What is Coaching and How to be an Effective Coach?

What is Coaching and How to Coach
Reading Time: 9 minutes


Almost a decade ago, my tryst with coaching started.

I was a hotshot corporate executive. I was part of a business transformation exercise and was assigned a coach.

My first reaction was “Why would I need a coach? I know everything.” Besides my coach was not from my industry so “what would the person tell me which I didn’t know?”

I was a complete skeptic to the process when I went into the first interaction. Over the course of the year, I was humbled by the person and the process. My coach brought out so many insights about me and my performance that it opened new doors for me.

I became a complete convert to coaching and was trained in Breakthrough Coaching.

Over the years, the coaching industry has matured, but understandably there are still doubts on how an ideal coach should be.

In the absence of a clear idea, individuals going through the coaching process could lose out on the transformational magic of coaching. Organizations would lose out on time and money.

What I am sharing with you today is my experience, in both the roles, as a Coach and a Coachee (a person who is being coached).

I am sharing with you the essential skills which a Coach must have to help the Coachee reach her results. But before that:

What is Effective Coaching?

There are many definitions of coaching, but the one I resonate most with is by International Coach Federation

“A professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual or team that support the achievement of extraordinary results, based on goals set by the individual or team.”

What I liked about the definition is:

  • Partnership: Coaching is different from a hierarchical relationship. It is a partnership built on mutual respect
  • Extraordinary results: First, Coaching has to be results focused. Else it will be a relaxed chat over coffee with no commitment from either side. I also love the challenge of “extraordinary results.” After all, why would you call a coach for just ordinary results?
  • Goals set by individual or team: Where the partnership is headed must be decided by the Coachee. Are you shooting for the moon or a round trip around the world is fine? Goals set by the coachee also makes sure that there is ownership mindset built in the coachee. Goals also help in deciding whether you should be coached or not.

Why should you be coached?

You don’t need coaching if you are just aiming for reaching your goals.

You need coaching when you want extraordinary Growth.

Some of the business examples would be

  1. You are being groomed to become the CEO or business head over the next year.
  2. You need to transition from a line function (delivery focused, team which has same targets as you have) to a staff function (influencing, no team)
  3. You are moving from a lone warrior to managing a team
  4. Preparing for an extraordinary event in the organization, e.g., a merger or acquisition or rightsizing the team
  5. Your organization wants to 5x or 10x the revenue growth when the industry is barely growing
  6. Your business is building new skills like Innovation or Digital Marketing
  7.  You have hired a Board to steer the Ledership Team and you want to make the most of this high-powered team
  8. As a CEO or business head, you want to create and deliver a new strategy

You get the picture.

But, just hiring the coach is not enough.

You want to hire an effective Coach who helps you evolve as a person along with helping you deliver the results.

Michael Bungay Steiner in his book The Coaching Habit says “Coaching can fuel the courage to step out beyond the comfortable and familiar, can help people learn from their experience and can literally and metaphorically increase and help fulfill a person’s potential.

Here are the qualities or skills you want to see in your Coach:

13 Coaching Skills to Coach Effectively

Here are the essential skills of an Effective Coach which I have gleaned from being both a Coach and a coachee:

1. Understands the context of performance

A Coach always sees the coachee in the context of his personal and professional life.

Coach sees the coachee in a holistic manner and makes an effort to understand what all is happening in the coachee’s life which impacts him.

The coach probes for
a. What is going on in coachee’s team?
b. How does the coachee interact with his peers?
c. How successful is the coachee in his mind?
d. How supportive is his family life to his performance goals?
e. What pressures is he operating from both personal and professional?

These are some questions just to get started.

The idea is not to make the coachee sit on a couch and do therapy.

The aim is to understand the context in which the coachee is operating.

Context helps in setting goals which not only are achievable but also fulfilling.

2. Goal seeking

The Coach has his sights firmly on the goal which the coachee seeks to reach.

