Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Columns and Features / Pay attention, learn from these valuable coaching lessons

Pay attention, learn from these valuable coaching lessons

When it comes to helping others grow, I’m suspicious of formal coaching certifications and the view that reading books can teach someone how to coach. There’s a better way.

I’m sold on the importance of reflecting on experience and working on personal improvement with the help of a clear-thinking coach of one’s own. One of my golden rules is: “If you want to help or mentor others, work on yourself.”

I have had a few excellent mentors. My coaches have helped me reflect on the stories, struggles, confessions and questions of the individuals I have coached. Under the guidance of sharp-minded coaches, I’ve been able to sift many lessons from client interactions.

Here are some of the most valuable leadership coaching lessons I’ve learned:

Connection trumps expertise. The people we coach are looking for a trustworthy sounding board, someone who walks alongside them, holding the lamp that lights the path. Dispensing answers and solutions does the opposite, fostering obedience and dependence. Coaching is first about connection. The keys to connection are curiosity-driven listening, the ability to challenge and the willingness to self-disclose. In contrast, a fix-it mindset often produces an anxious, automatic response that bypasses connection.

Those who get the most value from coaching sessions come with a meaty agenda. When someone takes the time to identify a troubled relationship, get in touch with personal confusion or frame a problem he or she is having on a team, that individual is halfway down the road of a high-value coaching session. The most astute leaders put responsibility for setting the agenda of a coaching session where it belongs: in the lap of the person being coached.

Leaders discuss “coachability.” “Coachability” refers to the level of openness and eagerness a client brings to the interaction. Some managers and employees are not interested in growing or improving or having a coach. Leaders should require “coachability” and discuss its presence or absence. Coaching an unmotivated individual results in a time-wasting monologue.

Keep the focus on the client, not the problem. It’s natural to want to talk about the faults of others and not to own our part in the problems we face. But blaming and finger-pointing work against maturity. It’s the coach’s job to keep refocusing the conversation on the client: “So what does that have to do with you?” “I notice that most of what you are saying is about someone else.” “What are your options regarding his problem?” “How do you respond when someone doesn’t show initiative?”

The discomfort of the coach often blocks progress. A leader’s discomfort with directness and challenge weakens the coaching process. The coach’s discomfort produces “sanitized” questions and superficial interactions. For example, I notice that many coaches become uncomfortable when clients get angry or defensive, begin to cry or exhibit nervousness. Commonly, the coach changes the subject in an effort to “happy up” the client and might even end the meeting. That squanders an opportunity. Simply getting curious about the client’s response—letting her know that you can handle her intensity—usually helps that person regain composure and see more clearly what is really going on.

A coach’s discomfort can be overruled by courage. I don’t assume my clients have deeper conversations with too many others. This helps my boldness in asking a tough question, broaching an uncomfortable topic or giving feedback about something I’m experiencing in the here and now. In their conversations with direct reports, most leaders are too prone to playing it safe. Emotional courage is the alternative. Two ancient Latin sayings make the point: “Carpe diem” (“Seize the day”) and “Memento brevitate vitae” (“Remember that life is short”).

The voice lies much more easily than the body. Visual cues can reveal important data. It’s a coach’s job to notice deep sighs, flushed skin color, moist eyes, fidgeting, watch-checking, interrupting and strangely timed attempts at humor. Sometimes commenting on these signals is appropriate, sometimes not. Noticing such signals and considering their meaning is always appropriate.

Questioning my assumptions fosters curiosity. Coaches often have a pre-conceived idea about what’s going on with a client. An example would be assuming, “He doesn’t want to discuss it,” (Did you ask?) or “She has a bad attitude” (Is something difficult going on with her that you haven’t taken the time to explore?). The longer I have coached leaders, the more I’ve learned how wrong I can be when jumping to conclusions. The most enlightened posture for a coach is inconclusive, neutral and open.

Coaches play hunches. A hunch is an enlightened guess, not a sure bet. Good coaches discern whether a hunch is worth playing. Sometimes, a savvy coach gets a feeling that the real issue is not on the table or that this is not the best time to issue a challenge. How does a leader distinguish a legitimate excuse from a smokescreen? Hunches can develop quickly, and verbalizing a hunch is more an art than a science. As coaches gain more experience and work on their own improvement, their hunch accuracy goes up.

