Becoming a great coach takes intention, time and effort. It is not something that happens quickly and usually even coaches who have been in the field for many years still talk about ways how they’re continually developing themselves.
The aim of this article is to go beyond some of the initial pitfalls of coaching e.g. the role of advice, (p.s. great coaches do not give advice).
The article is about things that you might want to avoid if you are starting out as a coach, or even if you’ve been a professional one for a few years!
As you go through these 5 areas, identify how much you do them in your own coaching and what you can do to develop yourself further to become even better in your practice. We have made some suggestions as well.
1. Setting Expectations on Yourself and Your Client
This comes through in many disguises. Expectations that the client needs to ‘get somewhere’ or resolve something by the end of the session. Expectations that you need to act in a particular way in the coaching session. Expectations that your questions always have to be right. If you start holding these thoughts too rigidly you’ll find that the focus of the session moves more from the client to yourself.
What can you do instead? Go into the session with an open-mind, don’t over prepare, rehearse questions or put pressure on yourself that the client has to achieve a certain goal. Honour the client by giving them accountability of the coaching goal and process.
2. Treat Coaching as a Regular Conversation
Coaching goes beyond having a conversation with someone. It takes energy, effort and skill from you as the coach; and willingness, trust and motivation from your client. You need to prepare for a coaching session and squashing it in between meetings or doing too many in a day that you end up feeling exhausted is bad practice.
What can you do instead? Be prepared and give yourself time before and after the coaching session to get into the zone. Some use meditation, others go over their notes. Do something that helps you focus and get ready to coach.
3. Not Partnering with the Client on Agreements
There are many times during a session where we would seek and work on agreements with our clients.
For example, at the start of a coaching session it is imperative to work with your client in setting agreements about their goal. This is not a quick activity where the client simply states something and you progress asking how they would achieve it.
Instead you test, challenge, explore and reflect back what the client says. You truly help your client refine that agreement in a way that shows them its importance. Similarly agreements happen throughout the session when working on actions, asking a difficult question or reminding the client of how much time is left in their session.
What can you do instead? Make sure you emphasise agreements, particularly with new clients. Get used to asking questions such as, ‘may I ask you a slightly challenging question there?’ or ‘we have about 30 minutes left, can I check whether our discussion is useful to you?’
4. Complicate your Questions
There seems to be a big misconception that the best coaching questions are complex and join up so many dots. The truth? The best questions are simple ones, some are not even questions at all! (e.g. silence or a Hmmm.. can be very powerful). Great questions emerge in real time with your client. You might want to ask a few however choose one (typically the one that is least directive) and go with that one. Don’t stack questions together (e.g. What did you think at that point? How did you feel?) as this tends to confuse people. Focus on being clear – usually the simpler the question, the better it is.
What can you do instead? Practice asking questions one by one. Even if you feel the question that you have asked wasn’t the right one, don’t change it. Wait for your client to answer and then ask the next question. And don’t hold on to previous questions too tightly either! The client might have moved on and you need to keep on ‘dancing in the moment’ with them.‘
5. Closing the Coaching Session in a Rush
Closing a Coaching Session takes time, and as a minimum we would recommend spending a good 10 minutes before the end of a 60 minute session to start wrapping it up. For example, partner with the client in closing the session (something that is part of the ICF Competencies). Ask them ‘we have about 10 minutes left, would you like to start identifying ways to close our session today?’
At the end of the session support your client to reflect back on any learning, anything that surprised them or challenged them. Help the client think of ways to celebrate their progress and what’s important to them.
What can you do instead? Take your time! And be aware that you need that time to fully support your client in bringing the session to a close. You might also want to contract with the client at the start of the session and set an agreement that you’ll be reminding them when the session comes to a close.
These are just some of our ideas that we feel help to elevate your coaching. And remember, it’s okay if you are currently doing some of these. If you recognise any don’t be too hard on yourself but instead take this opportunity to reflect back and identify ways how you can progress.
We have supported many coaches obtain their ICF Credentials through our ICF Diploma in Integrative Coaching. Coaches have shared how we have helped not only their development into ICF Coaches but also supported them explore, discover and grow their own self-awareness bringing a truly holistic development.