3 Essential Practices of Effective Coaching Training

Coaching gets results. Leaders are looking for the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to increase their coaching skills. I’ll share the 3 essential practices of effective coaching training. Using these guidelines you can sort through the many choices to find your pathway to coaching excellence. 

If you’re confused by conflicting messages about coaching, you’re not alone! Coaching is an unregulated field. Anyone can call himself or herself a “coach” and lead “How To Coach” workshops.

All coaching training is not the same. Every month, I hear from people who have invested in coaching courses only to find out later how ineffective they were. It’s sad to hear from people who fell prey to sales pitches for courses and certifications that wasted their time and money.

As I speak with people, they ask these critical questions about coaching training:

  1. What’s the difference between the various coaching courses I see offered?
  2. I’m already an experienced leader, do I really need in-person training or will a webinar, online course, videos, or books be enough?
  3. Why are some courses so expensive? Why are others so cheap?
  4. How much training is enough?

With all the choices, choosing a coaching training course can be confusing. I’ll share industry best practices, as well as my experience.

Get Clear On What It Really Means To Coach

If you understand what coaching is, it’s much easier to decide what training you need. I described coaching in detail in my article: What It Really Means To Be A Coach. Click through and read this article before continuing.

Effective coaching training is much more than knowledge. Information is the easiest part. The greater challenges are:

  • Shifting your mindset to a coaching mindset.
  • Developing your skill set to practice coaching skills.
  • Adding coaching tools your leadership toolbox.

Few are natural at coaching. In fact, the more experienced a leader you are, the more difficult it may be for you to coach well. The main reason for this is, the skills we used to become leaders are often what we need to let go of to become coaching leaders.

In coaching, it’s not what you know, but what you do in the moment of the conversation. That takes a lot of practice and feedback to (re)learn how we communicate with others.

3 Essential Practices of Effective Coaching Training

Professional coaching associations have researched best practices and set standards for effective coaching. The largest of these associations is the International Coach Federation (ICF) with 22,000 members around the world. The ICF identified 11 core coaching competencies and a list of sub-points under each that coaches must master to be able to coach well.

From the ICF’s standards we can determine 3 essential practices of effective coaching training:

1. Live Coaching Instruction

Becoming an effective coach requires specialized “live” coaching training. Whatever you do, it needs to be live, interactive, and in the moment.

You can’t learn to coach from a watching a video, reading a book, listening to a webinar, working through an online course, or sitting in an auditorium with 200 others. Written or recorded material can serve to supplement live training, but it will never replace it. This is why the ICF won’t approve training that isn’t “voice-to-voice,” meaning the instructor and participant are able to interact.

Beyond live instruction, there are a few characteristics of the instructor that are important to your successful learning.

  • The coaching instructor should model masterful coaching. I shouldn’t need to write this, but it’s surprising how many people teach what they can’t actually do well themselves. Look for instructors who hold an ICF coach credential.
  • The coaching instructor should be able to teach coaching mindsets and skills. I’ve participated in a number of workshops where the instructor was unable to teach how to ask powerful questions, “because question asking is intuitive and you have to feel it in the moment.” Rubbish. This is an indicator the instructor hasn’t reflected deeply enough to understand how to pass the skill onto others. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” Einstein is thought to have said.
  • The coaching instructor should incorporate discovery and practice. Coaching training should be interactive, discovery-focused, with a large chunk of the time invested not in passing on information but in practicing skills. Surprisingly, some excellence coaches turn into rambling lecturers when standing in front of a group! Just like when coaching, instructors must focus on the participant’s learning. We have to manage our egos, information, and advice.
  • The coaching instructor’s worldview matters. We all make sense of life by interpreting it according to our worldview. Mine is based on my Christian faith, my experience living in different cultures for 20 years in Asia, and my work background. If you take a course from an instructor with a counseling background, you’ll get more of that. Business background, yep, more business examples. A Buddhist will relate coaching and human dynamics to their understanding of the world. Diversity is fine to a point, but try to match the instructor’s worldview and background to your own interests.

Many people may be able to coach well, but training others to coach well is another thing entirely.

2. Live Coaching Practice

In my coaching training I work for a time balance of 1/3 information from the instructor, 1/3 interaction among the participants discussing and reflecting, and 1/3 practicing the skills. The last third is the most difficult to design and incorporate into a workshop, but it provides the largest impact on learning.

Effective coaching training will incorporate 3 types of practice:

  • Practice individual coaching skills. By isolating and creating ways to practice each coaching skill or mindset, participants can get specific and drill down to become proficient in them. Practice every skill individually – asking powerful questions, generating feedback, forming action steps, etc. The better each skill can be defined and isolated, the easier it will be to learn.
  • Practice coaching with other participants. Combine the individual skills and practice through coaching conversations with other participants. This type of practice is like riding a bicycle with training wheels. Since the other participants knows what the coach is trying to do, conversations flow more easily. It’s a good way to pull things together and gain confidence. A bonus is having the chance to experience being coached.
  • Practice coaching with clients. “Real world” coaching practice is challenging. Finding people who are ready and willing to be coached is the first obstacle. Once you do, coach them using the skills and mindsets you’ve learned, without falling back into your old ways. Each person you coach will be a different experience for you. Some are more reflective. Some more action oriented. Some bring topics that match your interests. Some move forward quickly. Some seem to make no progress. It takes a variety of clients and dozens of coaching conversations to be able to consistently coach well. In fact, the ICF considers 100 coaching hours with at least 8 clients the minimum experience for their first level of coach certification.

Nothing can replace actually practicing coaching skills and mindsets. Effective coaching courses will facilitate a lot of practice – especially during the course itself.

3. Live Coaching Feedback

The more you practice the better you get, right? Not necessarily.

Blues guitarist Howard Roberts is referred to as “The Jazz Master” due to his unsurpassed skill. His secret was to never practice a mistake. The more you practice in the correct way, the better you’ll become. But if you practice a mistake you’ll ingrain that mistake into your behavior.

Practicing a 100 hours of coaching is worse than not practicing at all if you’re practicing mistakes. The trouble is, without observed feedback from an experienced instructor, you won’t know what you’re doing that is a mistake or what you’re not doing that you should be doing.

We incorporate written observation and feedback into our training. Our instructors observe participants coaching and then give specific feedback, highlighting strengths and suggesting points of improvement. This is essential and another reason why non-interactive learning methods – books, videos, webinars, etc. – are not effective.

The ICF requires what it calls “mentor coaching” for participants of approved coaching training programs. This is 10 hours of observed coaching feedback specifically around improving your coaching skills. It works. We include this practice in our Coaching Mastery Certificate Program and also offer it as a separate course.

Practice is essential, but more than practice, you have to practice the correct things. Without observed feedback, you’ll repeat mistakes and reinforce wrong ways of doing it.

Look for coaching training that includes live instruction, live practice, and live feedback.

A study in 2015 revealed 89% of coaches receiving training that was accredited or approved by a professional coaching organization. One short-cut to shifting through various coaching training options is to check to see if they are ICF-approved as an Approved Coach Training Program (ACTP) or Approved Coaching Specific Training Hours (ACSTH). A course approved by the ICF will be screened by them to meet the training standards described above.

Check out my next article in this series: How To Become An ICF Certified Coach.

Question: What do you think makes effective coaching training? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is an author, speaker and Professional Certified Coach. He helps on-the-go leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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