Coaching is one of those terms everyone uses and many don’t exactly understand. In order to begin developing coaching skills, we need to start by defining what we mean and provide some context using data to support it.

What is Coaching?

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the leading global organization dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high standards, providing independent certification and building a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals.  It defines coaching as partnering with others in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. In other words, you are helping another person think through something that will unlock possibilities that were not previously obvious or available to them.

At The Conference Board, a global member-driven think tank that delivers trusted insights for what’s ahead, I lead a group of leaders who head up Executive Coaching and Leadership Development mainly in Fortune 500 companies.  In that group of professionals, we differentiate coaching in several ways: 

  • The Coaching Function: the group within an organization who manages and/or delivers coaching as a standalone offer or embedded in development initiatives. They often train internal people to be coaches or hire external coaches.
  • Coaching Roles: Internal coaches are trained HR or line leaders; Externals are trained, often certified coaches who are outside of the business.  
  • Coaching Skills: A key competency or set of behaviors that leaders practice with people below, above and laterally.

Some Interesting Stats

According to a recent ICF Global Coaching Study representing 161 countries and over 22,000 responses:

  • The number of managers/leaders using coaching skills is estimated to have risen by almost half (+46%) from the previous study.
  • The largest number of those leaders hail from Generation X (born between 1965-1981), followed by Boomers (1946-1964) and Millennials (1982-1996).
  • Females account for 68% globally and 77% in North America of managers/leaders using coaching skills. 

It is heartening to see that coaching skills are being recognized as critical and are being used more by leaders and their teams. It is not surprising that women leaders excel at coaching, underscoring the research of why companies benefit from having women leaders in general and why women leaders are often role models in being talent champions who develop others. 

Essentials of Coaching

There are three fundamental pillars in Coaching that are all important and must happen concurrently for leaders to truly uplevel. In our work with leaders and teams, we always focus on these 3 levels, with a brief overview below. 

For example, the biggest reason 80% of all New Year’s resolutions are forgotten by February is because people focus on their Skillset without considering Mindset. In order to truly transform all three of these need to be working in tandem with each other.  

1.  Mindset. Some of my favorite books cover how you are approaching your mindset. In Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Dr. Adams focuses on being a “learner versus a judger”; Dr. Fred Kofman describes in Conscious Business “learners and knowers”; and Dr. Carol Dweck focuses on Growth Mindset. All of these are foundational approaches to our mindset being open, curious and interested versus being “right” and having the “answer.” 

In a session I was leading on BOLD leadership at Columbia Business School this week, after pairs returned from a peer coaching session, one woman remarked that she was initially nervous to coach her peer because she didn’t know how to. The woman she coached responded, “She was a GREAT coach! She was present and I felt truly heard by her. I had a breakthrough!” This interaction shows that the mindset, or intention we have to support others, is most important to what we bring in coaching. 

2.  Toolset. There are many tools we use in coaching, too many to share here. Neuroscience is where I get some of my favorite tools. For examples of questions, The Coaching Habit is one great resource for questions. Coaches have tools and models we use to help people create new insights, organize thoughts and plan actions. 

3.  Skillset. Skills are the behaviors we use in our conversations. While there are many we use in coaching, the skills below are core to what we practice in every conversation. Coaching skills are keys to enhance relationships with every important person in your life. 

Core Skills of Coaching

Each of these topics deserves and has scores of books and articles written on the subject. For our purposes, we are going to bottomline highlights of three core skills you can focus on to become more coach-like in the development of others.    

Core Skill #1: Listening at Level 3

Real Listening and hearing are very different. 

As we discussed in the last article on Listening at 3 Levels, there are three levels of listening, and in coaching it’s essential to use Level 3 Deep Insight Listening which you can read about here

When you are listening at Level 3 – Deep Insight Listening – you are more interested in them and are able to “listen from nothing”, being a blank slate, neutral and unattached to your own point of view, what you think the “right answer” is or what you think they “should” do. 

Tip – get very interested in your “Should’s” – they are usually in the driver’s seat! Check out this post on Should’s and how you can drop them. It’s so tempting to tell others what they should do! – and that is unfortunately not coaching. If it were, everyone would be a great coach. 🙂 

Deep Insight Listening requires a high level of being present. 

Without it, your listening revolves around you instead of them

We all have voices that are constantly commenting and critiquing, often impulsively wanting to jump in to talk about ourselves (I have the same issue with my team!), to give advice (the easiest way to handle that is to…) or to judge (why don’t you just tell him what you need?).

