Basic coaching skills are foundational to effective coaching. The International Coach Federation (ICF) identifies eleven core competencies, which are the foundation for their credentialing process and the standard reflected in courses offered by the Professional Christian Coaching Institute (PCCI).
Effective coaches know that building trust and rapport is key. When clients feel safe, cared for, and hopeful, they often invest themselves fully in the work of coaching. And full engagement is critical for success.
The following skills are also critical for a coach’s success.
Active listening, as described by the International Coach Federation (ICF) is the “ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression.”
Author Stephen Covey expands on that, saying coaches need a high degree of “empathic listening” listening to understand rather than simply to respond.[i] This kind of listening — listening with the heart as well as with the ears — allows a coach to understand from within the client’s paradigm.
Others suggest coaches actually need to listen on three distinct levels, often simultaneously.[ii]
- Level One listening is internal, attending to word choice and focusing on what the information means to the coach.
- Level Two listening attends to the information from the client’s perspective; what it feels like to be “in their shoes.”
- Level Three listening is a form of global listening, attending to the client’s emotions, body language, energy, tone, and the coach’s own intuition. Coaches often refer to this level of listening as being “in the zone.” It fosters a highly creative environment that is critical to the kind of “possibilities thinking” that is a hallmark of effective coaching.
Several Christian coaches have suggested a fourth level of listening — listening for the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Because God’s Spirit lives within us, He can give us spiritual “ears to hear” what we would otherwise miss. In this way, we can “know” things that would not otherwise be clear to our minds or intuition.
Like most things spiritual, this level of listening grows as Christians mature, but it proves invaluable as coaches seek to help clients discern the Lord’s gifting and calling on their lives.
Powerful questioning, according to the ICF, is the “ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.”
Questions that evoke discovery and foster a “possibilities” mindset, invite client growth. For example:
- What is your heart’s desire?
- How would your life be different if that were the case?
- When would you like to see that happen?
Questions like these can break down old thinking and self-limiting messages. The goal is not so much understanding why clients have developed limiting paradigms as it is helping them quickly break out of these. It is a call to greater fullness of live.
Proverbs 29:18 states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Many Christian are “perishing” — existing but not really living — because they lack a clear vision for their lives, marriages, families, and careers. Often this is simply because no one has helped them probe deeply enough to identify and express the desires of their hearts.
Planning and Goal Setting
Further, the ICF identifies planning and goal setting, the ability to develop and maintain an effective coaching plan with the client, as another core competency. Once clients have identified a vision grounded in their core values and assessed what it would take to see it fulfilled, a coach must then help them break down the vision into manageable goals. should be specific and measurable, leaving no question as to attaining them. In addition, coaches can also help the client identify and access additional resources for learning, such as books or other professionals.
Coaches must provide one final element if their clients are to see real success — encouragement.
Over time, passions tend to wax and wane. Others things begin to compete for their time, energy, and attention. When clients lose their passion, they have no fuel to drive their changes. The coach must hold the vision with the client, keeping them accountable for progress and encouraging them every step of the way.
It boils down to this simple truth: Coaches who learn the basics position themselves for success.
As entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn says, “Success is neither magical or mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.”
 Dave Ellis, Life Coaching: A New Career for Helping Professionals (Rapid City, SD: Breakthrough Enterprises, 1998), 3-7.
[ii] Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), 236-260.
[iii] Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House and Phil Sandahl, Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life (Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing, 1998), 29-47.
[iv] Dave Ellis, Life Coaching: A New Career for Helping Professionals (Rapid City, SD: Breakthrough Enterprises, 1998), 47-60.
[v] Gary Collins, Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Potential Into Reality (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), 149-176.