I am an accidental coach.
If one were to look at my background, I would not have been the best fit to coach. I was never a listener. As a corporate executive, my job was to tell people what to do. The better I was at directing, the higher I rose. Challenged by my wife, I took listening as an empowering goal. Over time, I have learned to listen. So have hundreds, if not thousands of executives and others, who start with poor listening skills, and become coaches.
The same logic applies to people who believe they are not emotionally intelligent. Many are told by tests that they are not. We have worked with people who some tests classified as 100% thinkers and 0% emotional and have had the satisfaction of seeing them as coaches. Some who could not understand and verbalise their emotional states are now celebrated coaches.
You don’t need to be a great communicator, problem-solver, well-read, or possessed of many other such skills sets associated with successful people. You need to be human and humane, that’s all.
Anyone can be a coach.
Don’t let credentials and labels be your destination. Not everyone who is highly credentialed is a great coach. Training to be a coach will certainly help you become better at mastering coaching skills. However, anyone can start with fundamentals to self coach themselves and others.
(Sidenote – Like in every other vocation, no matter how gifted someone is, coaching too needs a framework, training, and most importantly, learning through practice. That’s the reason coaching credentials exist. In cases of corporate coaching assignments, credentials serve as a litmus test. Getting a credential doesn’t mean that you’re a great coach, though.)
Coaching is a state of mind.
Anyone who is willing to unlearn past habits and learn new ones can become a coach. This is a journey through discomfort, which is the only way to learn and grow. This is what the coaching process is. So, if someone with a behavioural disability such as poor listening or empathy learns to overcome those, they can be far better coaches than those who are naturally empathetic and good listeners. This may seem contrarian, yet very true.
A senior executive once said to me, ‘I am not impressed that you train homemakers and secretaries to be coaches’.
My response was simple. ‘To train a homemaker or a secretary or a junior executive to be a coach, my challenge is to make them confident. They have no notions of being superior and are not resistant to learning. It is a joyful journey. On the other hand, people like you who think people will listen to you because you have power, and will have no one to listen to you when you lose that power, can never learn to be coaches. To train people like you is painful.’ No wonder he never approached Coacharya again.
The greatest coaches I have had are my great grandmother, my mother, and my wife.
They were never trained to be coaches, nor would they have had the interest. All they did was listen, and share what they observed. My great-grandmother conveyed her observations through stories and metaphors. My mother, and of course my wife, took greater liberties. They were more direct when what they observed was not serving me. The fact they had unconditional positive regard and empathy in conveying that to me, made me aware and shift my behaviour.
Here are a few behaviours that can help anyone to be coach-like:
Focusing on others rather than oneself alone
Being human and humane is about caring for others. It’s about putting others along with you, if not ahead of you, in fulfilling needs and well. This is also spirituality and ubuntu, and everything noble. Coaching is a noble, spiritual vocation. Think Buddha.
Knowing that one knows very little, if at all
Paraphrasing Mark Twain, it is not what we don’t know that fails us, but what we are so sure that we know when we don’t. Coaching is a journey in not knowing. If you know where the client should go, you’re not a coach, you’re a bad consultant. Be not knowing, non-judgmental, and open, always empathetic and generative in listening.
Asking not Telling
Edgar Schein, in his must-read books for coaches Humble Inquiry and Humble Consulting, establishes how any occupation be it of a surgeon, a CEO, a consultant, or a therapist can become a coaching and life-saving journey, if only we asked before telling. Don’t be what I was, a directive, authoritative manager, full of myself, thinking that I had all the solutions. I didn’t.
Co-create solutions, never offer them
The first step in becoming a coach for any executive is to eschew solution-giving. Ask others to bring solutions. Listen deeply. Listen to their emotions. Observe their body language. Intuit what they don’t say. Then partner them to co-create a solution through their awareness.
The more I disagree, the more I need to be aggressive
Often as executives, or in life, we enter into difficult conversations. They often begin with a lie or an exaggeration or a blind belief either one of us starts with, which then explodes if the other disagrees. Pause, rewind. Listen to what’s said and what’s not said, to emotions and body language. Then meet the other a tenth of the way to diffuse. Say your piece after that. See what difference this makes.
Contract first, do not expect others to read your mind
Always Be Contracting is the ABC of the coaching mindset. Establish an intent, an outcome, a goal, or a purpose for every important conversation. Without it, it’s a waste of time. Follow through with empathetic listening to co-create an aware action. That’s all to coaching.
Finally, follow Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers is our guru. His client-centricity is our mantra. Always have unconditional positive regard for the other, engage with empathy, and be authentic. You will be a great coach.
Magda and I have difficult conversations all the time. We both are strong-willed and direct in communication. There is no room for passive aggression. Yet, we always arrive at an aligned action plan. All it takes is respect for the other and generative listening. You too can do this.