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“Ohh! I was totally thinking that!” Rachel*, my newest coaching mentee, was having a breakthrough as I provided feedback on her latest coaching session. “I did hear that ‘respect’ was a theme in my client’s relationship with her boss, but I didn’t think it was right to bring it up.” She paused to reflect. “I wasn’t sure how to ask.”

I smiled. As a Mentor Coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF), I love watching sparks of awareness ignite in my mentees. When I was a newer coach, such “ah-ha moments” were crucial to developing my skills and confidence, and they still inspire and teach me today – even when they’re someone else’s.

These moments also remind me how the right advice at the right time has made a big difference in my 13-year coaching career. There are four lessons that have been particularly valuable not only to me, but the nearly 100 coaches I’ve mentored as a mentor coach.

Lesson 1: It’s OK to use notes until behaviors become habits.

Sometimes newer coaches make simple coaching practices unnecessarily difficult. For instance, I often see mentees struggle with ineffective opening questions or obtaining a clear agreement. This is usually because they invent questions in the moment that are vague, wordy, or weak. This failure to create a clear “container” at the beginning ripples throughout the rest of the session in wasted time, lack of direction, and lack of depth.

There’s no need to be fancy or creative on the fly at key structure-creating moments. Brevity, clarity, and consistency not only make the process easier for the coach, they increase trust and safety for the client. For years, at the beginning of a session I’ve always asked either: “What would you like to work on?” or “What would you like to focus on?” These questions are clear, concise, simple, focused, and open.

They also started out scripted. Relying on the same one or two questions to open the funnel of session topics builds effective habits and creates focus for both client and coach. Later, when it’s time to narrow that funnel down to an agreement, consistently asking the same outcome question (like “What would you like to walk away with at the end of the session?”) creates clarity and direction for every coaching decision that follows.

Until critical questions like these become a habit, there’s no reason a coach can’t keep a “cheat sheet” handy with a script. There’s also nothing wrong with relying on a sheet of reminders, tips, terminology, or self-encouragement! As a newer coach, I kept such a sheet next to my computer for many months. That sheet turned into a post-it that endured for a couple years after that. Now, even as an experienced Professional Certified Coach (PCC) I have a folder called “coaching mastery” on my desk, which contains various notes I review from time to time.

Letting go of perfection, owning our continuous learning process, and relying on notes when we need them benefits coaches and clients. It normalizes these behaviors for our clients and frees up more energy for us to dedicate to unscriptable essentials like presence and rapport-building.

Lesson 2: You can trust yourself and your existing skills

It’s common for adults to develop a kind of amnesia when learning a new skill. We often face new learning with the appropriate “beginner’s mind”, but in the process forget our existing personal strengths and hard-won professional insights. While some newer coaches find it easier to set aside the past to focus on new learning, as a mentor coach I encourage my mentees to make this temporary.

One of the best gifts coaches bring to coaching is our Self, and that includes all of who we were before coach training. One of the benefits coaches can gain from working with a skilled Mentor Coach is validation that many of their natural instincts are spot on. Like Rachel, sometimes the barrier to deeper coaching isn’t the coach’s lack of awareness or poor listening but their self-doubt or a lack of skill in how to act on those instincts.

Letting go of perfection, owning our continuous learning process, and relying on notes when we need them benefits coaches and clients.

Learning the unique skills of professional coaching is crucial. However, I believe in a “both-and” approach where coaches master and rigorously apply the processes, practices, and competencies of professional coaching and make space for what our instincts, intuition, and unique Selves dictate.

One of the hallmarks of mastery – not just in coaching – is knowing when to follow the rules and when to break them. Such discernment comes with learning the rules well, gaining experience, trusting oneself, and mustering the courage to take risks.  Read the final two lessons in Life Coach Magazine

*Name and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

Hey! Want to work with me as your mentor coach? Drop me a line, or Book a call!


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