7 | Develop Your Coaching Capacities

What's your plan for ongoing development as a coach?

Coaching is a skill that, after learning the basic agreement process, you can use immediately. Coaching is also a craft that you’ll continue to refine for the rest of your life. This course focuses primarily on developing and demonstrating the 8 core competencies. In addition to these competencies, we find the that following traits listed below help contribute to a coach’s capacity to spark transformation in people’s lives and ministries.

For coaches to be effective to others, they must first be well-informed about their own values, needs, interests, abilities, personality type, sensitivities, and hot buttons. Coaches should be keenly aware of anything and everything about themselves that might affect how they come across to other people.

Ability to Be Present
The ability to be completely present in the moment is one of the most difficult competencies for coaches—as it is for us all. Coaches must be able to put aside their personal worries and to-do lists, and quiet their self-critical voices and all of the other “noise” that keep them from paying full attention to what’s happening with their clients. People being coached will know when the coach is distracted and won’t feel they are being well served.

Ability to Connect
Highly skilled coaches need to be able to connect with those they coach. Traits coaches must exemplify include:
  • A deep respect for and willingness to value all people, regardless of their foibles and flaws.
  • Adaptability to different thinking/learning styles and cultural norms.
  • Ability to put aside personal preferences, especially when they differ from those of the person being coached.
  • Knowledge of one’s own personality traits and their potential impact on other personality types.

Ability to Build Trust and Respect
Building trust and respect is integrally related to the previous competency, ability to connect. Trust is built out of the sum total of all the competencies. Respect is earned through a consistent display of competence. Each person being coached will, of course, accord trust and respect based on his or her own set of personal values, but there are a number of factors that go a long way toward ensuring coaches will be trusted and respected by their clients. Coaches must exhibit:
  • Professionalism.
  • Basic knowledge of related subject matter.
  • Ironclad confidentiality.

Ability to Match Personal Style with Client Style
Whether a coach and client are matched by someone in the organization, or the coach is selected personally by the individual, it is the coach’s responsibility to take note of and match as closely as possible that person’s style preferences. And at advanced levels, a coach may be called on not only to match the client’s style but also to influence the style of the person being coached, should the need arise. Style issues include:

  • Energy. Is the person a low-energy type? Is he or she anxious? Does he or she speak too loudly, or quietly? The coach must notice all this and bring to the person’s attention any behavior that needs adjustment.
  • Thinking style and speed. If a coach responds to an analytical thinker with a conceptual response, it will interrupt the process flow. Likewise, if the coach slows down a lightning-speed thinker with poorly timed questions, or vice versa.

Ability to Listen
Coaches who are not good listeners do not stay employed as coaches for very long. A coach should:
  • Hear what is being said, reflect back to check for accuracy, and show evidence of understanding what was said.
  • Pay attention to style, personality type, communication preferences, and sense of humor of the person being coached.
  • Listen for values, needs, and any other information that has bearing on the conversation.
  • Discern what is not being said and to draw it out.

Coaches who listen actively not only hear what is not being said, they also can also pick up on what the person being coached might not be aware he or she is really feeling.

Ability to Inquire
Closely linked to the ability to listen, an effective coach asks high-quality questions based on what he or she has heard and observed. In addition to crafting appropriate and helpful questions, the coach should constantly assess whether a given line of inquiry is the most useful one at the time, for the person being coached. Good coaches rarely ask “filler questions” which lead to small talk and have no real value. Clients will perceive this and most likely will be frustrated if they are not moving forward in a meaningful way.

Coaches inquire when they ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding about what is being communicated and help fill in knowledge gaps. Clarifying questions help clients gain greater understanding and may include questions such as:
  • What do you really think?
  • What does that mean?
  • Is there anything else you think I should know?
  • Could you give me a little more detail about this so I understand it better?

Coaches inquire when they use focus questions such as:
  • Of all the things we could delve into right now, which is going to be most helpful to you?
  • You’ve mentioned three different things. Where would you like to start?
  • How can I help you with this right now?
  • What do you want from this conversation?

Coaches inquire when they use discovery questions such as:
  • If you could wave a magic wand and have this situation go exactly the way you want it to, what would occur?
  • If you were a risk taker, what would you do?
  • How do you think this will look to you a year from now?
  • If you were to do this perfectly, what would need to happen?

Coaches inquire when they ask challenging questions that test their client’s assumptions, perspectives, approaches, and norms. Typical questions include:
  • What if you could do it? How would you start?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • How else might you look at this?
  • What do you really want?
  • What will cause the breakthrough here?
  • What would happen if you raised your standards?