Sometimes, I cannot help someone. Every coach or service provider (accountants, attorneys, consultants, counselors or physicians) should develop the ability to know when a conversation or issue is beyond her

or his ability to be helpful. It’s wise and reputation-building to refer a client to someone with more objectivity or knowledge. Some leaders are so full of themselves that they cannot introduce a client to a professional with greater expertise. That’s shameful.

Every coach should have a coach. I’ve been in a position to watch a lot of “advice” from uncoached coaches send people down a destructive path. Having a clear-headed coach makes it less likely that you will lead people to a place you have not visited yourself. Sitting in the client seat helps you uncover your blind spots and develop a better feel for what your own clients are experiencing. Eagerness to work on self gives us the credibility to coach others.

John Engels is the founder of the Advanced Leadership Course and president of Leadership Coaching Inc., a Rochester executive development firm. He can be reached at [email protected]

1/31/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]

x

Check Also

Tips for small businesses in a turbulent economy (access required)

Soaring inflation and interest rate hikes have stressed an economy still recovering from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic, and ...

Remote work: are we missing valuable social interaction? (access required)

William H. Whyte was arguably our keenest observer of corporate America. He was a staff writer for Fortune magazine and ...

The Bonadio Group (access required)

The Bonadio Group announces the addition of Christopher Wagner as assistant accountant to their staff, as well as the promotions ...

Preventing employee burnout and supporting mental health in the workplace (access required)

Among the mental health concerns that were exacerbated by COVID-19, one that impacts employers of all types and sizes shows ...

Flexibility in the workplace isn’t a free-for-all (access required)

Over the past few years, we’ve all expanded our policies and evolved our cultures to accommodate flexible work arrangements. That’s ...

Mindless scrolling through social media can wear on mental health (access required)

Kathryn DeVinney reaches for her phone to check the weather before going outside.“Five minutes later, I haven’t checked the weather, ...

Converting Proactive Thought to Proactive Action (access required)

Writing this column is surprisingly similar to posting on social media, which is not something I anticipated when I started ...

Don’t forget the golden rule in times like these (access required)

Well, it’s official – we’re now in a bear market!  Stocks, as measured by the S&P 500 Index (a proxy ...

State, city of Rochester strive for social and economic equity in cannabis industry (access required)

When state lawmakers approved the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) in March 2021, one of the key provisions in ...

N.Y. initiatives provide momentum for adult-use cannabusiness to move forward (access required)

From propagating plants to educating about equity opportunities, this summer will be anything but a time for rest for those ...

Thoughts about the recent market turmoil (access required)

Investors are currently experiencing one of the worst stock markets in years and one of the worst bond markets in ...

Cannabis ventures face getting enough startup money so entrepreneurs can reap benefits (access required)

Talk about the potential value of the legal cannabis market in New York and you’re talking big money — very ...

Seen 6/3/2022 (access required)

Seen Embrace Your Sisters  May 1, 2022 - Embrace Your Sisters raised $50,000 at their 15th annual Tea at Two ...

Bountiful careers are like well-tended gardens: we reap what we sow (access required)

I was working in a vegetable garden last week and got to thinking about how growing vegetables is akin to ...

Treat your employees more like your valued customers (access required)

"My boss goes to great lengths to recognize our longtime customers even to the point of sending gifts for special ...

Best hedge against inflation is keeping emotions at bay, trusting your plan (access required)

You have to go back to the mid-1970s to early 1980s to find inflation rates near where they have been ...

Former pro baseball player is still in a league of her own

These days, Maybelle Blair clocks her pitches in years rather than miles per hour. So, when the former All-American Girls ...

Tips for planning a business succession  (access required)

Planning for retirement and creating a contingency plan in the event of an unexpected exit from the workforce are critical ...

Succession plans critical for survival of family-owned businesses (access required)

While family-owned businesses are commonplace in the United States, those that are multigenerational remain rare gems. According to Cornell University’s ...

Is your strategic plan both strategic and a plan? (access required)

There is a lot of discussion about strategic planning in not-for-profit circles lately. Evidently, moving through a global pandemic and ...

