Not everyone who attends coaching training wants to become a coach.
This may sound strange, but I discovered this during the 15 years immediately before the pandemic while travelling the world teaching motivated leaders of a Christian international NGO in the skills of coaching.
Even though encountering multiple cultural and language challenges, it was amazing to witness the relevance of coaching and their appreciation. However, only a small number of the hundreds of participants became active, professional coaches using the skills on a daily or weekly basis. So, what went wrong?
At one level this could be seen as profoundly disappointing, yet the outcomes were hardly that. On reflection, we realised that for many of the leaders, their needs were not so much to be professional coaches but rather to be equipped to provide quality coaching conversations in the course of their work roles, relationships, and families. This we achieved very well.
There is a difference between what a coach does and what can be achieved from a coaching conversation; however, these conversations can become a vital and important skill for the emerging or veteran leader. So, let’s look briefly at the difference.
A coach is trained and equipped to not give answers but to ask powerful questions. Coaches help establish a coaching relationship with a client that may last for one contract over several months or multiple contracts for several years. These contracts are driven by a focus statement or goal which is broken down into several objectives from which come multiple action steps over the course of a contract. It is a focused relationship with a purpose which empowers clients to take risks and achieve goals within a safe environment.
However, a coaching conversation can occur anywhere, has no formal contract or specific focused relationship and is simply a conversation between two people. It’s usually started by one of the two people conveying a need or desire or even a problem. What can turn this into a coaching conversation are the replies and questions the listener gives in response to the initial need. A coach can and does have these helpful conversations all the time.
So how can we become proficient in having coaching conversations at work or with our significant relationships? The short answer is to do a coaching training course, like so many of the leaders from the NGO did. While many didn’t form formal coaching relationships, they did use their new skills to help others, improving the quality of work from their nations.
Another way is to practice listening to our colleagues/employees etc., and rather than trying to solve their difficulties ourselves to ask questions that might help them gain their own insights into what they may be able to do. Then to encourage them to ‘have a go’.
A good model to help us do this was created by one of the fathers of modern coaching and is perhaps the best-known process for a successful coaching conversation. In his book ‘Coaching for Performance’, John Whitmore describes the GROW model in depth.
G – GOALS: The goal is the object the person wants to reach. In a one-off conversation it is the accomplishment or success the person is after. Make sure their goal is clear and specific. A vague goal will mean you will struggle with the other steps in the GROW model.
SAMPLE GOALS QUESTIONS:
- What do you need to do? What would be the most helpful outcome for you?
- How could you reshape that goal, so it depends only on what you do and not on others?
- By when do you want this done?
- How will you know when it’s done successfully?
R – REALITY CHECK: This step helps to bring reality to the conversation. When the reality is clear, it brings the goals into sharper focus. Sometimes it even changes what was originally said. You are trying to test assumptions by critical thinking getting a deeper understanding of their situation which may be different from the person’s first subjective impressions.
SAMPLE REALITY QUESTIONS:
- When was the last time this happened?
- What have you accomplished on this up till now?
- What have you tried already? What difference did this make?
- Who else is involved in this situation, and how?
O – OPTIONS: This step is about thinking creatively to come up with several potential solutions, don’t settle for just one. When you are sure they have no more ideas, ask for one more. Remember; always allow the person to do the hard work of thinking things through instead of making a lot of suggestions yourself. It must be their solution.
SAMPLE OPTIONS QUESTIONS:
- What other potential courses of action can you think of?
- What other resources might you draw on? What else?
- If you had unlimited resources and knew you couldn’t fail, what would you try?
- Who may be able to help you?
W – WILL: This step is where they turn their preferred solution into some action steps with high commitment. It starts with them deciding on a plan and then creating action steps they are committed to doing. Using their solution helps to ensure they will get it done.
SAMPLE WILL QUESTIONS
- Which option do you want to pursue?
- What will you commit to doing this week? What will you do by when?
- Are there any obstacles we need to address to make sure this gets done?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that this will get done in the time-frame you have set? (Anything under an 8 needs further discussion.)
There are an unlimited number of questions you could ask in any of these 4 steps so you can practice this process thinking up new and creative questions to ask your companion. So, think about what you would like to do, reality check your ideas, think up some options and put a plan together to start practicing coaching conversations.