Is experience necessary in order to be a good coach?

So this was the question raised on Twitter last week by my friend Sukh (@sukhpabial), asking whether life experience, work experience and coaching experience all contribute to being a good coach.

Sukh also asked “does experience equal credibility in being a good coach?“… a related but perhaps different question.

Is experience necessary in order to be a good coach?

Firstly, let’s deal with what we mean by “a good coach” and I’m going to take it that we are talking about coaching within an organisational setting.

Being “a good coach” for me means that you help the client achieve sustainable change using a contracted & ethical coaching approach that follows the clients agenda. The change may be a different way of the client seeing their situation or it may be that they change the way they perform or behave – there’s a reasonable spectrum. However, the result of coaching is about achieving and sustaining change – if not what good is it?

So when “good” is defined thus, coaching competence matters quite a lot and is achieved through training, ongoing development, coaching experience as well as experience of being coached. These all develop over time and add to your experience as a coach.

So the more hours of coaching you’ve done the better you are?

Many accreditation schemes would use coaching hours as a yardstick, yet we know quality is often much better than quantity. I’ve also come across plenty of “peers” with similar or even greater years of coaching experience than myself who for various reasons I would never recommend as a coach.

So in being a good coach, I would say coaching experience matters but not as much as your competence, track record with clients and your own active development. Any coach with 100′s of coaching hours and without those fundamentals is just very successfully selling conversations…

So what about “life experience” & “work experience” – are they necessary to be a good coach?

Well theoretically (and there are folk who would doggedly argue this stance) life experience doesn’t matter. If you are a good & competent coach then you could be of any age couldn’t you?

Try testing that assertion with these scenarios, working on the assumption that the individual is good & competent and a trained coach:-

    • Could an 18 year old school leaver train as a coach and successfully coach a soon to retire manager on life transitions?
    • Could an 25 year manager successfully coach a senior executive of a FTSE100 company to develop a more empathetic leadership style?
    • Could 30 year old male coach with no children successfully coach a 35 year old woman on maternity leave considering worklife balance choices?
    • Could a 40 year old coach who’s never been to university, successfully coach an 18 year old students on career & university choices?

Hopefully these help to shed light on our own opinions on who can coach for what purpose based on apparent life experience (age). It also shows how life experience and work experience start to get a little mixed together – maybe that’s just as it should be.

It makes it trickier to answer the question of whether life experience & work experience contribute to being a good coach… here’s my take…

Life &/or work experience are no substitute for rich experience, the ability to build perspective and the skill of speaking with care & truth. For many of us we gain these through life & work but this doesn’t need to be the case.

Does experience equal credibility in being a good coach?”

In a great many ways all of the above experience adds to your credibility as a good coach. I think that connected to this is how you show up…

Are you authentic & trustworthy? Do people talk about you & your ability? Do you show & share your learning? Do you work in a professional manner?

Much of how we show up is a reflection our experience. It’s also an expression of our values, ethics and who we want to be in this world.

So experience doesn’t equal credibility in being a good coach. However, I think it does represent others belief in whether we truly are a good coach.

What do you think?

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