A few years ago, a book came out that was called A Few Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All. We live in an information-saturated age where it is perhaps too easy for people to assume their expertise, though all of us are still always learning – even relearning – in the light of new experiences. We have never ‘arrived’, but constantly adapt to a world that is changing around us. We continue to grow as we deal with blind spots, rather than have them deal with us! Coaching clearly helps make that work.
I was a Christian at sixteen and sold out to passionate service of God soon after. Most people quickly affirmed my commitment and abilities, so I naturally got a little too far ahead of myself. I’d counted the cost, so I didn’t consider my weaknesses when pursuing strong convictions. I naturally assumed everyone would see things as I did and rally to my causes. I was young, naïve and driven.
A balanced empathetic strand to my leadership needed other voices to speak in to my life and to better shape my skill set and my view of God and others. It was coaching that soon invited permission to have direct conversations about things that were holding me back and about where these had come from. I had read How to Win Friends and Influence People but this was a God-ordained surgical moment for my soul, the first of many.
Coaching has been an important part of my growth in most areas since. It has been integrally connected to identifying and solving problems related to strategic development, team dynamics, leadership skill, change management and vision casting. Through previous roles in overseeing a secondary school, a national training college, a large church music team, various relational networks, and now as a senior minister, I have learned that few people presume the right to speak to leadership challenges. Few also know where to begin. And so much is riding on our willingness to be our best and to be humble enough to reach out for solutions.
Coaching has been a key to change for the better. Its win-win value is lost in my church and in me when I remain anchored to insecurity, inaction or ignorance. I have identified three critical coaching benefits that I don’t think any leader can live without. I certainly couldn’t.
- Advice – Practical Wisdom
A good coach’s counsel provides the benefit of insights that will surpass our own knowledge or experience. This comes through results-empowered reflection as well as effective communication. Fruitfulness, rather than just knowing about fruitfulness, demarcates the great inspirers from the good, those with some runs on the board themselves who know how to produce them in others.
A sports coach need not have an overwhelmingly great player record, but will have some significant experience and game awareness that brings specific insights. In ministry, a coach may not be more gifted, or even similarly gifted, to you. However, their benefit is in practical impartation, not general awareness, and this comes from having ‘been there and done that’ in related and relatable areas.
Casual input from other people not committed to the hard and detailed conversations you need to have will never be enough. Neither will the passive influence of books or websites. You will hopefully already be hearing from God about change that is needed, but coaching puts legs on the vision for that change and has you submit to someone who can be God’s instrument for the need and means to achieve it.
- Activation – Clear Pathways
Advice is activated with a plan. A tennis coach is not the best player at the game; it’s the guy on court. The coach, though, can specifically help in articulating strengths and weaknesses. Most others cannot, even though they may sense something is not really working. The coach maps out a strategic pathway, gets the results and is worth the investment. Very few top tennis players would now consider not having a coach at their side.
The player remains in control of the pathway and the process and must initiate and then follow through, but he does this willingly, knowing that there is yet more to be known! The coach brings clarity in navigating through uncertainties which themselves cannot always be eradicated.
- Address – Proactive Probing
Even when goals are clear, the crises and emotions of life can derail any worthwhile agenda and deflect important conversations. Naturally, flexibility is important, but reputable coaches will carefully ensure that the bigger picture is not lost in their gentle probing which must confront with necessary pain for long-term gain. Responsiveness needs pastoral proactivity to go to areas where avoidance may limit growth, albeit with great sensitivity to the impact of current concerns. It also needs follow up to ensure the best leveraging of any redress.
Coaches may well focus on leadership development, rather than explicitly mentoring deeper life issues but, when appropriate parameters are set, concerns can be addressed in a way that helps ‘connect the dots’ of life’s experiences. Forward momentum can be maintained in the face of inevitable incidents which will then be used to propel forward, rather than hold back. After all, the Devil is always seeking to impede progress by whatever means possible.
So, coaching success depends significantly upon your commitment to the willing use of someone who has previously navigated uncertain waters and who can chart the terrain you need to traverse. Coaching therefore builds accountability and faith. It gives a voice of confidence within uncertainty and must be based upon more than encouragement or research.
It is the voice that shows the ‘can do’ in the face of our ‘can’t do’. It is the voice that belongs to one who has been there before and who can see, even in part, what we do not yet see. It is the voice that enacts the effective outworking of our faith which otherwise dies.
Maybe you already have a coach. If not, why not? Coaching adds great results to your great potential. Much of tomorrow’s destiny rides on today’s choice to lead better than we did yesterday.