Blog Post: Humility – A Coach’s Most Effective Characteristic


I’m sitting on the plane next to a bully. I had a different name, but I realize the context within which many of you are reading this post. (If you’re curious, the name I first thought of has two words. First word starts with J. Second word starts with A).

I have been flying quite a bit for the past couple of years, and as a result I am in good standing with the airline – which means I get upgraded to first class with some regularity. Far and away, most of the people I meet in first class are sweet, humble, interesting, and gracious. While my own upbringing may have given me a negative assumption about those who sit in first class, I’ve found that assumption to be largely false.

But not today. Today I took my seat “up front” with others who obviously travel with some frequency, and noted that most folks were courteous, gracious and seemingly humble…and found the seat next to me empty…unfortunately that didn’t last long. After most folks had boarded the plane, the fellow seated next to me finally made his entrance. And it was quite an entrance.

Walking onto the small regional jet, my seatmate made a scene lugging his two carry-on items and plopping them down on the seat next to me as he opened the overheard bin to look for a spot to place his suitcase and briefcase. As he was making room in the bin above our seats, another passenger, who happened to be seated in the next row behind us, which was the bulkhead seat of the “coach” cabin, let him know that he had already been using that space and was simply retrieving something from his bag with the intention of putting it right back. My seatmate announced loudly, that “I’m in First Class and you are not, so I’m putting my bag here and you’ll need to find another bin”. The other passenger, to his credit, simply shrugged and turned around to the bin on the opposite side and stowed his luggage.

Once seated, my seatmate then placed a call on his cell phone and loudly announced to whomever was on the other end that “they had shut the airplane door, but I made them open it back up for me,”no doubt eliciting oohs and aahs from the listener as he reported his success in getting his way.

Finally, this J.A. berated the flight attendant over the fact that this aircraft did not have a power outlet so he could charge his Kindle and insisted she plug his device into the outlet in the galley. (She refused and he grumbled a bit more, but let it go).

I had a visceral reaction to this guy’s behavior and it got me thinking about humility. And while I have not (and at times still cannot) been able to claim this as a strong suit personally, I did ponder the principle that one of the key characteristics of a coach is her/his humility. Coaching requires it. Coaching cannot be effective if the coach does not display a measure of humility.

What difference does humility make for the coach?

First, a humble spirit helps us remember that the coaching relationship is all about the client and not about the coach. In many helping relationships, the very nature of it requires that the “provider” be overly confident, competent, and self-assured because the process and the outcome is largely a product of his/her thinking. However, in coaching the client is responsible for the outcomes. The client is the one doing the thinking, dreaming, discovering…and the coach is in a helping role, with the purpose of making sure the client comes up with the answers. And please believe me, that takes some humility. One of the first hurdles I (and many coaches) had was to put myself second and the client first. I was so accustomed to bringing value by problem-solving and solutions-generating, that I had trouble giving that up. It took a heavy dose of humility to trust that coaching could be effective if I held those things back. In fact, what I learned is that I can be MORE effective when I draw those ideas, hopes, dreams, and solutions from my client than if I deliver them.

Second, humility gives us a chance to believe that the client really does have it in them to figure out where they need to go and what they need to do to get there. When we humble ourselves and trust the other person – and the work of the Spirit in their life – we can trust that they don’t need our input and wisdom to solve their issues. I’ve found no quicker way to lose trust with a client than to begin replacing their thoughts with my own. And I’ve found no better way to resist that temptation than to come to the relationship and the conversation in a spirit of humility.

Third, coaches who demonstrate a humble spirit experience deeper learning and growth – for the client and themselves –  in the coaching relationship. A lack of humility on the part of a coach can make them less open to something new and different to take place in the coaching conversation. Coaches who think they “know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two” tend to let their own beliefs and experiences limit the outcomes for their clients. But coaches who approach the conversation from a place of humility tend to be expectant of new and wonderful things! Coaches who are humble anticipate that their clients will come up with powerful new insights, well outside of the coach’s own understanding and experience. Clients of humble coaches tend to SOAR! And the difference is the coach’s belief about what is possible.

An added benefit for coaches who bring humility to the relationship is that they experience more learning and growth themselves. When we can approach our coaching conversations with a spirit of humility, we are more expectant of, and open to great new insights for our clients AND for ourselves.

While I have a huge chip on my shoulder right now about the guy in the seat next to me, I am grateful for the reminder that humility is an attractive virtue…and in coaching it is the key to powerful relationships. I pray as you approach your next coaching conversation that you’ll bring the kind of attitude and spirit of humility that will make people glad to be sitting in the seat next to you.

2 thoughts on “Humility – A Coach’s Most Effective Characteristic”

  1. Great article Bill. I agree with you wholeheartedly. am beginning to realize that some coaches and coach trainers i have experienced do not share your sentiment wholely. They are very pushy and want their students to be as well. Keep on sharing my friend!

  2. Hi Bill Copper! thanks again for writing and sharing about humility and how we can it can be an effective tool for us in coaching. I so can relate, I have no problem believing in my clients to find clarity and generating solutions, it’s stepping back and believing that coaching can and will work.

    Thanks CAM!

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