The posture of a life coach: listening
The past few posts I’ve been talking about the importance of coaching and what it is and what it isn’t.
Above all, the most important posture of a coach is listening. An effective coach asks great questions at the right time. In fact, almost all of coaching is asking the right questions at the right time.
A coach is not an expert, guru or know-it-all. He/she does not have all the answers. Instead, a coach is a curious and caring question-asker intending to press in to help the person to think further, deeper and more fully about a situation. A coach helps to recognize blind spots and see things from a different perspective. As one friend described it, a coach helps someone “work all the way down the branches” of an idea or issue.
Why is this necessary? Because it is impossible to coach yourself.
I am a visual learner so I’ve collected metaphors that have helped me think more about the role of an effective coach, as well as articulate what a coach is to other people who ask:
- Getting pulled out of the mud: when you’re stuck: ["My team is made up of great people and we have great ideas, but just don't know how to implement any of the ideas..."] A coach helps someone stuck in the mud whose wheels are spinning. The client knows how to drive car and knows where he wants to steer – he/she just doesn’t know how to gain traction to get out of the mud. In a sense, a good coach is able to hook on a wench to the front of the vehicle and give it just a little pull to get it out of the mud and get moving.
- Eating a steak: when you’re overwhelmed by the complexity of an issue: ["I've inherited an organization/church where the morale is low and there is a lot of complex politics. I'm not sure how to wade through these tricky waters."] A coach helps a client who has a giant steak on a plate in front of him/her. The coach hands a fork and knife to the client and teaches him/her how use the utensils correctly, cutting up the steak in bite-size portions to be digested.
- Getting a first down: when you need to make little steps of progress in the midst of a big goal: ["We want to have a disciple-making culture in our church, but wonder where to even begin to move that direction..."] A coach helps devise a plan so that the football team can move the ball up the field for a touchdown. The goal is not to throw a Hail Mary pass or feel the need to score a touchdown on every play. The coach patiently helps the client to simply move the chains to get a first down. The coach helps create a series of plays that, when run well, helps to gain a first down. Enough first downs over time, the ball will eventually cross the goal line.
- Rock climbing: when you need another perspective to help move toward the task: ["We're going through some major transition right now and want to make sure we're thinking it through carefully so we move forward wisely and carefully..."] A coach acts as a spotter for a rock climber, belaying the client as he/she climbs up the rock face. The client has a goal to reach the top of the rock face step by step over time. What is needed is manageable and achievable goals along the way to “clip in” in an effort to gain confidence and safety in the journey. The coach also provides encouragement and some guidance from the bottom, seeing things that the climber is incapable of seeing from his/her vantage point.
- Observing art: when you need to process with others who will listen actively. ["As a leader, I need someone who will actively listen - without responding emotionally -to some of the vision I'm wrestling with for our church moving forward."] The picture at the top of the post continues to remain as one of the greatest challenges of a coach (and even more specifically, a pastor). The sculpture, by Waldemar Raemisch, is located in Philadelphia in a plaza about half a way north of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A great reminder: we guide people best with our ears, not our mouths.