What Does It Take to Be a Great Coach?

“Coaching” or being a “coach” in the business world today is in popular favor. Many organizations are attempting to develop coaches or assigning individuals to coaching roles. Courses such as “how to be a coach” or “improve coaching effectiveness” have become available. With such emphasis on business coaching and being effective at it, why do most employees continue to be unmotivated? Why are they not improving at the pace necessary to meet rising goals and expectations? Why are they not changing as fast as required?

Coaching is simple but not easy. Looking for solutions in the complexity of psychology, philosophy, and sociology does not provide the pragmatic and high impact tactics required to enhance the performance of your people. Business Efficacy’s experience tells us, as with many things, the fundamentals are missing, are not understood, and are not executed with passion and commitment. To be a great coach there are three core fundamentals one must master.

Fundamental #1
A coach must understand the fundamentals, function, and/or accountability he/she is coaching. One cannot coach that which he/she does not understand. A coach must know:

    • What are the key activities that need to be done well? Which actions most need a consistent, quality, and focused execution in order for desired results to be obtained?
    • What do the activities look like when done at different levels of execution? (i.e. done well, versus average, versus poorly). What do the activities look like when executed under different situations? How and why do the activities change under different conditions and scenarios?
    • What are the skills, knowledge, and values/motives/traits supporting quality execution of each key activity? It is one thing to know what needs to be done. It is another thing to know what goes behind doing it well. A coach must be clear on what an individual needs to be able to “do,” needs to “know,” and/or “be compelled or oriented” to do in order to execute the activity well.


The above explains why someone can be great at coaching basketball but not tennis, or business project management activities but not sales activities.

Fundamental #2
Possessing the key coaching skills necessary to execute a few coaching activities well. A coach’s activities net out to be:

  • Setting and communicating performance expectations (i.e. activities, level of performance, and results). There are many skills behind this activity. To do it well a coach needs to be able to determine what is the right performance expectation for an individual, how to communicate the expectation so it is understood, and have a commitment to the expectation being obtained. The art of customizing our communication style, content, and approach is paramount to coaching effectiveness.
  • Gathering and analyzing all the necessary information that tells him/her what is or is not working in the execution of the key activities by an individual. Coaches must know what to look for and how to accurately obtain critical data that answers “why” the performance of an individual is what it is. Then he/she must be able to determine what the information tells about what actions need to continue to be executed as is, which need to change, and how they need to change. Simply looking at the results or outcomes of efforts does not provide the insight to quality diagnosis, a mandatory element in order to be a quality coach.
  • Providing feedback. A coach must provide information to an individual about his/her performance. However, the skill of providing feedback in a manner that motivates an individual to continue executing or change behaviors is where everything is made or broke. It is not just the content of the message that must be accurate but the way it is delivered. The receiver of the information must understand what is being said, what it means, and what is to happen as a result. He/she must see what is in it for them to use the feedback. The art of holding up a mirror to someone is no easy task. The ability to influence someone to change based on that picture requires the best selling skills in the business.
  • Develop an individual in a given key activity. Coaches must understand what it takes to help someone improve and what the best methods are to accomplish that development. Simply telling someone to get better at something without providing him/her a plan on “how” to get better generates minimal if any improvement. This skill in particular is what differentiates “managers” from “coaches.” Coaches help someone get better. Managers simply let people know about performance and how it stands up to expectations. Many people who claim to be coaches in today’s business environment struggle with this activity.
  • Lots of great athletes turn out to be poor coaches and many great sales people turn out to be poor sales managers. Why is that? They don’t possess the skills necessary to coach. The skills required to execute the game and/or the activities of sales (or whatever his/her role when an individual contributor) tend to be totally different than the skills required to be a coach. Organizations repeatedly promote the best sales people into sales management, assuming having been a great sales person equips an individual to be a great coach. Our data continues to show this is by no means the case.

Fundamental #3
So, what’s the third fundamental? It is a passion, commitment, and dedication to helping others become better in the designated game, function, or accountability. This fundamental is the most basic, yet without its strong presence a coach tends to never have a winning team or the ability to get individuals to become better. Whereas the first two fundamentals are trainable, this one is not. Either an individual sees value, delight, and fulfillment from helping others become as much as they can be or they don’t. This fundamental is a value, a characteristic, and a motive. Of the three, anyone considering coaching should first look here before beginning the journey to becoming a coach or trying to become a great coach. The potential for greatness starts here. The people we see transition from individual contributor to coach always have this. Its execution was simply never required. Now it must become the core element to his/her reaching higher levels of value than ever anticipated.

Many of us have our role models for who we believe are great coaches. They come in all different shapes, sizes, styles, backgrounds, etc. What we can guarantee is all great coaches possess each of the three fundamentals when it comes to coaching the game or function of which he/she is perceived to be great.

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