It is exciting to start your journey as a new executive Coach once you are certified. However, one of my early lessons was that certifications are necessary, but not sufficient to build and grow your coaching practice. In other words, certifications alone don’t make a Coach. As with other professions, coaches get better with practice and experience, and there are many competencies required to be a successful coach. It is also important to treat your coaching practice as a business i.e. you need to devote time to market your services to ensure a steady pipeline of clients. Be clear about how to leverage your knowledge and experience. What is your Coaching niche? Who are your target clients? How will you reach them?
I have given below a few things I tried to follow when I started practising as a Leadership Coach and the lessons I learnt over time.
Assess the coachee’s coachability quotient
If you are a first time coach, remember that coaches are not change-makers but can be very effective catalysts for change. You learn over time that even the finest coach cannot be successful with someone who doesn’t have the skills or the motivation to do the hard work. Hence, it is important to assess the coachability quotient of every client, before signing up. Is the individual committed enough to invest time and resources to coaching? Are they willing and humble enough to accept feedback from their stakeholders? Do they have the discipline to follow through and take the necessary actions towards their goals? It is advisable to steer clear of assignments where you are not confident about creating real impact, because the client does not appear fully committed.
Build a relationship
Once you’ve got a client, the first thing to understand is that everything revolves around the client (aka coachee) and their needs. While it is tempting to share your knowledge and experience with your coachee, it is important to stick to the agenda and outcome desired by the coachee from the coaching journey. Treat the client with utmost respect and take the initiative to establish mutual trust at the outset. Being open and transparent is a two way street and the coachee must treat the coach as their ‘partner in change’ in their journey to becoming a better person. It is worthwhile spending time in the first one or two sessions to define expectations and success measures/outcomes from the coaching journey.
Set clear expectations and outcomes
Ensure that there is an agreement on the agenda and outcome from the coaching journey as a whole, as well as at the beginning of each conversation. Define success measures for the coaching journey so that expectations are clear from the beginning. This is one of the most important pre-conditions for any coaching program. Be conscious of the time available, so that if you find that the coachee is drifting or rambling, you need to bring the person back on track without being rude or disrespectful.
Practice active listening
Active listening (careful observation of both verbal and non-verbal messages from the other person, then responding/providing feedback so as to improve mutual understanding) is a very important trait for coaches, but it takes time to develop this competency. This perceptive listening refers to a coach’s ability to read between the lines and to pick up on what is unsaid. In other words, don’t just look for the meaning on the surface, but what the purpose or intent behind their words actually is. Be present in the moment while engaging with your client. This requires the coach to be patient, concentrate, make a conscious effort to hear and understand the message in full and most importantly, not interrupt the speaker. This can be difficult for coaches transitioning from a management role, as the normal tendency is to interrupt team members, complete their sentences, or be in a hurry to complete the interaction.
Ask. Do not tell.
Very often, a coachee will look to their coach to provide solutions. The role of a coach is “not to give the fish, but rather teach the person how to fish”. They should ask questions that nudge the client towards the solution or answer that they may be seeking. Coaches should strive to improve their client’s thinking in order to bring about change. Again, those transitioning from management to coaching have a tendency to “tell the solution” rather than “ask for the solution”. So, be careful about falling into this trap.
Asking powerful questions that provoke thinking and generates insights is a skill that good coaches have. As a first time Coach, you might not have all the answers, but then, your role is to draw out the answers by asking the right questions.
Reflection and feedback
It is important to close every session with the coachee reflecting on the key learnings from the session and to establish accountability and confirm the next steps/action to be taken by the coachee. At the same time, the coach must emphasize their support for the individual. Also, it is advisable to seek the client’s inputs or feedback on the coaching journey at regular intervals, to ensure that their expectations are being met.
Set aside some time for reflection after every session. Spend a few minutes thinking about what went well and what didn’t go well and perhaps write down some key points. These notes can help you prepare for the next session.
Every coaching session is a learning opportunity. You will become smarter, and you can use what you learnt with other clients. As a coach, you add value by unlocking a coachee’s full potential through the power of questions and attentive listening. Helping others on their leadership journey and watching them succeed is highly rewarding. So, reflect on the journey, take notes, summarize your learnings and keep changing people’s lives.
All the best!