The `Coach Approach’ For Leaders

By Jane Creswell

The role of a leader is often perceived as having all the answers, but I’ve discovered that asking well-formed coaching questions produced much better results. After we started a coaching initiative in my area of responsibility at IBM, we doubled revenue five quarters in a row, broke recruiting records, and broke retention records. Since then I’ve seen the same shift from having the answers to having coaching questions produce valuable results in churches and ministry agencies.

The kind of coaching I’m talking about focuses on discovering and releasing each person’s untapped potential. Pastors can bring a coach approach to preaching, to leading specific ministries, and to their denominational roles. Any role that relates to people can incorporate coaching skills. But be forewarned: Excellent coaching is harder than you might think. It requires training and practice. And it requires a determination to stay with it. Sometimes reverting to being in charge and telling people what to do might get the job done faster. But faster doesn’t equal fulfillment and seeing lives changed.

Let’s look at some specific lessons I learned while coaching at IBM that also apply in ministry.

Some people are coachable and some are not.

I’ve learned that not everyone is ready for coaching, but you can make great strides with those who are coachable. Don’t beg people to let you coach them. Start with volunteers – that’s one indication of high coachability.

Shifts have to happen in the leader who’s doing the coaching.

At IBM coaching wasn’t just about helping people do things differently but about helping them think differently. And the same principle applied to me – the coach! That’s how progress was made. Whether in business or churches, these essential shifts include: moving from telling to asking, focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses, and realizing that “drawing people out” (Proverbs 20:5) is a biblical method of equipping the saints. Rather than giving step-by-step instructions, trust those being coached to come up with answers that will be best for them and better than yours would be.

Coaching requires humility and a servant-leader perspective.

The shift from a focus on executive based decisions to a focus on helping employees thrive was a big challenge for corporate leaders at IBM. But when they saw that employees were delivering new ideas with passion, they changed their perspective. Pastors and other church leaders are often pressured to have all the answers. Because coaching means a shift in thinking for pastors and church members, the change can be even harder to achieve. To do this, pastors have to put their own agendas aside in deference to those they’re coaching. Then people will take responsibility for their actions and continued growth.

Life in an organization or congregation that’s beginning a coaching process gets worse before it gets better.

I thought coaching would quickly make positive change, but that wasn’t the immediate result. When behaviors start changing and people are freed to think creatively, the outcomes aren’t predictable. When people start taking new and different actions, the rest of the group has to adjust to the newness before it’s viewed as positive. If people are warned in advance that this is going to happen, they can learn to trust the coach to get them through this transition. At IBM the whole organization eventually shifted for the better.

Some people are threatened by coaching.

IBM executives who derived their self-worth from having all the answers were threatened by getting answers from employees. Some church leaders also feel threatened when I suggest that coaching will bring better results. They think their value will be diminished but, in fact, the opposite is true. An internal change occurs and personal value begins to be calculated with regard to how much others thrive. I had to go through that shift, and it’s not very comfortable. Anyone who wants to use a coach approach to ministry is likely to deal with this.

Watching others thrive as a result of coaching is freeing and extremely rewarding.

At IBM people were surprised by employees’ ideas and what they accomplished when their talents were used and their passions freed. Instead of just surviving, they started experiencing what it means to thrive. When people see others excelling, reaching their potential, and even surpassing the coach, the enthusiasm is contagious. The potential for what can be accomplished is multiplied. When leaders make all the decisions and have all the answers, growth is limited – in businesses, individuals, churches, and God’s kingdom.

Coaching Skills

Here are the basics if you’re interested in coaching…

Listen: Do this more than you talk, and do it with the purpose of learning the person’s agenda and helping the person being coached move forward according to his or her own design, with God’s help.

Observe: Pay attention to all the things that aren’t said, patterns of behavior, trends that tend to get the person stuck, the context, and their passion for their calling.

Receive insight from the Holy Spirit: None of us can see inside a person’s heart, but God can. Allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to you great questions to ask that will enable people to realize the full potential that God intended for them, his creation.

Ask powerful questions: Jesus asked many questions. Look closely at them, and you’ll notice that he wasn’t asking questions because he wanted answers; he asked questions to get people to think deeply, to reflect on situations in such a way that they’d learn something new about the topic and about themselves. Jesus’ questions are still creating the same results in us years later.

Encourage: Encouragement that’s genuine and specific to the person is powerful enough to elicit action in the person you’re coaching. A high level of encouragement reflects a belief in the strengths of others when they can’t see it in themselves. It’s not sugarcoated and patronizing.

Deliver concise messages: People don’t remember paragraphs. It’s extremely hard to memorize large passages of Scripture, but we can remember a verse relatively easily. A well-delivered insight can be remembered for many years. Concise messages that are effective in a coaching conversation are uplifting, full of truth, nonjudgmental, and relevant to the current conversation.

Article “The ‘Coach Approach’ for Leaders” excerpted from the magazine “Rev!”. Article written by Jane Creswell.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”