How to become a good coach

Three essential qualities make for a great coach, and leaders can develop all of them through self-training

Among all the leadership development techniques, coaching is an area which many consider vague and ambiguous. While organisations have realised the importance of coaching, the traditional approach of sending leaders to coaching training is proving ineffective. It is true that coaching training enlightens a leader to some key elements of effectiveness, such as listening, building a solution-oriented approach, and feedback mechanisms. But it is difficult to capture the true essence of coaching through coaching sessions.

For a leader, coaching is an integral element of building credibility. It is also true that not all great leaders can be good coaches. Douglas Riddle, Global Director of Coaching Services, at the Centre of Creative Leadership (CCL) recommends a three-point framework for building self-efficacy.

Curiosity– A key and essential element of good coaches is their curiosity and inquisitiveness towards problems. A good coach does not believe in stereotypes and believes that every problem and situation is unique. Consequently, good coaches develop the patience to listen to people’s issues before jumping into solutions.

Presence– A good coach is always present in a conversation. Very often, senior leaders offer solutions to problems because multiple priorities are fighting for their time. Consequently, they lose their ability to really understand perspectives of people who are speaking to them. They also lose their ability to be really present in a conversation, and pay only a fraction of their attention of what is being said. Good coaches, on the other hand, are always present. Many Heads of States and Presidents are regarded as great inspiration as leaders, though they have a multitude of priorities competing for their time. Riddle once had the opportunity of attending a wedding in a park where the President of the United States was passing through. The President generously walked into the wedding to pay his best to the couple. As he was walking out, he spent the next 10 minutes speaking to some of the people at the wedding who were keen. Riddle observed from a distance that despite his priorities as a President of the State, he conducted each small conversation, hearing people out with complete and undivided attention. In other words, in each conversation, no matter how short, the leader was in a state of ‘presence.’

Respect– A common trap that leaders fall into is the belief in the superiority of their own experiences. As a result, they lack the respect to really understand issues. Most of the solutions they offer are a consequence of their need to do something else with their time or purely because the issue does not interest them. An approach where the listener lacks interest in the issue at the first place cannot have fruitful conclusion because it lacks in the basic premise of respect. Respect is one of the most important constituents of a good coach.

Create a magnum opus- every time

While passion and emotion may seem conflicting, it is only when the two come together that creates a work of genius

“I want to build a car for the multitude” Henry Ford proclaimed, “that is so low in price that every man will be able to afford one.” Hailed as the man who taught America how to drive, Ford’s vision was one driven by an emotion, sparking a new modern industrial revolution.  At a time when an automobile was an expensive toy available only to the super rich, Ford wanted one for the common man. For him, there was no reason why every man cannot have a car. With this vision in mind, he founded the Ford Motor company at the beginning of the 20th century. The rest is history.  Ford is fondly remembered for several legendary statements he made during his life time. Among them, one sticks out― “A car looks good in any colour,” Ford said, “so long as it is black.” People who worked directly with Ford remembered him as a man whose love for automobiles was so great, that it superseded every other desire he had. While Ford wanted to build a car for the common man, he was not prepared to compromise on its quality in any department, including the way it looked.  Ford’s statements exemplify two central ingredients of perfection-emotion and passion.

Emotion + passion equals perfection

Emotion drives a behavioural change. It is a conscious reaction to act on the strong desire to serve a customer in the best possible way. Passion, on the other hand, is singlehanded devotion toward perfecting a product, even independent of convention and market demand. Oftentimes, products or ideas driven by emotion have the best functionality, but end up looking unimpressive. On the other hand, products built only with passion become prohibitively expensive or miss the mark completely. It is when emotion and passion merge that we truly see a product so remarkable that it alters paradigms.

Apple is an interesting case in point. Apple’s legacy of product perfection was not an outcome of a fleeting idea by a genius inventor. Very little is spoken about Steve Jobs’ skill as a qualified calligraphist. His biography reveals his love for fonts so great that he dedicated a considerable part of his life to the study and practice of the subject. As a result, Apple’s legacy of innovative design, sleek form factor, and simple interfaces have continued to set new industry standards. Not only do Apple products signify Job’s passion for design, they scream of the man’s emotional vision to provide customers with a product which is easy to experience.

Don’t let passion override emotion, or vice versa

Reebok released a print advertisement in 2012 that said, “Cheat on your girlfriend, not your workout.” Such brand disasters are qualified by Twiteratti as an #Epicfail. While it raised indignant eyebrows, the advertisement made it to Huffington Post’s list of “top 10 advertising disasters for women” in no time. One can sit back and wonder what level of arrogance the creative team must have possessed to conceive and execute such a derisive idea. The execution was flawless. It did not lack wit. And yet, the creator was so possessed with his passion for the product that s/he failed to consider the basic question, “will the consumer like it?” Clearly on this occasion, it did not. After it was widely condoned by social media globally, Reebok had to make a scamper for face-saving tactics. The ads were pulled down and every trace of them vaporised in a jiffy.

The automobile world is rife with several examples of highly functional cars with hideous designs. The creators of these cars were driven by the myopic emotional drive for customer comfort, while grossly overlooking the basic need for making a good looking car. Porsche or Cadillac, Chrysler or Buick, every car brand has made it to lists of ugly-looking cars. Where was the passion for creating a magnum opus when Porsche built the Panamera in 2010 or when Austin built the Allegro in 1973?

What drives us to work every day? Is it the passion to create a work of genius? Or is it the drive to make a customer happy? It may not be necessary to view emotion and passion as an everyday conflict. Maybe a good thought to ponder before the start of every day could be, “Is genius of any use without utility?”