Coaching is performance oriented, and great coaches understand the impact of having deep, meaningful goals which help the coachee reach his potential.

These goals are not just the organizational goals in revenue terms but, goals which bring out the resources of the coachee.

It is not enough to say “Increase sales by 20%” There would be additional layers like

  • Add new distribution channels or
  • Train sales managers to take additional responsibilities or
  • Transfer of sales closing skills to salesmen.

Together or individually, they will deliver the desired sales result but, it also helps in tapping hidden or unused resources of the coachee.

LaRae Quy, a Leadership Expert, recalls how her coach helped her up her game:

I was a slow long distance runner, but in the FBI Academy I needed to up my game and run 2 miles in 10 minutes to qualify—and ultimately, graduate. My coach told me to keep my eye on the back of a runner who was faster than me and focus on keeping up.

She clarifies this aspect of Coaching with this comment

“Keeping a vision of where you want to end up is critical when you come up against a roadblock or obstacle.”

(via 7 Ways Coaches Train Athletes To Manage Emotions)

This goal seeking also means that Coach is always holding the coachee accountable for results.
Exclusive Giveaway: Grab this FREE Coaching Checklist and get results in your coaching today

3. Accountability of results

A Coach always holds the coachee accountable.

Accountable for what?

Accountable for the promises that the coachee has made to himself.

This is very important. The idea is not to become a crutch on which the coachee leans.

The aim is to create the habit in the coachee of keeping promises.

Result focused helps to assess whether the coaching is delivering value to the coachee. This also makes sure that the coach has skin in the game

4. Skin in the game

Result focused ensures that the coach is not just a spectator to the game but is part of the game.

Like a sports coach, he observes from the sidelines when the game is in play. At rest, the coach goes through the plan again with the coachee making sure that the coachee knows the coach is there with him, to make sure the coachee is a success.

By observing the game and the coachee, the coach is also able to see the obstacles that the coachee is headed for

5. Identifies the obstacles

Our work, when observed from a neutral perspective, reveals that we have patterns.

The way you start the day, the way you conduct meetings, the way you plan or don’t plan for results, the way you motivate your teams.

Over time, there are habitual patterns which you develop which help you achieve your goals. However, the same habitual patterns also bind us in set ways of doing things and can become obstacles ahead.

A good coach understands your patterns and will call it out when it comes in your ways. Often the path to growth is unlocked just by identifying these obstacles.

6. Unlocks growth

Coaching, at heart, is about Growth.

Coach needs to understand where the coachee is in the growth journey. Often, the coachee needs minor course correction, and she is on his way. Sometimes, it needs deep correction.

Either way, the coach identifies which levers can be used to unlock growth for the coachee.

Examples of growth levers are:
a. Identifying the right goals
b. Bringing balance between personal and professional priorities
c. Grooming future leaders enabling the coachee to take higher responsibilities
d. Identifying the priorities which enable success
e. Better peer relationships
f. Organizing the mornings and the day forward
g. Healthier lifestyle

Wait, Lifestyle? Where did that come from? Aren’t Executive Coaches only about business and business goals?

A Harvard Business Review Study showed that in over 76% of cases the Coaching shifts from business to personal issues. This makes sense when you consider that often the obstacles are behaviors and habits instead of

This makes sense when you consider that often the obstacles are behaviors and habits instead of business-related factors.

There are many triggers to unlock growth. Each of these when acted upon creates the conditions which help the coachee succeed.

7. Creates conditions to succeed

You have a Ferrari but no road to race on. It will just be a pretty picture in your garage.

Coaching is identifying the road and sometimes, even creating the road on which you will race your Ferrari.

Coaching is about creating those enabling factors which help the coachee to operate from his highest potential. These enabling factors help in amplifying the work.

The conditions are there to create the desired momentum in the coachees journey.  Conditions help the coachee to focus on the releasing his fullest potential

8. Unleashes the potential

Given our limiting beliefs which most of us are operating from, the coach has to access the fullest potential of the coachee.

