An important characteristic of Christian leadership is character; a character modelled on Christ’s servant heart. As Christ-centred servant leaders enable those whom they lead to be able to fulfil their potential in God’s service is the key focus. One important tool for the Christian leader, therefore is coaching, which we will explore.
You can learn more about developing as a Christ-centred servant leader in Growing the Servant Heart, a free, on-line leadership development programme for Christian Leaders.
Christian Leader Coaching
The idea of coaching and mentoring tend to come together and blur into each other. Consequently various authorities differ on their definition and even whether they are different; thus the words are often used interchangeably. For our purposes we will consider them to be different and to have the following roles – both are important in a Christian leadership style which reflects Christ’s servant heart:
Mentoring fosters the growth of a person as a person. It is scoped by the context, so for instance a parent will mentor their child to mature as a person, developing the life-skills required in their culture. In an organisation a mentor will help an individual mature, developing the life skills required by the type of person needed on the team, fully absorbing and living out the organisation’s values.
Coaching is about developing the technical competence of an individual or group in a particular skill or expertise. Thus a sports team is coached to be more proficient in individual skills and capabilities and in working together as a single unit, both with aim of being successful. The principles translate directly to the organisational situation. It’s only the skills and capabilities that change. When it comes to developing the “softer” skills coaching begins to merge with mentoring.
Coaching is, however, about more than simply developing technical skills through one-to-one instruction. It’s about enabling the person being coached to turn problems into learning opportunities and develop skills for the future. It is a process that empowers them, enabling them to think through and resolve issues for themselves. As a consequence the person being coached will develop greater ownership of the task in hand and feel that their contribution is valued and significant.
The Christian Leader Uses Coaching to Improve Learning
Studies have shown that training needs the support of coaching for it have a truly beneficial effect. In this case the coaching is about working out how to apply what has been learned in day to day situations. It is a process that helps:
- to convert the training into behaviour and;
- to embed new behaviour into regular practice.
Studies show that training without this kind of coaching tends only to be about 5% effective whereas when supported with coaching it can achieve an effectiveness of up to 80%.
- When someone you lead has been on a training course it is well worth your effort to set up coaching sessions to help them work out how to apply the training.
- For you, it will be well worth finding a trusted person with whom you can share what you are learning about leadership. It will allow you to talk through the application of these things and embedded them into your leadership approach and practice.
The GROW Coaching Model for the Christian Leader
There are many coaching models. One that is widely used is GROW. It is neither focused on the coach nor primarily the end result, although that is in view. It is focussed on the individual, the person being coached. This means it supports those in Christian leadership who are seeking to exhibit a Christ-centred servant leadership style, which is focused on those whom they lead and not on their own position and status. Also, because it provides a general framework the coach does not need to have a deep understanding of area in which the person whom they are coaching operates.
G – Goal
This is primarily about the goal for the coaching exercise.
- What is it that the person being coached needs or wants to achieve?
R – Reality
This focuses on the situation as it currently is. The coach enables/facilitates the person being coached to address the reality of the situation e.g:
- As things stands is it possible to achieve the Goal?
- Does the individual have the means available to achieve the Goal?
- What obstacles are preventing them from doing so?
- What obvious and hidden assumptions are being made?
- What has been learned so far?
In subsequent coaching sessions this stage includes assessing progress towards achieving the Goal.
O – Options
The coach encourages the individual to think through and identify ALL the options for achieving the Goal given the Realities of the situation.
- How can the obstacles be overcome?
- What training or assistance may be needed?
- Does the coach need to apprentice the individual through a “Show and Tell” Modelling the Way process? (see Christian Leader Coaching: Three Important Tools)
It is important to stimulate creative thinking when identifying the options. Human beings tend to think along the same old paths, force fitting new circumstances into patterns we have seen before. Most times these patterns are near but not perfect matches, and so the accompanying solutions, that we used last time, are often less than appropriate.
W – Will (or Way Forward)
This step concerns itself with the “What Next?” question. The person being coached chooses a way forward and commits to the appropriate action plan. It is an agreement between the coach and the person being coached covering:
- Setting SMART objectives (see Christian Leader Coaching: Three Important Tools)
- The clear definition of the steps required to achieve the Goal
- Identification of the support that is required and how it will be provided.
- Determining how to deal with things that might go wrong.
- The future involvement of the coach to monitor progress and share learning.
There are a number of things that the Christ-centred servant leader needs to consider around the coaching relationship in order that it can be effective. You may find the following check list helpful:
- Agree the purpose and scope of the relationship.
Ensure that you have shared and agreed objectives with the person being coached and that you can identify when the goal has been achieved.
- Agree the regularity of interaction.
Will it be a one-off or a regular session, how frequently will you meet?
- Determine the type of accountability.
Are you simply a guide and the individual is responsible to someone else? Do they have a moral responsibility to you as coach because of the effort and commitment that you make to them? Are you their boss and so from the line management/power perspective they are accountable to you? Etc.
- Clarify the level of confidentiality.
It may be they will need to share with you, the coach, matters that make them vulnerable. They will need to trust you not pass them on. Similarly, in your sharing of wisdom and experience you may need to be sure they will keep sensitive things confidential. Be careful not to make promises you cannot keep, something may be shared which you are legally or morally obliged to report.
- Evaluate the process from time to time.
It’s important to make sure the process with the person being coached from time to time. Is it achieving its aims? Is it having a benefit? If not why not and how can it be addressed?
- Modify expectations to fit reality
External change is an ongoing reality, additionally the development process for the person being coached is inherently one of change. Consequently, as they progress the realities of the situation may vary and expectations will need to be reviewed and addressed if necessary.
- Bring closure to the coaching relationship when the job is done.
The coaching relationship should not simply continue; once the goals have been achieved it needs to be brought to a conclusion. If coaching is needed for some other situation then that should be set up as a new and different instance of the coaching relationship. It may be with the same or a different coach. In any event it will have different objectives and criteria of success.
- Ensure an appropriate setting.
As coach you will need to make sure that coaching sessions are set up in an appropriate setting .e.g. where you can give your full attention, so no phones and in private if sensitive confidential conversations are required and so forth.
Considering the people that you lead:
- Is there anyone who needs coaching to move along their development path?
- Think through how the first coaching session with them might go.
- Set up a conversation to talk with them about coaching for improvement.
As a Christian Leader you will also benefit from coaching to help embedded your leadership learning into daily practice. Who could you approach to help you by talking through your leadership challenges?
The second part of this consideration of coaching – Christian Leader Coaching: Three Importnat Tools – looks at specific tools that the Christian Leader will find helpful as they coach those whom they lead.
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