Skills You Need for Business Coaching and Mentoring
Coaches and mentors need to have a strong set of skills to manage session time well and to help their clients get the most from their time and make shifts in their thinking and approach.
Being present for a session
In coaching, turning up for a session isn’t being present. A street lamp can be present. Looking or sounding interested isn’t enough either. A devoted dog can do that if you dangle the smell of a treat in his path. Presence is about being fully engaged with a client, and it demands everything of the coach. It’s about full-on attention in body, heart, and mind.
If a coach is physically there and has all her intellectual and thinking faculties on alert but has no emotional connection with her client’s experience, the situation is like going to a doctor and getting a prescription drug without any acknowledgement that you have a pain that impacts you. Don’t leave your compassion at home when you work in business — you’re trying to help people create businesses that people love to do business with!
Business leaders are busy. Their coaching session can be one of the rare opportunities they get to stop and think in a focused way with another person. Part of the job is to help clients remove distractions and slow down the pace for a while so they can focus and get something from their sessions.
Coaches need to be present to mirror effective presence and encourage clients to be with them in the moment. Inviting a client to stop and breathe lower in the belly, to close her eyes for a second and allow the thoughts and distractions of the day to leave her for the next hour or so while you help her focus on whatever she came here for is all about cultivating presence.
Being present in mentoring is obviously as important as it is in coaching. You need to come to the conversation well prepared, but the emotional distance is greater in mentoring.
Listening in coaching isn’t listening for the sake of just hearing or listening to respond, which is what happens in most conversations. You’re actively listening. When you actively listen, you focus only on the client and on listening fully. You’re listening in order to understand the client’s story, her dilemma, and the issues she wants to address. You’re listening for language, assumptions, generalizations, beliefs, facts, and emotions. Listen for passion, panic, perception, and pause. You also need to listen intently and be able to summarize what the client has told you. The client needs to know she has been heard for you to serve her well.
You need to give the client your absolute attention in order to
- Elicit the issue the client wants help with.
- Check your understanding of the assumptions, generalizations, opinion, and facts in the story you hear.
- Listen for language that tells you how the person has experienced the problem or situation. The way someone recalls a situation or describes an issue can be as important as the issue itself.
- Understand what you can pull out of your coaching toolkit to assist her.
- Ensure that the person feels heard and you can gain and sustain rapport.
Active listening is full-on listening with the power and volume turned up — full-on attention, not “Oh could you repeat that? I got distracted by the lovely artwork on your wall” kind of attention. Sit up, be fully there, and notice everything.
Part of your job is helping clients see themselves and their behavior. You can’t be a mirror of sparkling clarity unless your focus is entirely directed at your client.
When your client says, “I think the suit was all wrong; they were dressed quite casually. I think they might take me for someone who is a bit too formal,” you need to be in a position to say, “It sounds like the presentation went well, and the investors loved the product. You’ve worked so hard to get here over the last four years. Your team is so excited to hear if you’ve secured funds to expand. They’re all behind you on this. Sounds like you’ve done a great job. So when they’re so supportive and behind you, why are you preoccupied about whether they’re judging your suit?”
Why coaching is rarely about the first issue in the conversation
Contracting can be complex. Clients sometimes contract for a period of coaching, start the process and then overtly change their minds about what they want help with.
Alternatively, a new and deeper, often more impactful issue emerges in the conversation. Clients may have been aware of the secondary issue at the point of contracting, or the issue was something they were not consciously aware of. So, why does it emerge? There may be several reasons. Trust and space stand out. It takes time for a coach to gain rapport with clients and for clients to trust enough to state the real issues they want to coach around. This situation is quite normal, and coaches need to be ready for it.
When someone slows down and focus on things impacting them in business life, the mere fact that they create the space to think invites the possibility that other issues may show up.
Flexibility in coaching and on the part of the coach is imperative. Enabling a coachee to trust in the process and consider sessions as a continuum rather than one-off events can really help people look in the places they neve
Doing your homework and developing relevant business knowledge
If you want to support people in business, particularly at executive levels where decisions get made about direction, strategy, resources, risk, and rewards, you need to understand business and the language of business.
The depth of that knowledge really depends on the type and level of engagement you’re looking for with clients. Ask yourself: What kind of clients do I want to work with? Do I want to specialize in a particular sector, an area of business, a subject area, or a defined niche? Do I want to work in this country or globally? Understanding your own ideal customer is key. When you think about your customers and the level at which they operate and want support, what does this indicate for you?
The following would be useful knowledge to have:
- An overview of the business, how it operates, key features, and key language used
- Detailed knowledge of a particular geographical market (national or global)
- In-depth knowledge of a professional area
- Knowledge of a profession across a range of markets
- Investor responsibilities and governance
- An understanding of board-level structures and the director’s duties
Getting really clear on this beneficial knowledge can help you develop your coaching practice, target sessions with specific emphasis, and identify your own learning. It would be hard to work in parts of China if you didn’t speak Mandarin, and you’d find it equally hard to coach in business if you didn’t understand business.
An experienced coach doesn’t necessarily need exposure in a particular type of business niche to coach people in that business; clients know that themselves. But knowing how a business operates, the language of business, how to read an annual report, organizational reporting requirements in overview, and the generic features of domestic and global business is useful and gives credibility.