So, What Makes A Great Life Coach? [Ultimate Guide]

September 22, 2020
Life Coaching

Coaching is a field that’s exponentially expanding, and we get it! The industry is rapidly advancing in both stature and credibility. People who might once have seen a therapist are now asking for something else entirely.

Coaching clients aren’t after a psychological fix. They’re seeking a sounding board - an equal partner to help them gain forward momentum, take action, and be accountable for meeting their goals.

Trends in the wellness industry identify coaching as a highly effective strategy for achieving personal and professional growth. The explosion of opportunity has naturally led to a big uptick in new practitioners now entering the field.

With all those coaches on the market, how do clients decide who to work with? And for new coaches just getting started, what will help them stand out from the crowd? There’s been a lot of ink spilled on the topic of how to become a coach. But what sets the mediocre apart from the magnificent? 

Let’s break it down! The way we see it, there’s two areas you need to consider: what the coach does (core competencies) and how they do it (business practices).

CORE COMPETENCIES

Coaches specialize across a wide array of topics, and there’s a coaching niche to address just about every aspect of the human experience. Regardless of whether you’re being coached around your career, relationships, or spirituality, there’s certain skills you should expect to see across the board. All effective coaches are fluent in the following:

Empathetic listening

We live in the Age of Distraction, and it’s nowhere more apparent than in our most crucial conversations. Ever had the experience of opening up to a close friend, only to have them glance down at their phone to read an incoming text? Ouch. This dynamic has become so commonplace in our intimate relationships that we can forget what it feels like to really listen and be heard.

How does a coach show up differently? It begins with active listening. When you’re paying someone to hold space for you, it’s reasonable to expect that they’ll actually be GOOD at it. This may sound simple, but it can be surprisingly difficult to master. 

The hallmarks of empathetic listening include: 1. Giving the client your full attention. 2. Reading nonverbal cues and emotions (yes, this is possible even in telephone sessions!) 3. Asking relevant questions. 4. Utilizing silence effectively. 5. Following up on what you’ve heard.

Knows the right questions to ask

Contrary to popular belief, the most vital tool in any coach’s repertoire is not the ability to give sage advice. It’s the art of questioning. If you’re new to the industry and find yourself wondering what a coach training program might actually teach you, this is it! 

Effective coaches instinctively ask questions that can move the dial for their clients. It’s no accident that they are able to artfully pose a question to elicits far more than a yes/no response.

Coaching questions are powerful. Good ones invite a client to understand aspects of themselves or their situation that might not otherwise rise to the surface. This is the value of coaching: the ability to guide people toward finding their own answers. That only happens when we ask the right questions.

Understands when to ask those questions

Timing is everything. Skillful coaches have honed their ability to detect if a client is ready for the question they’re about to ask. A poorly framed question can have the opposite effect from what’s intended. Pushing too far, or too fast, may shut a person down.

There are other times when a client might benefit from being pushed outside their comfort zone. An experienced coach understands when it’s time to invite someone to consider an idea or action that will stretch beyond what the client thinks they’re ready for. 

Great coaches have discernment. They know how much to pump the gas, where to ease up, and when to hit the brakes. Through active listening, training and practice, they are able to introduce questions and concepts at a pace that’s right for each individual client.

Subject matter expertise

Successful coaches know what their strengths are. Many possess training in a variety of areas, and can serve as capable generalists. But most identify signature areas of focus - topics where they have significant depth, experience, and expertise.

It’s possible, but more of a rarity to encounter someone who’s equally capable at executive coaching and fitness coaching, for example. More common might be a coach who offers services within a similar portfolio of expertise. That might look like a business leader who offers executive, sales, career, and marketing coaching along with business consulting.

Look for logical linkages. The threads in a coach's career and life story should weave their specializations together into a coherent whole.

Confident coaches also know their limitations, and the value of staying in their chosen lane. Why? Because their ultimate goal is to deliver meaningful results for clients. Practitioners who know their value won’t sell you on skills and expertise they don’t actually possess. If you are looking for something beyond their scope, the best coaches will refer you to someone that’s a better fit. 

Innovative, personalized techniques

Early in our career, it’s both normal and acceptable to work from notes, and to reference back to our education and training. Programs like JRNI’s Coaching Intensive will typically provide students with templates, worksheets, and other tools to help guide them through the coaching process. It helps us learn. Eventually, though, those training wheels must come off! 

Adept coaches integrate and internalize a variety of proven techniques, and also possess a strong capacity to improvise. This comes with experience and practice. Eventually, each develops their own unique style and approach.

This is otherwise known as a coach’s “It Factor” - what differentiates one coach from all the others. To that end, you can (and should!) expect to have a different experience when working with two coaches who are both alumni from the same coaching program. 

BUSINESS PRACTICES

So far, we’ve covered what happens inside a coaching session. The skills, expertise, and abilities that contribute to a satisfying and productive experience for the client. Now let’s move to the next level: the coaching practice. How a coach conducts their business behind the scenes also factors heavily into their overall effectiveness when serving clients.

