborative relationship based on mutual trust with a high degree of openness between both parties. Right from the outset, a good coach will establish the relationship with the coachee by having a frank discussion about how they should be related to and called on for support whenever necessary.
Similarly, those in management positions who are tasked with the job of coaching their staff can do well by opening up themselves first, sharing their own strengths and weaknesses, achievements and mistakes. Deep listening also builds understanding and trust and coaches should be fully present to their clients during each and every coaching session.
3. Asking the right questions
An important thing for the coach to remember is that their role is not to solve the client’s problems for them, but to help them develop the skills and confidence to solve their own problems. That’s why the coach needs to be able to ask open-ended questions that encourage the client to do just that. Lori Darley, CEO of Conscious Leaders, suggests questions like: “If there were no constraints and anything was possible, what action would you take now?”
4. Communicating feedback
Feedback is tricky. We all need it, many of us know we need it and say we want it, and yet, it’s often difficult for us not to confuse feedback with criticism. But effective feedback can propel a person forward towards reaching his or her goals. In the world of sports, we see how coaches provide players with precise, on-the-spot feedback that can immediately improve their performance.
Personal or business coaches experienced in the art of delivering critical feedback will generally restrict their comments to one or two key points, always grounding these in observational data. After sharing feedback with a client, they will also invite reflection on how the feedback was received and will facilitate the thorough processing of an emotional response before moving to the next steps.
Let’s face it, there are too many choices and too many distractions in the ever-connected world of today. For many of us, urgency wins over importance and too many priorities mean we have no priorities at all.
With the help of a well-trained coach, individuals choose personal goals that they are absolutely clear about and that have measurable endpoints. Without strategic clarity, coaching simply becomes an aimless and endless exercise in futility.
“It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality.” Dubbed the “Emperor of Acquisitions” and widely considered the most significant businessman of the 1960s and 70s, Harold Geneen knew that ideas without action aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
A good coach will not only help his or her clients set and prioritise their strategic plans and improvement goals, but will also see to it that these are transformed into actions and results for which they are wholly accountable.
7. Out-of-the-box thinking
We all have dreams, but too many of us are afraid to take that leap of faith into the unknown territory of our future reality. Experienced coaches support their clients in moving beyond present paradigms, liberating them from limited thinking and expanding possibility beyond their imaginations.
Becoming a coach
In a world of constant distractions and rising stress levels, more people see the benefit in having a mentor who can help set them on the path. So it’s no surprise that the demand for life coaches is increasing. As reported by NCC Home Learning, the International Coach Federation had only around 1500 life coach members in 1999, but by 2013, that had risen to 17000 coaches across a total of 34 countries.
Meanwhile, in an increasingly competitive business landscape, more companies are turning to business coaches to help them develop and retain talent.
If you are interested in pursuing a career as a life or business coach, the first step is to get accredited. That means being trained and certified by a well-respected coach-training programme, preferably one whose competencies are aligned with the International Coach Federation (ICF).
The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a range of coaching courses that serve as a solid foundation of pursuing a career in coaching. These include full-time and part-time courses, as well as the option to study online.
If you’re interested in pursuing a coaching course, or seek additional information on the coaching profession and what it entails, you can enquire now with SACAP.