There’s a BIG difference between a strength and a skill. As a coach, knowing the difference between strengths and skills can help you be a far better coach and help your clients experience greater success and fewer headaches.
What is a strength? Each person is born with certain strengths. These are the natural aptitudes, talents, and interests specific to each person. For example, some people are born with a strength for music – they have an ear for it, a talent for being able to hear and replicate musical scores. For the rest of us (the non-musicians), what they do seems a bit like magic. Musical strength is easy to understand. So is athletic strength. What’s more challenging to see are the less apparent strengths, such as those related to problem solving or interpersonal connection. For example, I have a friend who can remember names and faces without even trying. It just comes natural for him and he makes it look easy. He’s been good at it his whole life and has only gotten better at it as he’s gotten older.
What is a skill? A skill is a learned ability, or an acquired set of knowledge. While strengths are natural, skills are nurtured. Skills can be learned, even if you don’t have a natural strength. Anyone can learn to dribble a basketball. Pretty much anyone can learn to play the piano (at least at a very low level). I know this because I have almost zero musical strength and I have learned to play Yankee Doodle on our family piano. With (a lot!) more time and effort, I could probably develop more skill and learn to play more sophisticated tunes.
When it comes to strengths and skills, we need to keep four points in mind:
How do you lead a task when you only know a little? Most of us in ministry face this situation all the time. We lead because we’re the best we have, and that isn’t saying a whole lot.
I lead worship on Sunday night (who even has Sunday night church anymore) in a small church (over half the churches in America are under a hundred people) in a small town (under 4000 people). The bi-vocational senior pastor had a vision for Sunday night that it might be a dynamic, inviting atmosphere that would draw people interested in God but not interested in church.
On and off for the last 30 years, I’ve led worship in various small settings for one reason. No one else played guitar. I’m an adequate guitar player and a middling singer. It may not be torture to hear me but it doesn’t soothe the soul as did David’s harp for King Saul. Time improved my skills but practice would have done much more. And yet I lead a good worship band every week in a church that once again called me, “You are the only one who plays guitar.”
Today’s worship bands require an immense amount of expertise. Multiple instruments, multi-media, a digital soundboard, lead and harmony vocals, various rhythms, changing keys, engagement of a congregation, flow of worship, and certainly the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Even if I wanted, I could not be the expert in all these areas.
So I strive to know a little and coach the rest.
I LOVE this quote! Wimpy was a man after my own heart when it came to loving hamburgers. And while I don’t believe I ever bought a burger on credit, I most certainly share Wimpy’s desire to satisfy his hunger RIGHT NOW. I’ve just returned from an eight-day cruise during which I tried very hard to resist all of the tempting food that is available around the clock, and I must say that I didn’t do half bad in that department (for a change!!!)
I guess I’d say I owe my semi-success to a couple of factors. One being that summer is upon us and my beach body isn’t exactly ready for prime time. Another reason, though, is due to a book I’ve been reading about self control, human nature, and strategies for preparing our minds for those “hot” temptations that come our way. In The Marshmallow Test – Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success, Walter Mischel describes how his research with pre-schoolers a half-century ago has led to some key understandings about how our brains are wired to respond to the “immediate”, and how we can rework our human nature to give us time to think about the consequences – and to delay gratification now, for a preferred outcome later.
What do some people think when it comes to coaching? Well, they think the wrong things. Here are ten of the most common misunderstandings I’ve seen or heard from coaches and non-coaches alike:
- Coaches mostly give advice. People who know next to nothing about professional coaching assume it’s a lot like mentoring or advising. It’s not. Telling people what they should do is not very effective, which is why coaches help clients tell themselves what to do.
- Coaches never give advice. Too many novice coaches think they can never have a thought or give an opinion to a client. The best coaches are thought partners who offer advice now and then, but do so in a way that always keeps the client in charge of deciding what advice to accept, reject, or adjust.
- Coaches need to be experts. Some people think if you’re going to focus your coaching in a specialty niche such as C-suite execs, real estate, small business or personal finances that you need to know pretty much everything there is to know about that arena. Not true. Clients and other third party experts can bring much of the wisdom into those coaching relationships.
- Coaches need no expertise. There are two kinds of expertise in coaching: content (what we are talking about) and process (how we are talking about it). Coaches share the process expertise with clients, sometimes with the coach being more of an expert and sometimes with the client and coach being about the same. Some coaches find it helpful to have at least a working knowledge of the content if they specialize in coaching certain types of clients, but the client is always the overwhelming expert in their life and work.
- Only wildly successful people can coach. Some novice coaches wonder, “Why would anyone work with me?” They mistakenly think that only people who’ve won a gold medal or launched a successful IPO or grown a huge church can coach. But the opposite is often true: successful people sometimes have a hard time being in the second chair as a coach who helps others succeed.
- Anyone can coach successfully. While lots of people can coach well (no matter personality, or career history, or demographic), it’s not true that anyone can become a successful coach. At CAM, we have trained all types of people to become professional coaches, but some people lack the communication or other people skills to be good at it. Others lack the drive or skill set to actually get clients. Successful coaches can coach and can attract clients.
- Great coaches have to sell, sell, sell. Speaking of attracting clients, some seemingly successful coaching agencies are nothing by marketing engines running at full throttle. Most coaches don’t spend the majority of their time getting clients, they invest their time with clients.
- Great coaching sells itself. On the flip side of #7, it’s a myth that great coaching sells itself. All coaches have to give some effort to attracting new clients, retaining their current clients, and reactivating paused clients (I happen to believe there is no such thing as a “former client”).
- Coaching is like therapy. Thank goodness this one is false. After all, coaches are not trained, qualified, or licensed to provide medical or therapeutic help. Coaches don’t work with people who are clinically depressed, mentally unstable, or recovering from emotional trauma. Instead, we work with relatively healthy, functioning persons who are preparing for what’s next.
- Coaches don’t deal with emotions. When a client shows emotion, beginner coaches often get either sucked in to emotion or spooked by it. Emotions are data – showing that the client is experiencing real life in both thought and feeling. While coaches don’t deal exclusively with emotions, we are able to make space for clients to express anger, sadness, hope, fear, awe, joy, and lots of other emotions.