Here’s what that looks like in everyday terms:

Works with only a certain number of clients at a time

As a coach who’s just getting started, it's normal to add a new client to your roster just about anytime you’re asked. You’ve got space. As a successful practice grows, however, you can expect that to change. There comes a tipping point when you’ve got more new client inquiries than you can reasonably handle. 

Experienced coaches know where that line is before they cross it. They have a clear understanding of their own capacity, and see beyond the short term profit of chronically “squeezing just one more session in”. They manage their business in a way that circumvents burnout.

For some, that might mean they can only reasonably accommodate 10 or 20 client appointments per week. To run a sustainable business, you need to leave sufficient time for session preparation and follow up, book keeping, marketing, and other business related activities. Coaches who produce the best results understand what it takes to serve their clients fully and well. 

Maintains healthy boundaries

An essential skill in both business and life is to know your own boundaries. At the outset, it’s natural to flex to accommodate the desires and scheduling needs of your clients. You may find yourself taking appointments on the weekend when you’d really rather have Saturdays off. It could look like engaging in client email or text exchanges between sessions that sometimes go on too long.

Expect to make some compromises as you’re starting out. It’s only through trial and error that we discover where our boundaries should be. 

The best coaches model what they teach. Successful entrepreneurs don’t leap to fulfill every demand. The goal isn’t to please - it’s to serve. Over-accommodation isn’t what clients need from us.

Seasoned pros lay out the rules of engagement on the front end - both what the client can expect from their coach, and what the coach expects of the client in return. This includes a contract, terms of service, and clearly articulated policies. Clients should know whether or not it’s OK to text between sessions, what happens if they miss a scheduled appointment, and other relevant details.

Establishing ground rules, holding clear boundaries, and adhering to best practices creates safety, trust, and respect within the relationship.

Doesn’t chase after clients

Do successful coaches market themselves, and employ sales techniques? You bet they do! This is a business, and a coach is viable only if they can close contracts with new clients.

Here’s what that looks like: If someone contacts a coach on social media or by email to ask a question, they engage. They read the situation, and if it's relevant and appropriate they make an offer. This could be to set up a complementary call, or to check out a book, self-paced workshop, or group program. That’s best practices at work.

What’s not good business is when we fail to honor requests to unsubscribe from e-newsletters or other communications. It’s also not a good look to continue following up with someone to the point of becoming a nuisance. 

Successful coaches value their own worth. They engage sincerely, and recognize when it’s time to step back. If it’s a good match, the prospective client will step forward to meet them. That may not happen right away, but we learn to trust that the seed has been planted.

Those times where it’s not a fit? The confident coach doesn’t expend any further energy. They understand and appreciate a “hard no” and move on.

Offers multiple packages and is flexible

Honing coaching skills is one thing. Deciding what services to offer can be quite another! For some coaches, their practice might weigh heavily toward working one on one with clients. For others, their sweet spot is in facilitating group programs, hosting an educational podcast, or publishing books. Many will do a combination of several things.

The trick is to provide a ladder of engagement for prospective clients. 

Not everyone will jump right in and book a $3,000 coaching package. Many people will want to see evidence of what the coach is offering before making an investment.

Great coaches don’t horde all their goodies - they give away satisfying samples for free, or at a relatively low point of entry. Why? Because it demonstrates their expertise, gives their followers a taste of what working with them is all about, and builds their brand visibility. 

Gracious enough to make referrals

It’s not easy to turn people away. Coaches come into this work out of a desire to help others achieve meaningful transformation.

We understandably want to serve as many people as we can. But there are times when it might not work out. Could be that your roster is full, and you won’t have a new spot opening up for several months. Or maybe someone’s issue is beyond the scope of your skills and expertise.

Recognizing that another coach might actually be a better fit requires humility. That’s a subtle but powerful character trait that often fails to hit our radars. It’s also one you absolutely want to see in a good coach. 

Master coaches serve the best interest of the individual, even when that might mean sending that person on to another practitioner. They also maintain powerful networks, and appreciate the maxim "what comes around goes around". 

Honors confidentiality

Just because someone has a life coaching certification doesn't automatically mean they have mastered the art of professionalism. Coaches are human. We all have the potential to stumble, exercise poor judgement, or cross boundaries.

Sometimes our lapses are accidental, like sharing a client story or testimonial on social media without their express consent. Other instances aren’t so innocent, such as gossiping or complaining about a client with third parties. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.

Great coaches have a personal code of ethics, and adhere to it. Period. 

Ready To Get In the Game?

Coaching is a rapidly growing field that’s continuously evolving. Even for seasoned pros, there’s always more to discover. If you’ve been considering coaching certification programs but haven’t found the one that’s right for you, come explore with us! We offer two tracks toward coaching certification: JRNI Essentials and JRNI Signature. To talk with someone about our programs, click here to schedule a call with one of our team members.

Looking For A Coach Yourself? 

JRNI coaches provide the support and accountability you need to do GREAT things. Co-create an action plan, get unstuck and make real progress towards your goals. Come over and browse our selection of vetted, professional coaches to find the perfect coach for you!


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