After covering the logistics, the first lesson I teach our coaches is on listening, a subject Joel Comiskey hits on in lesson four of his book that I’m currently going through with our coaches — “Coach: Empower Others to Effectively Lead a Small Group.”
Comiskey points out that coaching is quite simple — it consists of focusing on the needs of others rather than your own, primarily through careful listening. But while it’s simple, that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. He cites Stephen Covey, who said, “Most people do not listen to understand; they listen in order to answer. While the other is talking, they are preparing their reply.”
Fortunately, with intentionality and practice, we can become much better listeners. It requires hard work and some intentional skills. Comiskey mentions eye contact, which is one of five steps to attentive listening I talked about at our Helping People Grow May Term group:
- Squarely face the person
- Open your posture
- Lean towards the other
- Eye contact maintained
- Relax while attending
These steps are helpful for communicating to your leaders that you are listening and are interested in what they have to say.
Comiskey also talks about the importance of paying attention to non-verbal communication. This is one of the reasons why I much prefer in-person coaching meetings to phone calls or even Skype or FaceTime. Non-verbal communication such as body language and voice inflection actually make up the majority of a communication experience and much of that can be missed if you’re not in-person. Or, of course, if you’re not listening well!
Listening is a basic skill but one that’s incredibly essential to any relationship — we would all benefit from becoming more effective listeners.
Our NCC small group coaches are slowly working through “Coach: Empower Others to Effectively Lead a Small Group” by Joel Comiskey. Lesson three focuses on the importance of planning rather than simply hoping something will happen in your coaching.
Plan to Pray for Your Leaders
I appreciate the fact that Comiskey starts out by emphasizing a need to plan to pray. When we first started our coaching system, I neglected to tell coaches that one of their key responsibilities is to pray for their leaders. Hopefully I thought that was a given, but regardless I now try to be clear that they need to be praying for their leaders and regularly checking in to ask their leaders what they can be praying for. Comiskey reminds us that we are engaged in a spiritual battle — through prayer we can support our leaders even when we aren’t with them.
Plan to Contact Your Leaders
When it comes to coaching, the more proactive we can be about contacting our leaders, the better. I try to send our coaches regular reminders to be contacting their leaders, but the best coaches won’t need a nudge from me. My own coach is very intentional about this — at the end of each meeting, we get the next meeting on the calendar, which is a good way to ensure they happen on a regular basis.
Comiskey also hits on group coaching and phone calls. While I generally steer coaches toward one-on-one meetings, we give them flexibility and a few have found coaching as a group to be very effective for their leaders. Coaching phone calls, on the other hand, can be a potential solution for coaches and leaders who have trouble coordinating their schedules (a common problem in DC).
Plan Your Questions
Our initial coach training emphasizes two things — listening well (which Comiskey hits on in lesson 4) and asking good questions. On the questions front, we want our coaches asking open questions, which have a neutral tone and can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no” response. While it may be a struggle to come up with such questions in the midst of a conversation, Comiskey reminds us that we don’t have to — we can plan questions in advance as we think about individual leaders’ specific circumstances and needs.
In addition, after a coaching meeting we should always record our observations and insights in order to remember what we should be praying for as well as to better prepare us for the next meeting. Being able to refresh our memory before each meeting will enable us to build upon each conversation.
Plan Your Visits to Small Group Meetings
Having coaches visit small groups has never been an official part of our system, although I’ve recently begun throwing it out as an option to our coaches. Comiskey wisely points out that there are some issues a coach will never be aware of unless they visit the leader’s group and he provides some guidelines for doing so, declaring that your primary objective is to encourage the group and the leader. We’ve been hesitant to require this, given our short semesters and concern that leaders would misinterpret the visit as checking up on them rather than as trying to encourage them. But it’s something we may explore more in the future.
Comiskey reminds us not to let our plans lock us into a course of action, but as I’ve mentioned, we often remain flexible in other ways as well. We encourage our coaches to do what works best for them and their leaders — group coaching, coaching phone calls, and small group visits are all options they can try if they think it will be effective. We really want them to take ownership and discover what works for them. And as we like to say at NCC, “everything is an experiment!”