What’s so great about the 2022 Great Places to Work? (access required)

It’s my favorite time of year: Great Place to Work just announced the 25th Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work ...

Loyalty programs – what you should know about compliance with the CPPA (access required)

From the straightforward “buy 9 smoothies, get 1 free,” to sophisticated frequent flyer programs, loyalty programs are a staple in ...

Are cover letters really necessary? Hiring professionals have differing opinions (access required)

“I’m a hiring manager at a local company looking to fill several positions. I’ve noticed that about two-thirds of our ...

Investment acumen or inside information? (access required)

If you had known, in early 2020, that you might be working from home during a multi-year, global pandemic, would ...

Opining on Dick Vitale’s courage, more Bills nicknames, stadium names

By the time he finished delivering a motivational speech that would have made Knute Rockne proud, Dick Vitale looked like ...

The importance of female mentorship, leadership, and innovation in banking (access required)

In my 10 years at Tompkins and 35 cumulative years in the banking field, I’ve witnessed the industry undergo several ...

Highland Hospital Gala (access required)

This year’s casino-themed Highland Hospital Gala raised its second highest amount ever, with more than $650,000 gross net income thanks ...

Inflation: How did we get here and what can be done about it? (access required)

If you’re in your 50s - o.k. early 50s - you probably remember a time when a gallon of gas ...

Reflections on pediatrics, the pandemic, and the Golden Circle (access required)

Imagine this: Your business has been open for only five months and is doing really well. Revenue is higher than ...

Will 2022 be the year of the vacation home? (access required)

With some COVID-19 restrictions relaxing and others already lifted, the smell of tourism is in the air. Demand for leisure ...

Transition services valuable for aging population (access required)

What do you need to stay safe in your family home, even if your home is getting to be too ...

Elder transition planning: Family mediation for older adults & their loved ones (access required)

The journey of aging is rarely a smooth one. As older adults and their families face emotional, financial and health ...

Senior living communities consider how to be more diverse, inclusive, accessible (access required)

The nation’s senior population is the largest and most diverse in history, according to the most recent census data from ...

Why is inflation so scary for my retirement plan? (access required)

Over the past decade, investors experienced a best-case scenario of relatively low inflation and strong investment returns from both stocks ...

A thoroughbred racehorse whose impact was not lost on us

It seemed like a good deal at the time – a rattletrap Ford van with more than 100,000 miles on ...

Ensuring your financial plan can withstand negative conditions  (access required)

Financial plans differ based on individuals’ incomes, future goals, age and tolerance for risk, but often unconsidered in those plans ...

Boomerang employees: tips on how to welcome team members home (access required)

Every manager at every level has experienced it — that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when one ...

Spring cleaning: Considering program sustainability (access required)

There has never been a better time to consider the sustainability of your program activities and take action to address ...

Financial advisors can guide through tough times (access required)

With the country facing rising inflation and interest rates, as well as the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and the war in ...

Are you discriminating against employees with caregiving responsibilities? (access required)

As the world enters year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued a warning ...

Rochester accelerates its pace to become top tech hub in America (access required)

Rochester is on its way to becoming a national hub for technology innovation. Experts predict that it has the highest ...

A simple game for investors: How would you play? (access required)

Some years ago, financial author and advisor, Bill Schultheis, devised a simple game to illustrate the difficulty faced by investors ...

You need to improve your technology, but where do you start? (access required)

Technology is advancing at warp speed and certainly some innovations could benefit you and your company, but it’s easy to ...

Innovation advancements on display as Rochester continues to grow its technology ecosystem (access required)

From LIDROTEC, a company with patent-pending wafer dicing laser machines for the semiconductor industry to Stratio, which provides artificial intelligence ...

Milo the Dog has had a golden impact on Red Wings baseball, community

They had trained together five days a week for nearly six months in the backyard solitude of Josh Snyder’s rural ...

M&A middle-market activity: What businesses need to know (access required)

 Understanding the ins and outs, trends and activities going on in M&A markets can help businesses make informed decisions including ...

5 things to consider before deciding to work for yourself (access required)

When people ask me what I do, now that I’m out of television, I simply say, “I have my own ...