Capacity to Offer and Accept Feedback
Sometimes a coach is given feedback from others in the organization that he or she is expected to share with the person being coached. Or the coach may have personal observations he or she wants to bring to the attention of the person being coached. In a coaching relationship where trust and respect have been established, feedback is often welcome; but in offering feedback, coaches must restrain the desire to tell people what to do and try to change them. Feedback also must be timely and connected to something important to the client. One effective way for coaches to approach feedback is to ask permission to share the information. If the client agrees, then the coach should share the feedback in a way appropriate to the person being coached. If the person declines, the coach should respect that decision—though the choice not to hear the feedback might subsequently become a topic for coaching.

Conversely, coaches must be able to solicit feedback about themselves and about the quality of their coaching, and then be willing to make appropriate changes, to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability. In this way, coaches serve as role models, demonstrating how to respond graciously to feedback with gratitude and thoughtfulness.

Ability to Rein In the Desire to Give Advice
Many people moving into the coaching field because they are gifted at giving advice and helping people figure out what to do. Unfortunately, giving advice is not coaching, and indulging the desire to do so can be detrimental to a coaching relationship.

Willingness to Challenge
Knowing when and how to challenge is essential for effective coaching. Challenging a person being coached can only be done successfully if the coach has first established trust and respect. Several factors are involved in the ability to challenge appropriately:

  • Timing: There are those who can be challenged in the first 10 minutes of the first coaching conversation. Others need time to develop a strong working relationship before they can accept a challenge. Coaches must evaluate the style of the person being coached and time their challenges appropriately.
  • Permission: The coach must ask permission to challenge the person being coached. Gaining permission to challenge is not optional, but methods vary according to the style of the person being coached. For example, a coach might ask, “May I have permission to challenge you on the belief that’s behind the statement you just made?”
  • Content: The rule of thumb is to ask a little more of the person being coached than he or she thinks is achievable.
  • Language: Knowing how to ask for something is as important as knowing what to ask for. This requires a coach’s attention to context, history, and use of language. For example, some people respond well to sports metaphors; others prefer quotes from poets. People without children will probably not respond to parenting parallels. Be sure to use language that resonate with the person being coached.
  • Risk-taking: The coach should take occasional risks. Challenging a person being coached can sometimes backfire, and the coach should be ready to deal with that possibility.

Ability to Share Multiple Perspectives
Good coaches are adept at seeing both the forest and the trees. Often, it makes sense to use inquiry to help the person being coached acknowledge alternative, useful perspectives, so the coach should offer other ways to look at something. Note, however, that a coach who is gifted at systems thinking, or is highly creative, will have to rein in the need to share everything he or she sees as a possibility, for doing so only serves the coach’s ego, not the need of the person being coached. The key is to share other perspectives only when they are most useful.

Ability to Remain Neutral
Coaches have to be hyper vigilant not to reveal or impose their personal beliefs and agendas regarding “hot topics” such as gender, race, politics, and religion.

Skilled at Different Thinking Styles
Coaches need to be able to adjust their thinking style to the person and the situation at hand. Coaches often have to think:
  • Strategically. A coach should be able to take a broad-scale, long-term view of the person being coached and his or her situation, helping to assess options and the implication of choices. One of the greatest services a coach can provide is to help the person being coached thoughtfully define his or her best result. The coach can take a “mental helicopter ride,” to view the big picture, in order to help the person being coached see other perspectives and make new discoveries that will enhance his or her decision-making process.
  • Conceptually. A coach collects data over time and needs to synthesize seemingly unrelated data streams into new ideas or perspectives. An effective coach who is a conceptual thinker can help the person being coached reach the goal most efficiently.
  • Systematically. Coaches who are skilled at systems thinking are able to observe the environment and the structures in it and determine how it all either helps or hinders the success of the client. The coach helps clients to acknowledge system and understand how they fit into them.
  • Analytical thinking. Analytical thinking is often defined as critical thinking or critical reasoning. Coaches who excel at this type of thinking process should guard against relying too heavily on the skill. However, when working with people who are of the same type, and can reason an argument all the way through, the coach should be able to follow the thought processes.

A coach also should be able to identify connections that are not obvious. It is helpful when a coach can think several steps ahead of his or her clients, encouraging ideas for courses of action and anticipating likely outcomes.

Ability to Brainstorm Creatively
Brainstorming is helping the person being coached generate ideas; the more creative, the better. In the right circumstances, a real brainstorming session can be extremely useful. If you choose to brainstorm with your client, here are some guidelines you may find helpful:
  • State the problem clearly.
  • Allow no criticism, evaluation, judgment, or defense of ideas during the brainstorming session.
  • Place no limits on ideas, no matter how outrageous or impractical they may seem. Every idea is to be expressed.
  • Encourage quantity over quality.
  • Encourage “piggybacking,” or building on ideas.
  • Record all ideas.

