Why Great Coaching Is Easy To Spot But Hard To Emulate

I co-wrote this article with my coaching colleague Kvon Tucker

As #COVID-19 spreads, leaders at all levels are being tested. Being properly supported and coached well is critical to navigating these uncertain times while #workingfromhome. There’s no shortage of coaches but finding a great one is vital to your success.

Becoming a great coach is not easy. In fact, it’s really hard! It requires years of discipline and dedication. Not just dedication to the craft, but dedication to your own development. 

This is what makes it so difficult for people to become a great coach and why so many frontline leaders and managers in the workplace struggle with coaching.

For those of you who are looking for, or looking to become a great coach, this article is for you. We’ve put our heads and our hearts together to help you understand the journey to and nuances surrounding why great coaching is easy to spot but hard to emulate.

Gotta Go Deep

Not too dissimilar from anything else, if you want to be a great coach, you must dedicate yourself to your craft. This is where most people who call themselves coaches fall short. 

As you may already know, the coaching industry is littered with individuals using the word “coach” in their profiles or titles of business, who have little-to-no professional training. This is obviously a challenge for anyone looking for a great coach, but this isn’t the biggest challenge.

The difference between good and great coaches is not professional training or certification. The difference lies in how deeply the coach knows themself. 

The best coaches have been on years (or decades) long journey into themself. Whether it be Psychotherapy, Coaching, Meditation, Journaling, or any other powerful self-reflective practice, all great coaches have developed very high self-awareness, and have a disciplined and dedicated practice to continually develop it. 

This high self-awareness, developed over years, enables great coaches to do things that good coaches simply can’t do as well, such as:

  • Instant Connection: When you are well connected to yourself, it is a lot easier for you to connect with others. This is very important if you’re hoping to coach someone, as rapport building is critical. 
  • Self-Management: When you are able to self-regulate your emotional state, you free up yourself to become more present with the one you are coaching. Good coaches may be able to sense their reactions, great coaches are able to integrate them.
  • Opens Clients Up: The abilities to connect to yourself, connect to your clients, and manage your reactions also make it easier for clients to connect to themselves. Great coaches are able to use themselves as an instrument or conduit for their client’s transformation.

Understanding vs Knowing

Coupled with the ability to dig deep, comes a very big and important differentiator for coaches: understanding vs. knowing.

  • Good coaches seek to understand their clients. Great coaches use intuition to get to know their clients. 
  • Good coaches will often ask a lot of questions about their clients to collect content about their lives. Great coaches use their intuition and the context of their client’s lives to know their client at a much deeper level.

Great coaches are skilled at hearing the content while listening for the context. It’s in parsing these two aspects of the conversation that distances them from the pack. Skilled listening is a complex process that enables great coaches to listen for:

  • How their client responds: The energy surrounding the response is often much more important than what is shared. Body language, Volume, Tone, Inflections, and more. Great coaches are able to tap into this energy, reflect it, and build on it.
  • How they respond to their client: Similarly, coaches who pay close attention to their responses to their clients and are able to use this as an indicator of something else happening. Sometimes visuals, phrases, or physical reactions will arise. All of these are indicators of something happening in the coaching.

From “Books” to “Being”

Now let’s say your coach has done the important work on themselves to develop high self-awareness, and intuition, there is still work to be done!

Most good coaches forget the most important component to becoming a great coach…themself!

This is especially true for coaches who actually do go through a coaching training program or certification. So much of these programs encourage strict adherence to their model for the sake of learning, and rightfully so. What good would a training program be if it didn’t indoctrinate people? The problem is that many coaches who come out of these programs forget to integrate their most valuable assets: the collection of their lifelong experiences, what brought them to become a coach in the first place, and who they are.

Have you ever been in a conversation where it just felt “off” or “forced?”

Of course, you have!

Have you ever wondered why that is?

Our guess is that it felt “forced” because someone in the conversation had an agenda for the conversation or for you. The same problem arises with coaching and coaches. 

  • Good coaches are often trying to apply the coaching model and do good coaching. Great coaches allow themselves to relax into the model, bring their full selves to the client and topic, and be great coaches. 

Great coaches never forget their training, but they leave the books behind and begin to fully integrate being a great coach.

From Good to Great

Naturally, what we’ve shared is not an exhaustive list for all the differences between good and great coaches. If you’re looking to shift from good to great, start by working on yourself, develop your curiosity, close the book, and begin writing your own chapter.

Like being a great leader, developing your self-awareness is a life-long journey and one well worth the time and energy investment.

Wherever you are in your coaching journey, know this:

Never stop learning but never become the student who didn’t graduate. Take what you learn and go practice it.

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Good coaches will scratch the surface, great coaches will dig deeper. Whether you’re a professional coach just starting out or a front line leader in the workplace, your opportunity to be great awaits.

The Floor Is Yours: 

How do you move from good to great?

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