5 Things You Should Look For in Your Coach
Coach Neil Lawrence reflects on why he trained as a coach and on the unique skills that a coach should offer their clients
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I came to coaching after life booted me in the face. It was brutal and dramatic, a lesson in the meaning of ‘uncertainty’ and an abject crash course in change. After two decades of being a teacher I become one of many casualties tossed out of the sector (a situation still ongoing). When I ‘left’ (read as ‘signed off sick with burnout and PTSD’) I vowed to never be treated that badly again but with no immediate idea of what I was suited to do. I enjoyed the wellbeing element of my job in school but nothing else. There was something uniquely satisfying about helping others.
So, after doing some research I discovered that if I retrained as coach, I could continue helping others and unlike teaching I would no longer have to tell people what to do! What a relief... Instead, I could bear witness to their experiences and be privileged in sharing their journey.
When my head cleared, I entered into the aftermath of ‘schoolgate’ (read as ‘disrespectful end to a twenty-five-year career’). It was then I saw just how uniquely qualified I was to be a coach. My life experiences taught me empathy and resilience: growing up gay during the AIDS epidemic years of the 1980’s, navigating a dysfunctional family, managing ongoing challenges with psychological and physical wellbeing not to mention a recent diagnosis of PTSD and a longer-term diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
In addition to these experiences, I had a lot of professional training so had a number of different models, concepts, and skills at my disposal: mindfulness meditation, psychodynamic psychotherapy, creative writing, and journaling. After years of feeling like a failure and being dismissed as ‘maverick’, I could see the value of what I had to offer.
Time proved my intuition to be right. I am a natural coach. And never has this felt more important than during the pandemic. My ability to listen deeply to others has proved useful and powerfully moving. My sense of purpose has never felt clearer. Seeing others face down barriers and use their signature strengths to forge new paths is incredibly humbling. I have even been able to put my knowledge of being housebound to use working with those suffering the effects of lockdown.
During this period of time, I have also been integrating mindfulness into my coaching work. The first ‘rule’ of mindful presence is that life is always uncertain, a difficult concept to get your head around. Unfortunately, life events have forced many of us to face exactly this truth during the pandemic. The mainstream discourse about returning to ‘normal’ is heinously counterproductive. Did normal ever really exist? Probably not. There are mindful tools to help with facing uncertainty and its consequences.
But pandemic aside, I have been able to make wellbeing the cornerstone of my coaching. Some that I work with are like me – they want to move their lives forward amidst trauma. I treasure the opportunities I get to help increase their self-care, especially in a world where compassion is so often in deficit. We are often surrounded by aggressive acts of tribalism and finger pointing at the ‘problematic others,’ and our lives can be lived to the accompaniment of accusatory soundbites, especially online. Coaching creates a space that is neutral, reflective, and inclusive.
So, what are the hallmarks of a good coach? This is my list of ‘go to’ qualities that make an outstanding coach:
1. A good coach listens, really listens
A good coach will concentrate deeply on what is being said, will not be afraid of taking time to respond, will leave plenty of space for the other person to speak.
2. A good coach is accountable and holds themselves to a rigorous code of practice
A good coach will belong to a recognised coaching body and take it very seriously. I joined the European Mentoring and Coaching Council precisely because they are so rigorous.
A good coach will share their code of practice with clients and encourage them to feedback on performance. They will highlight the importance of safety, space, and confidentiality. They will emphasise the importance of being non-judgmental. They will rarely, if ever, be directive. This is because they believe a client has the ability to work out answers for themselves given the right support.
3. A good coach is flexible but committed to creating a structure
A good coach will build sessions around the needs of the other person but also make it clear the client is in charge. They will encourage comments and provoke thought. They will cheer a client from the side lines. They will go where the client wants to go but use expertise to provide structure. They will expect the client to take responsibility for progress.
4. A good coach is not afraid to challenge but is clear about appropriateness
A good coach provides opportunities for clients to sharpen their performance by building in opportunities to discover self-awareness. When the coach brings challenge to a clients’ game, it should be in a safe way, and should help the client uncover signature strengths. And after the difficulty has been named, a client should be able to learn new things and develop their confidence. This in turn should help them strengthen their resilience.
5. A good coach celebrates a client’s success and is active in helping them
When a client achieves success or shows progress, a good coach will be enthusiastic but also help their client work out what they want to do next.
I hope this article has given you an insight into why coaching is such an amazing process, and how I find redemption through it. Should you be looking for a coach, I hope you find the one you are looking for. Do not accept anything but the best. Namaste.
If you have any comments or thoughts or questions about this article, feel free to contact me or any member of the welldoing.org team to continue this conversation.
Thank you for reading.