What skills and qualities are required to be a successful coach?
Although coaching can seem like a specialism, requiring professional qualifications, it is within the reach of most people to grow their own ability towards developing others via coaching. The role of a coach is to encourage the coachee to come up with their own suggestions and decisions, and to support removing any obstacles to their growth and development. Many of the qualities and behaviours that a coach requires are achievable, and research suggests these should include:
- Building rapport – Lai and McDowall (2014) identify the relationship between coach and coachee as being key to successful coaching outcomes, with the coach having the responsibility for initiating a comfortable and positive coaching experience. Listening, understanding and encouragement all contribute to a deeper and more successful coaching experience for both coach and coachee (O’Broin and Palmer, 2010).
- Being present – coaching starts with being as present and available to the coachee as possible, responding to the needs of that person (Chidiac, 2012). Be aware of things that might make this challenging, and ensure the time and place is conducive to being present.
- Effective communication skills – Lai and McDowall (2014) also emphasise the benefits of actively listening and reflecting back; using powerful questioning techniques; supplying and seeking feedback; allowing space for story sharing; and using appropriate verbal and body language. See suggested sources at the end of this article to help improve these skills.
- Demonstrating empathy – Cox and Bachkirova (2007) stress the need for the coach to acknowledge and understand emotion as normal, working to understand coachee’s emotional reactions and difficulties, rather than ignoring or trying to change or control them (i.e., displaying emotional intelligence – insert The value of Emotional Intelligence in a Challenging Workplace Article)
- Collaboration and facilitation – coaching is a reflective and collaborative process, with continuous discussion and negotiation between coach and coachee, facilitating positive changes in behaviour to meet the coachee’s goals (Lai and McDowall, 2014). The OSCAR model below will help.
- Qualities and Attitudes – Lai and McDowall (2014) looked across several studies and found that the most highlighted qualities for a coach to have were:
- commitment/motivation to help
Try to maintain a positive attitude towards coachee, known as unconditional positive regard (UPR). Yates (2014) suggests it is possible to increase UPR by reflecting on what might make this challenging (conflicting values, attitudes, personal preferences, political affiliation, religious beliefs, etc.). Finding out where a coachee’s views have come from may make it easier to empathise.
- Establishing trust – trust is crucial to engaging coachees and establishing a positive and effective coaching relationship. Having a clear upfront contract and transparent coaching process will help, such as agreeing accountabilities, evaluation methods, confidentiality and discussing any coaching models or theories being used (O’Broin and Palmer, 2010). Demonstrating the qualities and behaviour listed above all benefit trust.
Most people with some experience of working with others already have many of these skills and qualities. Others can be developed with a little bit of patience and practice (e.g., actively listening, demonstrating empathy). However, the best way to use these skills is to use a structured coaching model, such as the OSCAR model, to help the flow of coaching conversations.
What is the OSCAR Model?
The OSCAR coaching model was originally designed by Whittleworth and Gilbert in 2002, with the aim of building on the 1990s GROW coaching model, focusing on solutions rather than problems. The OSCAR model proposes that if the five elements in the table below are understood and applied by the coach then the long-term result of the coaching relationship will achieve the desired ‘outcome’.
When could it be most effectively used?
This model is invaluable for any personal development situation, but as it provides a framework based on reaching action milestones, it may be most suitable for coaching on a longer-term outcome (e.g., wanting to develop skills as a project team leader). The desired goal may have originated in a review meeting or feedback session, but coaching has been shown to be most effective if run as separate sessions, at times when both coach and coachee can be present in both mind and body.
Using the OSCAR Model
The coach and the coachee start by discussing the issue/situation/goal, as well as establishing a contract and transparent coaching process. There must be a clear and identifiable issue to be coached on, which the coachee agrees they wish to move forwards with.
The questions in each section below help focus the coachee on finding solutions. Not all of them will be needed in the first coaching session and could be used in further review sessions (as below).
