The faculty of my coach-training program did live coaching demonstrations as part of the training. The directors of this program have been coaching for over 20 years. I watched with fascination, with 18 members of my soon to be learning community, as the co-director sat down with her client. Everything else in the room seemed to fade away and we witnessed a beautiful transformational coaching session. It looked so effortless. I naïvely thought to myself, “well, that didn’t look so hard.” Then I had to practice and I found myself feeling hopelessly awkward. I found my footing and started to coach after much feedback from this learning community.
What I had witnessed in that demonstration was the mastery of coaching. Now I ask myself, how do I master coaching? There are a multitude of factors that go into mastering something. Practice, feedback, instruction, hard work, diligence, focused intention to grow, reflection. A learning community is an integral part of the path to mastery that coaches can neglect.
The learning community that developed in my coach-training cohort was one of the key strengths of the program. It was a safe place to learn, fail, and try again. There was direct feedback, instruction, and support.
Now as I have settled into my coaching practice, how will I continue on the road to mastery? Will I settle for mere competence or will I strive for mastery?
I liken my journey of coaching to my love of running. Running is an individual sport. However, the community of runners I’ve found has kept me striving for mastery of running. They push, encourage, discuss, make me laugh and hold me accountable.
Like running, coaching can be an individual pursuit. If one should stay on the path to mastery, I would offer that being part of a community of learners is a must.
Here are a few of the benefits of being part of a learning community:
Yes, even coaches need encouragement. I locked in and coached even though I was nervous the first time I practiced coaching in front of my mentor. Later that day she said, “You can coach.” This encouragement added to my fuel for learning how to coach. Now, as I have been practicing for some time, specific words from other coaches continue to push me on my path.
When you are part of a group of people with the same goal of improving coaching skills, mutual and shared learning takes place. Through discussion and group reflection, learning is amplified for the individuals in the group.
It is far too easy as a coach to get locked into the ways in which we practice. In a community of learners, there is an opportunity to hear how others do it. Not that you would copy another coach’s approach, but maybe a new perspective will shed light onto a situation that you have been wrestling with.
“Did you work on that?” True accountability to learning and growing as a coach is found through relationship. It is easy to skip this step and fail to invite trusted others into our kitchen of coaching to poke around. Through time and allowing others to hold us accountable for our learning, we will receive that extra push when we need it.
Practice and Feedback
Jack Nicklaus, a world-renowned golfer, said once, “Don’t be too proud to take lessons. I’m not.” Go to a class, take a CCEU that challenges you, practice, receive feedback and improve. The importance of practice within a learning community is that we can receive feedback on the items that we need to adjust. Without a learning community to provide feedback, we may be practicing incorrectly. If you have a bad golf swing and you practice that bad swing thousands of times, you will have deeply reinforced bad habits. Practice and feedback within a learning community can provide a safe place for course correction.
Coaching can take an emotional toll on coaches. Your clients are dealing with heavy topics; systematic changes in organizations, thinking about leaving their jobs, how to have that difficult conversation with their boss and other serious issues. Coaches need to learn how to process through these issues. Having a community to celebrate the victories and mourn the losses help the coach process through these emotions. To have fellow coaches share in the ups and downs of coaching will add strength to a pursuit of mastery.
A learning community can keep you on the path to mastery by providing encouragement, shared learning, perspective, accountability, practice and feedback and emotional bolstering.
Ultimately, mastery is a path best traveled with a few trusted companions.
Do you have a learning community?