Friday, November 10, 2006

Inner~Views: A Praying Pastor Might Need a Coach

Praying Pastor interviewed Tony Stoltzfus of Coaching Pastors

*Tony, you have written a book on coaching, Leadership Coaching. For many Christian leaders, this is a new term - Please define it and describe how it is different from both discipleship and the process of consulting.

Coaching is the art of helping people grow without telling them what to do. It is probably closest to mentoring or spiritual direction, in that it is a one on one relationship designed to help you move forward in life. But mentoring is about one person imparting to another (the mentor gives wisdom, advice, influence or perspective to the mentoree), whereas coaching is about one person drawing out another (a coach uses listening and asking to help you find what God is saying to you). Coaches help people think things through and get things done, but the emphasis is always on the ability of the coachee to figure out what to do and do it, with the coach walking alongside to support the change. Another definition of coaching I often use is that coaching is walking with people as they grow in a way that consistently expresses belief in them, keeps them responsible for their own lives and allows God to be the initiator of change in them. That definition references three key values of the coaching approach: believing in people, personal responsibility and God as the initiator of change.

The usefulness of coaching is that it is uniquely suited to developing leadership qualities in people. Different approaches are more and less suited to our stage of development. I like to use a parenting analogy to help people understand how this works. When your kids are 3, you take them to bed (just like a discipler might pick up a disciplee and take them to church). When they are 10, you've set boundaries for bed time and you expect your kids to take some responsibility to follow them. If you are a good parent, you are also explaining the wisdom of regular bedtimes, so the kids aren't just doing whatever you say, but are developing their own motivation to do this. In other words, you are moving toward more of a mentoring approach as a parent. When your kids are 17, they may be setting their own bedtimes. The boundaries are getting looser as they move toward adulthood, and effective parents are helping their kids think through what actions to take and what the implications of those actions are. In other words, you are coaching. As a parent, a big part of your job is to gradually give more and more responsibility to your kids, so they are ready to assume full responsibility for their lives as adults. Coaching is a way to help people and influence them toward making great decisions without taking responsibility for their lives and telling them what to do -- and that's why it works great for working with leaders.

* "Coaching is a dialogue, not a monologue." (Jospeh Umidi) - What are the implications of this statement to a person who does the coaching? To a person or group that invites someone to serve them as a coach?

The toughest part of learning to coach is turning off the "Mr Fix-it" gene that listens for about 3 minutes and then is ready to give advice or suggest a course of action. Too often when we are helping people we are monologuing: sharing our thoughts about the situation without having really heard, and with no way to test whether the solution we are offering (which probably worked for us at some point in the past) is really a viable one in this situation. Coaches are trained to really listen, to really hear, and to believe in the work of God in a person's life. When you invite a coach into your life, you're bringing in someone who will push you to think things through, who will believe you can come up with great solutions to the challenges you face, and who believes that God is speaking to you about what to do and that you can hear him.

*Can anyone simply declare them self a coach? What skills are required? Personality? Experience?

There certainly are a lot of people out there who have declared themselves coaches! Frankly, almost all people who "coach" without undergoing formal training are really mentoring under a different name. We have no idea how prone we are to think for people and tell them what to do until we are in a situation where we get some feedback from a trainer on what we are doing. So if you are serious about coaching, or you want to call yourself a coach, coach training is vital. My experience in running a coach training school for years and doing training around the country is that it usually takes 3-6 months of immersion in coach training for a person to really break out of the "telling" habit and begin to coach instinctively. We've all been conversing for our whole lives, and do it every day: habits that deeply ingrained are hard to change!

There isn't a particular personality type or track record that you need to become a coach. Your life experience helps you shape your coaching niche: you'll coach best in an area where you have experience, and clients are most drawn to a coach who understands and has experience in their world. People who are drawn to coaching generally have a passion to help others grow or maximize their potential.

*Agree or Disagree ... Life coaching (developing an individual leader) and group coaching (guiding a team of leaders in a particular project or initiative are radically different ... And explain why.

There are actually numerous niches in the coaching field, of which life coaching is one. Life coaching is walking with people through destiny discovery, life balance, getting the personal life they want, transitions, etc. Performance coaching helps people be more effective or get more done, transformational coaching changes who you are to change what you do, relationship coaching focuses (usually) on romantic relationships... there are a bunch of different sub-categories under the heading of coaching. Group coaching can be coaching a team in a project, or it can be working with a group of people who are all working at the same thing -- in other words, you could do group coaching with a group of people who are in the process of discovering their destiny.

*A successful or famous leader may not necessarily be the best coach. Why, and what should an individual or team look for in a great coach?

The skills and personality that make a great large sphere leader often include a lot of directing, oversight, vision-casting, ability to work in large group settings, public speaking, etc. None of these are key coaching skills. A great coach is first of all a great listener: someone who is willing to completely focus on you and what is going on in your life. The second key skill of coaching is inquiry: drawing out of you your thoughts, feelings, motivation, etc. Third, coaches are experts in the process of personal change. They need to understand how the change process works in individuals and how to manage things like encouragement, accountability, support structures, and motivation. Great coaches are people called to change the world one person at a time, by working with one person at a time. Most large sphere leaders have an organizational calling -- in other words, they are called to change the world by building world-changing organizational structures. It's a different animal.

*Give us a one sentence reply to each of these coaching principles identified in your book:

> Ask, don't tell ...

The fundamental skill of coaching is to draw out a person's true heart and their own insight, instead of offering your own.

> Skills channel character ...

What you do is a function of who you are. The skills and techniques that you've acquired are only a conduit for what is inside your heart: so, for instance, if you aren't interested in a person or you think their life is trivial, no amount of listening technique will cover that up or keep them from receiving that message from you,

> Transformation is experiential and relational, not informational ...

Deep, lasting significant change is not a cognitive process: God breaks into our lives at the point of our experiences and relationships, and that is where the transformational process begins.

> Build leaders, don't solve problems ...

If as a coach I help you make the "right" decision, I've helped you a little today. If I help you use this decision to learn to hear God's voice or become a better decision maker, I've affected every decision you'll make for the rest of your life.

> Change is more a function of motivation than information ...

In church settings we generally try to get people to change by telling them what they ought to be doing. It's not knowing the right thing to do that causes us to change: it is being motivated to take action.

* What have you found to be the most misunderstood aspect of coaching among Christian leaders, and how can this be overcome?

Its just the fundamental understanding of what coaching is. In much of the church, "coach" is just another name for "mentor" or "supervisor". I think the biggest need right now is for great training materials that are accessible to the church that can teach people the difference.

*Tony, please write a prayer on behalf of Christian leaders and teams that would benefit from the service of a coach . . .

I pray that you would have such a passion to engage life, that you would have such a desire to find God's purpose for your growth in every circumstance or challenge that you face, that you would not be content to just keep sloggin through your days without seeking out the meaning in what is happening to you. I pray for the awakening of desire in you, I pray for the awakening of the hunger to experience the reality of God's work in you each day; and I pray that that yearning would lead you to reflect deeply, to stop and look for your creator in everything, and that seeking him you'd find him. And I pray that you would draw many others along with you on that journey to a deeper experience of life in God.

Tony Stoltzfus
Coach22 & Coaching Pastors
Virginia Beach, VA
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