Once the coachee realizes that he has so much more to access which can shift his performance, the coach works with him to unleash this full potential.

Lolly Daskal, a heart centered Leadership Expert, says

“Coaches are great leaders because they know how to unlock potential and motivate people to maximize their performance. In short, they help others learn to be their best.”

(via The Best Leaders Are Great Coaches)

This may be new skill sets or dormant behaviors which help the coachee to walk confidently into the future knowing that he has more resources than what he was operating from.

The task of the coach is to make the coachee see this and not direct him.

9. Nudges and points in the direction but not directional

The coach has to make the coachee see the potential for change and the resources which the coachee can harness.

The coach nudges him in that direction, but the idea is not to be directional.

It requires great patience from the coach to make that space and time for the coachee to get these insights himself.

This discovery process helps to make the journey more authentic, and the coachee is more aligned and committed compared to a directional approach. This also makes sure that the coach is not taking credit for the results.

10. Takes no credit for the change

While a coach may present results for credentials, there should not be any possessiveness of the results.

The results are always owned by the coachee.

The coach is only a facilitator in the journey.

This ability to remain a facilitator means that the coach has to practice deep listening with the coachee.

11. Deep Listening

The No.1 skill which the Coach needs to have is Listening.

Deep Listening. Why skill? Because most of us are trained to be speakers.

There is an overwhelming industry out there to support speaking under the guise of being inspirational.

Listening, on the other hand, is a skill which needs to be trained and developed. Especially Deep Listening.

What is that? The coach has to listen to what is unsaid.

Coach has to uncover the hidden assumptions behind the coachee’s statements.

Questions like “what needs to happen for this to be true?” leads the coachee to his deep-seated assumptions.

Assumptions which may stop him from bringing his A game.

The coach also needs to listen to get the complete picture and make sure he has understood the coachee’s context completely. Too often the temptation is to jump in and provide advice when this is the last thing a coach must do.

Coach has to create the space and the freedom for the coachee to express himself fully. This expression is possible only when the coach practices Deep Listening.

Listening also assumes that the coach has to always approach the coachee from a position of compassion

12. Compassionate about the client but firm on accountability

Compassion is what gets empathy going.

The coach has to give the benefit of doubt to the coachee. He cannot get judgmental and say “this coachee is hopeless or stupid.”

The coach has to understand that the most successful people also have self-sabotage patterns e.g. Tiger Woods. These sabotage patterns need to be understood, unraveled and healthy habits need to be brought into place.

Compassion creates the space for the coachee to share his deepest thoughts and feelings since he knows that there is no judgment in that space. Only when this shared space is created, then the coachee gets insights into his behavior, the actions, and its impact.

Once the coachee gets clear of the journey and has put his commitment to travel this journey, then the coach gets firm and holds the coachee accountable for the promises the coachee has made.

Coach hence needs to be aware of when he has to operate from compassion and when he has to be firm.

13. An Effective coach is also a coachee

Great Coaches thrive on feedback.

Most importantly, they are sensitive to the impact they are having on others.

They are sensitive to their emotions and know how to marshal the appropriate emotions in the coaching conversations.

After all, a coaching session is not a dry account of facts.

You need the right amount of joy, compassion, excitement, curiosity, empathy, perseverance, hustle and gentleness to make the coaching a living, thriving relationship.

Go ahead make the most of your coaching relationship and thrive in your business and life!

Next Steps:

Use the Coaching Checklist (link here). There is a separate checklist for coach and coachee. For Coaches, the checklist serves to bring their A Game to coaching and becoming a truly effective Coach. For Coachees, it will help in getting the best from their coaches and also evaluating if they have a Coach who is bringing the best in them.

Do share this post so that more people experience the joy and fulfillment from an effective Coaching relationship.


One thought on “What is Coaching and How to be an Effective Coach?”

  1. Very in depth and meticulously drafted as always. Describes the coach- coaches relationship in absolute sync with the real business situations. Would love to read more such blogs!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.