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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Anatomy of a Coach

Perhaps the question to ask is - what is a coach? My view is that a coach should be a support system, a point for accountability, a facilitator, a challenger, an honest commentator and a totally confidential advocate.

There are other aspects but perhaps the most important factor is what a coach is NOT and that is an advisor, a consultant or a crutch.

In more than 3,000 coaching sessions over the past sixteen or so years, I have learnt that there can be no prescriptive format or a formal process which takes the coach and the coachee (if that is the right word!) to the Promised Land.

Rather the coach must remain open minded and trawl very carefully to discover the real issue in the mind of the client. Too often, the initial statement of issue is one which masks the real issue and this can only be uncovered by sensitive questioning.

In order to “peel the onion”, the use of the “what else” question can be valuable but essentially, the coach must ask the question and then, vitally, listen to the answer. Remember that an anagram of “listen” is “SILENT” and silence will help the client to marshal their resources and thoughts so as to come to an eventual conclusion.

Stay silent after the client finishes and continue to stay silent until they start again. That restart will take them to deeper thoughts and feelings which may well start to help them uncover the issue. Don’t be tempted to break the silence - the client is more important than your opinions!

There are one or two useful questions to ask - the use of “how does that make you feel?” as a supplementary is a great opener with someone who is prepared to dig into their subconscious, and never allow anyone to say “I don’t know”. That usually masks a reluctance to vocalise their feelings so go on digging deeper until the real answer starts to emerge.

As the client goes deeper into their thoughts and feelings, the true reason for help can emerge. Notice that I said “can” emerge. Because this is a free ranging process, unless the coach stays very alert for some indication in the client’s answers about the real issue, then the point can be lost. This requires great sensitivity and some sort of instinct for the right thing which comes perhaps with experience.

Consequently, a prescriptive approach can almost always be counter-productive. If a formalised approach is used there is a danger that important points can be missed in the perceived need to follow the prescribed format of questioning.

Most essentially, the coach is NOT a consultant so never dive in with prescriptive answers and opinions. That is not what the client needs (it may be what they want, of course) but until he/she comes to their own conclusion, then the session needs to continue.

Always try to use “open” questions (who, why, what, where, when and how) as they can’t be answered with a yes/no. Be careful with “why” as it can sometimes be seen to be aggressive but if it is used with sensitivity, it can be a most valuable tool in the coach’s armoury.

Remember to use the “what else?” question to enable your client to dig deeper each time.

Always summarise at the end of the session. A short paraphrase on the basis of “I have heard that you ……………” or “You said that……….” is best, together with a summary of what you will discuss at the next meeting. Give them something to take away and think about and always make yourself available, by telephone or email, between sessions. It can be a demand on your time but if your client needs it then you should always be there to give help and support.

Ivan J Goldberg is Managing Director of Michael Adam Associates Limited, a management consultancy specialising in strategic planning, marketing strategies and assisting companies through a process of change. He facilitates the management of companies in the strategic planning process and also acts as mentor to Chief Executives of many businesses. Besides running the Consultancy, he also operates as a Chairman of Vistage International (UK) in the North West UK and lectures widely on the process of change in organisations, behavioural and organisational modelling and strategic planning.

For further information, contact Ivan at ivan@maa-uk.co.uk or ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk and websites www.maa-uk.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk

1 comment:

David said...


This is a very informative piece which I will circulate amongst my contacts. Thank you for sharing your experience.