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23 Coaching Skills

By Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg,
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown

Coaching for Transformation
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Just as an artist gathers brushes, pigments and techniques, coaches have a palette of skills to use with their clients. In Chapter 3 we cover transformational coaching skills, starting with examples of each of the core skills. Then we discuss several aspects of coaching in detail— empowering questions, acknowledging, listening, wisdom of the body, emotions and uncovering the client’s agenda.

Coaching skills help us bring out the best in our clients and give them access to their full power. We can choose from a variety of techniques to help them increase awareness and move toward more satisfaction and fulfillment. Mastering the skills of coaching helps us take clients to the fullest expression of their potential.

Coaching for Transformation is a client-centered process. We follow our clients’ agendas, attune to their essence as they discover themselves and their highest dreams. As we focus on our client, we can ask ourselves questions like:

What matters most to this client?

How can I focus my coaching on all of what my client brings?

What is the deepest expression of my client’s greatness?

How do I empower my client to see a full range of choices?

We ask the questions that our client doesn’t dare ask. Using the entire internal and external environment as a resource, we attune to our own sensations, to the words and to what our client is not saying. We feel the energy and use our intuition. Then we let go of any attachment to the outcome and let our client take whatever resonates.

Transformational Coaching Skills

The following list of core transformational coaching skills gives a range of colors to use. We explore several of them in more detail later in this chapter.

Acknowledging the Essence—sharing qualities that we see, hear and sense to support clients in feeling seen at their authentic core. Naming their aliveness or passion.

Examples: “I hear your compassion for children and commitment to social justice. I sense taking a stand for children is core for you.” “As I listen to you talk about speaking your truth I am struck by the depth of your courage.”

Asking Empowering Questions—asking open-ended questions to evoke self-refl ection, clarity, insight and action.

Example: “What is important about this?” “What stands out to you?” “What is next?” “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

Brainstorming—generating ideas, expanding new possibilities or developing strategies.

Example: “Let’s explore some options. What do you see when you step out of the box?”

Challenging—requesting the person stretch beyond perceived limitations. A challenge is more than a simple request. It pushes people beyond what they think is possible so they stretch themselves and end up doing more than they originally thought possible.

Example: “I challenge you to stop working alone and find three other changemakers to support you this month.” Your client can accept, decline or negotiate the challenge.

Championing—believing in and encouraging resourcefulness, and highlighting their desire or ability to take the next step.

Example: “I have seen you make life-serving decisions before and believe in your ability to be a powerful executive director. What do you need to say yes to this promotion?”

Clarifying—articulating needs and values in order to verify understanding. More than repeating the words, clarifying speaks to the deeper message or implication. Clarifying includes articulating, reframing and asking empowering questions.

Example: “I sense you are looking for respect and autonomy in this new move. What else is important?”

Embracing Polarities—naming experiences, ideas, feelings or needs that appear to be in confl ict, and holding them with respect, without making one side more important than the other.

Example: “So you want freedom and security. How can you have both?” You may ask your client to step into the experience of freedom, and then into the experience of security and notice the diff erence in each place.

Establishing Accountability—creating structures to verify the action plan is on track, supporting clients to actively live their values and move toward their vision or goals.

Example: “What will you do? When will you do it? How will I know?” or “How will you celebrate when you realize your vision by the end of the year?”

Facilitating Cultural Awareness—creating awareness of power and privilege, supporting cultural humility, embracing identities and cultural differences and addressing systemic oppression.

Example: “How do the power dynamics impact you as a young Asian man?” or “How can you bridge the cultural diff erences?”

Holding Client’s Agenda—identifying what the client wants. Listening for what matters most, both in the big picture of their life, in the coaching session and in the moment.

Example: “Javier, I know you want to look at how to manage your time. What is most important about that? How will managing your time affect your life?”

Holding Silence—discerning when to create space for the client to look internally. Pausing allows space for self-intimacy, for both the coach’s and the client’s intuition to emerge.

Example: “………………………………………………………………………..…”

Interrupting—cutting through storytelling or reporting to capture the essence of what’s expressed. Interrupting is done in service of getting back to exploring what matters most, or moving from discussion to felt experience.

Example: “Katia, stop. What is the essence of what you are saying? What is important here? What is the feeling that may be difficult to be with?”

Intuiting—trusting inner knowing and expressing gut reactions.

Example: “I have a sense (hunch, intuition) that there is a black veil over this whole situation. How does that resonate with you?”

Making Metaphors—using images, stories and pictures that engage the right brain and deepen the learning by reflecting the essence of the situation.

Example: “Jasmine, this difficult conversation you need to have with your sister feels like a stone over your heart.” Or “What is an image or metaphor which captures the essence of your experience?”

Moving into Action—co-creating or requesting movement toward goals that are aligned with values, vision and desires. This could include brainstorming ways to create forward movement.

Example: “What can you do this week to realize your goal?” “What’s something you can do to keep the momentum going this month?”

Naming What’s Present—succinctly describing what is happening in the moment or what is underneath the surface. Includes naming what we see and sense, distilling what is happening now or what is emerging. We can observe patterns, or name what is not being said, or identify what is happening in the coaching relationship.

Example: Andy talks about something he is afraid of. You hear growing excitement as well, and say, “You’ve had enough of living in fear and you’re ready to embrace the excitement of this opportunity.”

Offering an Inquiry—asking questions that help people explore new learning and insights more deeply over time. Something to ponder between sessions, an inquiry focuses on learning and awareness, not action.

Example: “Simone, what is love to you?” “What’s the relationship between your spiritual connection and the way forward?”

Reflecting—mirroring words, energy, feelings, needs, values or vision. Hearing the deepest motivation by focusing on what your client wants at the core.

Example: “Zoë, are you excited because you’ve been longing for mutuality and partnership?” “Chitra, you mentioned sadness. I also hear a desire for connection.”

Re-Framing—sharing a new perspective that opens up broader possibilities.

Example: “This may seem like a dead end to you. How might this serve you or your dream?”

Requesting—asking for a specific action without being attached to the outcome. Client responds with yes, no, or a counter-off er.

Example: “Ebony, will you spend 20 minutes a day being with the most vocal, powerful part of yourself?”

Self-Managing—noticing that our internal experience or our agenda is affecting our ability to be fully present, and then recovering. Recovering can involve transparency, or letting the client know what has happened. Following our intuition without judging, giving advice or holding back.

Example: Rich describes a crisis in his relationship, similar to the crisis you face in your own relationship. As coach, you notice you are triggered and set an intention to take time for yourself aft er the session. Then you return to client-focused listening and ask curious questions.

Setting Goals—setting intentions for desired outcomes and making plans that are specifi c, measurable, alive, relevant, time-bound and shared.

Example: “What will you create? What energizes you about the goal? When will you take action? How will that look when it is complete? Who will you talk to about your goals?”

Visioning—exploring the big picture and creating a visual reminder of the desired future. We go into the experience of the vision before asking what they see.

Example: “Gil, take away all the limits and imagine you are successful beyond your wildest dreams. What do you see?”

As in any other discipline, coaching mastery comes from practicing the basics until the form becomes second nature. At that point we can step beyond the form into new levels of spontaneous creation.

Questions to Consider

Which three coaching skills are you most comfortable using?

Which three coaching skills do you want more practice using?

How can you get more practice with these skills?


Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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