A few years ago, only a small number of academics and higher education managers had access to coaching. With the rapid growth of the coaching industry, higher education staff at all levels recognise that coaching could be useful for them regardless of where they stand on the proverbial career ladder. Coaching can provide the reflection, feedback and strategies that colleagues, friends and family might be unable to offer. As the higher education sector is undergoing unprecedented change, coaching is more relevant than ever to help people not just survive but to thrive.
You might be surprised to learn that there are nearly 50,000 professional coaches globally in 2019 according to the International Coach Federation. The coaching field is rapidly growing across sectors, including higher education.
It was nearly 10 years ago when I first heard about coaching. I was curious to learn more. I made a visit to the local library which proved disappointing. I found less than a handful of books on coaching and none of them seemed convincing enough to borrow them. Fast forward to 2019. The same library has 94 books on the topic. A quick search on Amazon reveals 20 pages of books and learning resources related to coaching.
After the slightly unsuccessful library visit back in 2010, I embarked on some further research. I received coaching from professional coaches. I enrolled on a year-long coaching course to learn the craft. Consequently, I worked with countless clients who brought a range of puzzles, concerns, aspirations and obstacles to the conversations. Without a shadow of a doubt, learning how to coach and the practice of coaching have given me the best development opportunities in my lifetime.
Whether you are a newbie or somebody who has already dipped their toe into the field, the following article will give you insights into how to develop (or further develop) your coaching skills.
First things first.
What is coaching?
Here is a concise and down-to-earth definition I like to use: coaching helps you to get from where you are to where you want to be.
You could work through a colourful palette of aspirations from reinventing your career, becoming better organised, developing confidence, getting a promotion and the list is endless.
Why would you learn coaching skills? If you are a manager in an organisation, coaching questions could deeply transform your work. You would be able to draw out creativity from your team and encourage their better performance.
You might be pondering about opportunities to climb higher on the career ladder. Coaching qualifications could put you on an excellent stand. If you are dreaming about setting up your own business, a coaching practice can offer tremendous flexibility and opportunities to do deeply meaningful work.
How can you learn the skills?
Completing a coaching course and learning about frameworks like the GROW model is an excellent idea. Do not be fooled into thinking that a brief course will make a pro. The best coaches do not just rely on a training course. They share pearls of wisdom from the whole spectrum of their life. They are ferocious readers. They tell mesmerising stories. And they practice the craft of coaching day in and day out.
Many higher education organisations offer in-house coaching courses for employees. If your employer does not provide such opportunities, do not get disheartened. There are a multitude of certificates, diplomas and degree level courses offered by external organisations.
What makes an outstanding coach?
Straight on the top of the list is listening skills. Be aware that most people consider themselves excellent listeners but they fall short of real empathetic listening. Whilst listening, skilfully bring your full attention to the other person. Listen out for their words, facial impressions and their body language. Consider what they talk about with passion and when they rapidly change topics. Your undivided attention will help others to relax and feel comfortable in your presence.
Number two on the proverbial list is ‘walking the talk’. Imagine people can step into your life and see everything transparently. Imagine they can overhear your conversations with colleagues. They can witness how you treat others. They can observe the work you do. Developing authenticity is important because it will encourage others to genuinely trust you.
How can you hone your coaching style?
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that I have gained experience of being coached. Truth be told, I have worked with at least a dozen coaches. Not all at once, of course. You see, I was keen to experience different coaching styles and to chisel my own techniques. I have learnt that people distrust direct advice. When they give birth to an idea, they cherish it with lots of TLC (tender loving care). They spring into action. They bounce with energy. They persevere longer.
I have found that brainstorming with people works stunningly well. Take a one-to-one coaching meeting. Instead of showering people with unwanted advice, you can be their partner and come up together with 10 to 15 solutions to tackle their challenges. Before you wrap up the meeting, encourage them to pick a handful which they would like to commit to. Remember, the choice is theirs.
What are the pitfalls to be aware of?
Rushing creates a wall between you and the person you are coaching. Especially at the start of the coaching relationship, spend time getting to know them. Be curious to learn about their aspirations and challenges. Ask about their career journey. Slow down to genuinely connect. Do not be tempted to start coaching straight away.
Coaching is an empowering and inspiring conversation. It is based on gallons of trust. It is enriched with authenticity. It is flavoured with empathy. It is a craft worthwhile spending the effort to master.