When you practice Deep Listening, it’s about them, not about you, which is nearly impossible for most people. 

In our world, leaders equate doing with solving problems and listening with doing nothing, which couldn’t be further from the truth. 

When we teach Coaching Skills, we often hear leaders remark, “It feels like I’m not doing anything! It was hard to hold back my opinions and ideas! I kept forgetting and jumping in with my own ideas.”

Level 3 Listening is the biggest gift you can give anyone and more often than not leads them to the insight they need.

Core Skill #2: Asking Powerful Questions

Coaches ask questions they don’t know the answer to. 

Think about it – how many times do you inquire as a blank slate versus one where you have an idea, inclination or input to where to go?  Most people ask closed questions, such as “Do you want peas or carrots? Do you think this is the right role for you? Don’t you want to say yes to this project?” (You can hear the not-so-subtle manipulation in that last question).

Examples of how to craft powerful questions we don’t know the answer to: 

  • Open questions: These allow others to think and explore. Questions such as: What is most useful to focus on today? What is the biggest challenge for the team right now? What strength do you bring that is most important to leverage in this role? If you could give this person your best, heart-felt advice, what would you tell them? What would have to be in place for you to say yes?
  • Wide-net questions: These often make people pause and take a breath, often saying “that’s a good question. I don’t know.” (A key skill to sneak in here – Silence. Wait, pause, don’t say anything. Let them marinate). Questions such as: If you were to create any possibility, what would you create? If you could be any kind of leader (or parent or friend), how would you want people to remember you? If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you go for? What inspires you?
  • Range questions: When my daughter was in first grade, she really wanted a dog.   She asked my husband: “Dad, if a 10 is ‘a dog is on our doorstep’ and a 1 is ‘we are not even having the conversation’, what number are you today?” He answered a 3. Then she followed up: “What would it take to get to a 10?” When she asked a few months later, he was at a 5. Then later, he was an 8. The last time a friend was present who then asked, “Do you have to be a 10 to get a dog? Can you get one at an 8?” We got our first dog a week later. 

Other examples: “On a scale of 1-10: how comfortable are you? How likely do you think this is to happen? What is your level of readiness?” 

Follow-up questions to close the gap are key. Such as, “What would it take to get to a 10? Given where you are, what do you need most?”    

Core Skill #3: Creating Space to Allow Insight

Getting advice breeds compliance. 

Creating an insight results in commitment. 

When you are practicing Deep Insight Listening and asking powerful questions, you are allowing space for the other person to have their own insight.

Insight comes from the Middle English “inner sight, wisdom.” There is a knowing in all of us, and when we are constantly moving, doing, thinking, we often cannot or do not access what we already know. 

One secret skill of coaching is creating a space for another to slow down, stop to think, reflect and allow the deepest thinking and knowing to emerge. While this can happen without a coach, very often people need the structure of taking the time and space to allow themselves to access their best thinking, combined with the powerful combination of listening and questions from someone else. This enables them to get to a new insight faster and with greater possibilities identified than attempting to do it alone.

We can’t do anything alone. Asking for help, early and often, is a core leadership practice, and engaging a coaching team – paid and unpaid – is the key to being successful in all areas of life.

My coaching team is anyone who can help me get out of my own way, see new insights, create new possibilities and take action I wouldn’t necessarily take on my own. My team includes one coach who helps me grow my business; another coach who focuses my husband and me on our financial planning; another coach for support with writing; and when I had puppies, I had a coach to help me train my dogs. Then there are people who wouldn’t call themselves coaches per se, and yet that’s what they did helping me with everything from exercise and food planning to helping me navigate the college application process. 

Ask Yourself:

  • If you were to record yourself, how good a listener are you, really? (Tip – be honest! Most people think they’re much better than others assess them to be.)
  • What is the biggest opportunity for you to explore in the questions you ask? (Tip – slow down, formulate questions with care. The slower you go, the better the questions.)
  • What are you doing alone that could be enhanced by engaging others? (Tip – you don’t have to call it “coaching” you’re asking for!)

Please feel free to reach out to Gisele Garcia Shelley if you’d like to connect about how to apply these learnings, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenge you are facing today.

Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health. 

Remember to find resources to inspire you here.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in practice,



If you are interested in exploring how to unlock the potential of yourself, your team or the women in your organization , contact us for a complimentary discovery conversation.

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