Exploring career mentoring and coaching
Exploring career mentoring and coaching

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Exploring career mentoring and coaching

1.2 What makes a good coach?

At the core of good coaching is an interest in making things better for people, and the emotional intelligence to build effective relationships with them.

Listen to these coaches sharing their opinion of what makes a good coach.

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A good coach is somebody that can truly, truly, truly listen to the other person at various levels. Not just using active listening, or paying conscious attention to what you're saying right now, but also sensing the things you're not telling me, the emotional undertone of the conversation, your tone of voice, the words you're using, your body, and that way, really get to the bottom of what's going on. And that's not just about building rapport or appear that way about empathy. It's also so then you can ask the right questions to help the person uncover the real issues that are behind what they're saying, Because the presenting issue is not always the real issue.
In terms of any particular theoretical orientation that you might bring to it, whether it's more cognitive behavioural style, but you're kind of thinking about changing people's gremlins in their head. Or whether it's a very humanistic approach with unconditional positive regard, over to you, anything goes. There the evidence would show us basically what it boils down to is having a quality relationship. It kind of really doesn't matter all that much what your theoretical orientation is. So you need to be able to build and hold a really good relationship, and do that really within an ethical and a professional framework. So you need to know what is it that we can hold within this coaching relationship? Or might there be issues in the coachee, for instance, that I've spotted where I think, actually, there is an issue, whether it's a mental health issue, or a real deep underlying confidence issue, where you think, actually no, that is something that requires specialist input that needs to sit outside the coaching relationship. So you also have to have this ethicality about referring people on as and when needed, and adhering to professional standards.
In my experience, what I think makes a good coach is someone who's able to build a rapport with the person they're coaching and also trust. So I've had a number of different experiences of coaching, whereby sometimes as someone who's receiving the coaching, it's felt quite clunky. So I can almost see someone going through the models in their mind. Perhaps they're newer to it, or using a particular approach. And I didn't quite think they were coming from my perspective. I'm going through a process, and it feels like I'm very much going through a process. I think a really great coach doesn't make you feel like you're going through a process and is quite agile in the way they are with you. And what I mean by agile is the fact that they're getting a sense of you, and you're in a relationship together working at about what's right.
I've had situations when the coaching was commissioned, but the coachee didn't really want to be there. So it was something that was kind of put upon them because it was part of a generic leadership development programme. And they were kind of, yeah, OK, I'm here now, but I don't really want to be here. And that's a hard thing to be faced with as a coach because you've prepared. You're good and ready to go. You think, right, OK, we're really going to make this work. So you have to learn how to, in a sense, hold your emotions inside you, and in a sense, almost use that resistance that you're encountering in a really positive way. And perhaps bring it out there into the room and make it quite open. Say, do you know what? I'm picking up some signals from you, actually. On a scale from, I don't know, 0 to 10, what is your point on that scale? How much do you really want to be here?
I think also that it's about actually ensuring at the start of the coaching process that the coachee is clear about the fact that you're not actually instructing them on how to go about something. You're there to provide a guide, guidance, rather. And that above all, that there should be a time frame within which you operate, so that the coachee is aware that the coaching sessions will not be lasting years. There'll be a specific time frame, and that confidentiality is maintained. And even a coaching agreement is signed. And my experience, actually bodes well for that coaching relationship.
I think being a coach is a very difficult thing, because being a good coach, I think, involves encouraging the person you're coaching to make their own decisions, rather than telling them what you yourself would do in their position. So I think a good coach is someone who can listen, sit back, and try and enable the coachee's development, but without actually giving them instructions or directions about how they think they should operate.
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In his Goals and Achievements blog, ‘The 8 key skills for effective coaching’, Duncan Brodie (no date) lists the following necessary skills:

  1. Listening
  2. Questioning
  3. Constructively challenging
  4. Holding to account
  5. Seeing different perspectives
  6. Encouraging and supporting
  7. Trusting and using intuition
  8. Keeping the focus on your client.

You’ll notice that this list doesn’t differ widely from the skills required by a good mentor, except in two significant places:

  • trusting and using intuition – a mentor is usually someone who understands the context you are in, whereas a coach may have no experience of your particular occupation or issue so must rely more on their intuition to ask questions and provide encouragement.
  • keeping the focus on your client – while the focus should of course be on the needs of the mentee, a mentor is much more likely to spend time sharing their own experiences than a coach.

Van Nieuwerburgh (2017, pp. 173–5) focuses on how a coach can develop ‘a coaching way of being’. He explains that the most effective coaches:

  • are humble
  • are confident in their ability as coaches
  • care about people
  • believe that their coachees will achieve more of their potential
  • treat others with respect
  • have integrity
  • demonstrate intercultural sensitivity.

In the next section, you’ll start to look at some of the key skills that an effective mentor or coach will demonstrate.


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