One benefit of the coaching approach is that it doesn’t require the coach to be an expert on subject matter, like a mentor or consultant. Instead, a coach’s expertise is found in being a generalist. Coaches are change experts. The client supplies the change agenda, the goal, the solution and the action steps. What the coach brings to the table is an understanding of how change happens, and the ability to create an optimal environment for growth. A coach’s expertise is to know how to listen, ask powerful questions, keep the client responsible and provide follow-up. Those principles are transferable to almost any human endeavor.
For instance, I’ve coached a successful business owner in the real estate field for several years. I’ve never worked in real estate (I do have a lot of sales and entrepreneurial experience), but I don’t have to. He’s the real estate expert, and he’s the expert on his own life. My job is to use my coaching skills to help him solve his own problems. (Theoretically, you can coach anything, whether you’ve ever done it or not. Practically, some experience in the field you are coaching is a big help—you have a much better idea of what to ask!)
The fact that the client is the expert instead of the coach has far-reaching implications. For instance, often coaching is a better fit for cross-cultural ministry than mentoring, because the coach doesn’t supply answers to the client—answers that may not work in a different culture. Instead, the clients use their understanding of their own culture to craft solutions that work in their context. I’ve trained a number of coaches from Southeast Asia. I’m no expert at translating Christian principles into Asian cultures—but they are. Coaching has had a huge impact on them, in ways that I never could have anticipated or communicated. Thank goodness it wasn’t my job to tell them how to live their lives!
Tony Stoltzfus is a master coach, author and coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. More of his writings on the disciplines, skills and heart of a Christian coach can be found in his book, Leadership Coaching.