M&A lawyers keep busy despite pandemic barriers (access required)

2021 was a record-breaking year globally and nationally for mergers (combining two separate businesses into one new legal entity) and ...

Ending violent crime requires building trust between police, community (access required)

Rochester has recently been the recipient of many state, federal and private investments that create a true path for transformational ...

Former UR assistant Jay Wright continues working his hoops magic

Mike Neer likes to joke that he doesn’t get enough credit for helping Jay Wright become the best-dressed coach in ...

Four ways to prepare your business for the future of digital payments (access required)

Digital transformation continues to sweep the country — especially as more companies and their customers embrace digital payment technologies.Here are ...

Managing Our Manufacturing Plants in 2022 (access required)

There have been dramatic shifts in both the needs and the realities of manufacturing the United States over the past ...

“Rounding Errors” Can Add Up Quickly (access required)

It’s time to talk about time. For many employees, their lunch break is a time when they can step away ...

Just In Time production method becoming obsolete with supply chain issues (access required)

Just In Time (JIT) is a production method pioneered in the 1930s by Toyota Motor Corporation as a means to ...

Rochester firms embrace 3D printing for multiple purposes (access required)

Firms are using 3D printing to create unique tools, parts and other objects right here in Rochester, allowing for new ...

From mentee to mentor: the benefits mentorship provides for women in business (access required)

March marks Women’s History Month. It is a time to honor the strong, brave women who have broken down barriers, ...

Working across the ages: multigenerational teams offer multiple benefits (access required)

Quick: How long is the average career? If you guessed 40 years, you would’ve been right a few years ago. ...

Energy, dedication drive entrepreneurs at any age (access required)

Younger women who grew up with technology and worked in the gig economy may be more comfortable with the pace ...

Opining on Brandon Beane, SU hoops, a poor investment, baseball’s return

If you pressed me to rank the most indispensable Buffalo Bills of this glorious era, I’d go with quarterback Josh ...

Topics that don’t focus on COVID-19 for nonprofit leaders (access required)

For obvious reasons, COVID-19-19 and the many elements of disruption it has caused continue to dominate conversation at organizations of ...

March worldwide water, climate events are close to home (access required)

March marks two worldwide awareness events for the environment: World Water Day and Earth Hour. In Rochester, New York, these ...

Revisiting Art Schlichter’s sad tale of gambling addiction

Monday’s seismic news that Atlanta Falcons star receiver Calvin Ridley had been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on ...

Mentoring is an art passed from one generation to the next (access required)

Ahhh, what to say about the important art of mentoring? It is certainly an art and, in preparation for this ...

Protect intellectual property from the start (access required)

When it comes to intellectual property (IP), the old English idiom “penny wise and pound foolish” never goes out of ...

A loving team helped Chris Lillis ascend to Winter Olympic gold

Bernie Lillis points with pride to a framed photograph on the mantelpiece above the fireplace of his Fairport home. There ...

Three takeaways from Super Bowl ads to apply to marketing (access required)

Super Bowl ads deliver on a few recurring themes every year, and this year was no different. Whether it’s nostalgia ...

I Bonds: A rare bright spot for the income investor (access required)

Investors have a natural affinity for income-producing investments. A steady stream of investment income is comforting even if it is ...

What AG report on ‘credential stuffing’ hacks mean for your business (access required)

In January, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report summarizing the findings of a broad investigation into so-called ...

Data privacy and security concerns with rise of online betting, gaming (access required)

As of January 8, 2022, New York State joined the ranks of more than a dozen states that have legalized ...

Potential headwinds are coming — what this means for your business (access required)

An abundance of liquidity and market exuberance in the world’s recovery from COVID-19 have made this a promising time for ...

Rochester’s Roland Williams hoping his Rams do it again

Eric Weddle is one of those feel-good stories that Rochester tight-end-turned-broadcaster Roland Williams has followed closely in recent weeks. Late ...

Grant funding boosts pandemic recovery for Perinton small businesses (access required)

More than four dozen small businesses shared in $200,000 in awards from the town of Perinton's Recovery Grant Program, which ...

New Tesla facility coming to Henrietta (access required)

When the going-out-of-business sale ends at York Furniture Gallery, construction will begin to convert the home furnishings store on West ...