I’m often asked this question. Twice this week in fact! The last time from Margaret Austin who kindly stopped by my table for a friendly chat as I was having a ‘cuppa’ in the church café last week.
When YOU think of the word ‘coaching’ or ‘coach’ what springs to mind? A sport’s coach, a counsellor or a mentor of some kind? Or maybe you think of an advisor, a teacher or a consultant? Unless you’ve been coached yourself you might be wondering what coaching is all about and if it’s of any value to you. Coaching is a profession in the same way teaching is one, yet it’s hard to define clearly and often confused with other support systems such as consulting and mentoring. The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as:
“Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment.
Well that being said, what does it really mean? Whilst I’ve highlighted the key words in the ICF’s definition above, I hope my humorous bicycle analogy might give you a clearer picture. Feel free to contact me (email@example.com) to let me know either way!
Imagine you want to learn to ride a bicycle and you want to compare the roles of five professionals: a consultant, a teacher, a therapist, a mentor and a coach. I’ve described briefly how each role might approach your challenge:
The Consultant (or Adviser) gives you the benefit of her expertise and experience. She determines which bike suits you best, creates a smart report with step-by-step instructions on how to ride the bike correctly and tells you which actions to do to improve your performance. In contrast a Coach won’t advise you.
The Teacher (or Instructor) tells you how your bike works and the importance of bike and road safety. He tells you how to ride your bike and how to solve problems such as mending punctures: a Coach won’t try to solve your problems.
The Therapist or Counsellor asks you: what are your past experiences of bike riding and why have you chosen this particular bicycle? Have you fallen off a bike in the past and if so how did it make you feel? He helps you evaluate the past with the aim of ‘healing’ taking place: a Coach won’t try to ‘heal’ you.
A Mentor takes your bicycle, shares his experience and he shows you how to ride it the same way they learned how to ride their bike. They then ride their own bike alongside you, telling you what to do and informing you when you’re doing it “wrong” and telling you how to do it correctly: a Coach doesn’t share her experiences.
So what does a Coach do? A Coach doesn’t talk too much or try to fix your problem. In keeping with the bike analogy, she encourages you to get on your bike, run alongside as YOU determine the best way for you to learn to ride, check with you the direction in which you want to go (or when you want to get off!) and remind you to consider your options such as varying your speed or admiring the view. Her firm yet gentle hand on your back reminds you to focus forward in the direction you’re going and not to look back. You get to take it at your own pace and to choose your direction.
This bike analogy doesn’t hold 100% true but hopefully you have a clearer picture. Proverbs 20:5 describes coaching far more succinctly than I have here: “Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep water but a man (or woman!) will draw it out”. Nicely said – 3000 years ago!
And as for the Christian piece: this is the exciting part of coaching for me! The Holy Spirit is part of the relationship and He is invited into the conversation. As we meet there’s a three-way partnership between Coach, Client and the Holy Spirit. Practically it may take the form of praying at the beginning of the coaching conversation, referencing Scripture to support the topic or challenge being discussed or spending time on a particular Scripture verse. When a Client reflects on a question or a verse, I ask the Holy Spirit to help that person to see what He would have them see, learn, think or where to take action. It’s been my experience both as a professional coach and being coached myself that rather than giving advice, asking questions and ‘staying in the question’ longer, draws out what the Holy Spirit has put in.
Jesus says to us today: “Follow me” and like the early disciples, you never quite know where He will take you, a bit like getting onto a train headed for ‘Destination Unknown’! Thankfully He does know and as we become more confident to “walk by faith and not by sight”, we grow in trusting Him to take us there safely even if the journey is bumpy along the way. Coaching, simply put, supports you on that journey.
Coaching Christian Leaders: It’s my experience, that many Christian leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, vicars, doctors, church leaders, business owners for example, often feel unprepared for the shifting landscape in today’s world. They find themselves poorly equipped to lead others from a place of confidence and competence, doubt their ability or their calling and become discouraged. As one of my clients, an executive director, said at the beginning of her coaching journey: I feel overwhelmed, overworked, isolated and alone and wondering how to lead others better. I’m just looking for some hope that it’ll get better. It did!
Some final questions to share: God called me to be a Coach, what might He be calling YOU to do? What does it mean for you to HOLD TRUE to your faith amidst challenges in this fast moving and uncertain world we face? What might it look like to lead others from a place of confidence in Christ and what is God stirring in your heart as we continue through the remainder of 2017?