Although, traditionally, brainstorming involves more than two people, in the coaching relationship, two are usually enough. The key is to be sure that the person being coached starts the brainstorming session. This activity is an appropriate option when the person being coached seems stuck or limited in options. The coach might suggest that they brainstorm, and then ask the person being coached to start. Often, once the person being coached gets going, he or she will generate a number of options. If more good ideas are needed, the person being coached may want to gather a group of colleagues to help with the process. Just be sure the brainstorming rules apply with the group.

Ability to Remember
The ability to note and loop back to relevant threads in prior discussions is a critical skill for a coach. People being coached are often amazed when the coach recalls a remark made months earlier.

Ability to Empathize
A person being coached needs to know that the coach understands the situation and has had personal experience with frustration, fear, and unhappiness. The coach should be able to express understanding and care and, at the same time, be able to keep the person being coached moving—not let the person wallow. In rare cases, the coach may share personal information about a similar situation he or she has experienced. When this is the case, the coach should first ask permission, and if given, be brief so the conversation doesn’t become about the coach. Personal sharing should be used judiciously. A reliable general rule is the more the coach is talking, the less effective they are being, so when sharing stories or information, get to the point.

Commitment to Maintain Professional Standards
A coach must set and maintain the highest standards of professionalism. He or she must:
  • Be on time.
  • Send only appropriate, well-written communications.
  • Keep commitments.
  • Use correct language.

These days, a critical factor in being able to maintain professional standards is the need to stay up to date technologically. The coach should have at least the same level of knowledge and technological capability as his or her clients—although, ideally, the coach will be a little more advanced.

Ability to Set and Maintain Boundaries
There is always the risk that coaches might become too friendly with their clients; certainly, close friendships have grown from coaching relationships. But this is appropriate only after the coaching relationship has been officially terminated. While the coaching is in progress, appropriate professional boundaries must be set and observed. This can be tricky, however, because professional boundaries are established on a case-by-case basis. That said, generally, it is recommended that a coach:
  • Refrain from socializing with clients during the coaching process.
  • Communicate with clients using only business contact numbers.
  • Avoid communicating outside of business hours, unless it is to leave a message, and is absolutely necessary.
  • Never discuss personal issues in any detail, unless an experience has critical relevance to the client’s situation.

Knowledge and Understanding of Client’s Business
Having some degree of knowledge and understanding of the client’s field of work is essential to the coaching initiative. For example, a salesperson will need a coach who understands the selling process, who has a strong grounding in sales process models, and has compassion for the difficulties inherent to the sales profession.
Industry experience is a plus, though not absolutely crucial for a coach to be successful. However, coaches who don’t have experience in their clients’ fields should be able to climb the learning curve quickly, to understand the inner workings of their business—for example, how it generates revenue and tracks profitability, how people are compensated and rewarded, what the “lingo” is, and so forth. The coach also should learn how the client training base works, how the performance review system is set up, and what models and systems are in use in the business.

Understanding of Management Basics
A coach should have a solid grounding in the basics of management skill sets. Often, individuals being coached will need a little just-in-time tune-up in basics, similar to the regular one-to-one weekly or biweekly meetings between the manager and the employee, when they catch up, address questions, review tasks and responsibilities, brainstorm, and solve problems. These basics include goal setting, performance planning, timely feedback, and appropriate direction and support.

Political Awareness
An effective organizational coach has a healthy grasp of the power dynamics common to all organizations and is willing and able to share this insight with people being coached. The coach understands that power is not always related to position, and so can help the person being coached to work on his or her personal power base and leverage that to achieve goals.

Cross-Cultural Insight
With the global economy, coaches today often are called upon to work with individuals from all over the world, from cultures very different from their own. Coaches should therefore become familiar with the cultural implications of those they are working with. Having this awareness and sensitivity will help them to gain greater professional credibility, enabling them to help the person being coached understand when cultural differences might impact success.

    CHAPTER  7  |  Student Assignments

Chapter Outcomes


  • To explore areas of ongoing growth related to the ongoing development of one's coaching capacities.
  • To identify a1-3 next steps for developing your coaching capacities.
  • To begin using the basic coaching agreement (the 5 questions) to guide coaching conversations.


                    Insights,  ideas,  and  applications  from  former  students

"I created a concrete plan for completing my 100 hours of coaching within the next six months. Then I signed up for Mentor Coaching as part of my next steps for being an ICF-certified coach."

"I made a list of 20 potential coaching clients and will contact 3 potential clients this week. I will update my LinkedIn site, adding coaching to my profile, and then  map outplays for a simple, engaging  coaching website."