The coach helps the coachee to clarify the outcomes (for the session and longer-term) around issues raised
Short term (for this session):
Long Term (around the situation):
(The starting point)
The coach helps the coachee to gain clarity around where they are right now and raises awareness of the situation, their feelings and how impacting on their life and those of their peers
CHOICES and CONSEQUENCES
(The route options)
The coach helps the coachee generate as many alternative courses of action as possible, and increases awareness about the consequences of each choice
Choices and Consequences:
(The detailed plan)
The coach helps the coachee review options generated and clarify steps forward, plus take responsibility for own action plan (using SMART for agreed actions: specific,
realistic and timely)
(Keeping on track)
The coach helps the coachee develop a review plan to return to check that they are on course
The Actions step is particularly important, as not taking action is a primary reason why outcomes are not achieved. Many researchers have found that self-efﬁcacy (belief in being able to do what is needed to perform a given task/behave in a required way) has a powerful effect on both the level of difﬁculty of actions chosen and commitment to achieving them (Locke and Latham, 2012). Edwin Locke and Gary Latham’s Goal Setting Theory demonstrates that agreed actions need to be specific, achievable and stretching, whilst able to be embarked on immediately, and there also needs to be the right support in place (e.g., management agreement, training courses, mentoring). If an action plan is too far from the coachee’s current knowledge, skills or situation, then they may become discouraged and demotivated. Moreover, when designing actions, a crucial aspect is that coachee has the responsibility for carrying these out. Therefore, the coach can make a difference by helping coachees recognise their responsibility and take ownership of the actions needed to achieve the desired outcome.
This is another imperative stage, where having separate points for measuring the progress of each agreed action can facilitate the achievement of the overall goal. Review meetings are more successful if they occur on a regular basis, perhaps around deadlines for specific actions, to ensure the coachee is on track and offer further support. Feedback at this stage, which gives a clear and positive indication of achievement, can provide motivation and encouragement. If actions have not been achieved, then both the short- and long-term goals could be re-assessed using the OSCAR process once more, remembering that performance is affected not only by the actions undertaken, but also by confidence in being able to do it (i.e., self-efﬁcacy).
However, if the coachee continues to find actions and change difficult, it may be more helpful to assign them a mentor. They would then share knowledge, skills and experience to aid coachee to progress. However, mentoring is much more than ‘giving advice’: it's about motivating and empowering the other person to find ways of resolving own issues and reaching own goals. And not doing it for them or expecting them to do it ‘the mentor’s way’, but by understanding and respecting diverse ways of working. Therefore, the choice of mentor is an important one!
There is a lot to consider in this article, and it may be of benefit to discuss the ideas here with a trusted colleague, or ask for coaching in these areas yourself.
More information on both coaching and mentoring can be found in the following free courses:
There are also further resources you may find useful in the Applying Psychology at Work Hub.
Chidiac, M. (2013) ‘Creating a coaching culture: relational field coaching’, Development and Learning in Organizations, 27 (3), pp. 11–13, doi: 10.1108/14777281311315847.
Cox, E. and Bachkirova, T. (2007) ‘Coaching with emotion: How coaches deal with difficult emotional situations’, International Coaching Review, 2(2), pp. 178–90. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238769804_Coaching_with_emotion_How_coaches_deal_with_difficult_emotional_situations (Accessed: 14 July 2021).
Gilbert, A. and Whittleworth, K.J. (2009) OSCAR Coaching Model. Monmouth: Worth Consulting Ltd.
Lai, Y. and McDowall, A. (2014) ‘A systematic review (SR) of coaching psychology: Focusing on the attributes of effective coaching psychologists’, International Coaching Psychology Review, 9, pp. 120–36. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271478209_A_systematic_review_SR_of_coaching_psychology_Focusing_on_the_attributes_of_effective_coaching_psychologists (Accessed: 14 July 2021).
Locke, E.A. and Latham, G.P. (2012) ‘Goal Setting Theory, 1990’, in Locke E.A. and Latham, G. P. (eds) New Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis Group, pp. 3–14.
O’Broin, A. and Palmer, S. (2010) ‘Exploring key aspects in the formation of coaching relationships: initial indicators from the perspective of the coachee and the coach’, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 3(2), pp. 124–143, doi: 10.1080/17521882.2010.502902.
Rock, D. and Donde, R. (2008) ‘Driving organizational change with internal coaching programs: part one’, Industrial and commercial training, 40 (1), pp.10–18, doi: 10.1108/0019785081084159.
Yates, J. (2014) The Career Coaching Handbook. London: Routledge.