I grew up playing team sports, and in that environment a coach was always someone who showed us how to win. They taught us skills, gave us a game plan, and confidently led us out onto field to execute what we had learned.
Today I do a lot of coaching, but it tends to be more about winning in life and ministry than winning a ball game. One of the core principles in life or vocational coaching goes something like this: ”The answers are within each person; the coach’s job is simply to draw those out.” That principle has helped me learn to ask lots of (hopefully) good, focusing, action-oriented questions; questions that help people discover what’s already in their hearts and on their minds and to own the decisions they make. Questions like:
- What are you hoping for?
- What would winning look like?
- What are some of the options you have?
- What could you do right now to move forward?
Coaching in that way has been both freeing, (I don’t have to have all the answers, which I don’t have anyway), and empowering, (self-discovery and self-determination are deeply developmental experiences).
But there’s also a built-in limitation to that purely socratic way of coaching and it hides in the word I just used twice in the above sentence: “self”. We need others—not just others to draw out the best in us—but others to impart something good into us. That goodness might come in the form of ideas, counsel, perspective, information, or wisdom. It might come as a needful reminder of something important we’ve forgotten or as a critical new piece of knowledge that opens up all new possibilities or solutions. But in whatever form it comes, it comes from beyond us, and in that we are reminded that we were created to live in community and not everything we need is already within us. We need each other to help us see what we haven’t seen, and to understand what we have not yet learned.
The other day I was having dinner with a pastor who is re-imagining what is church could be, and as we started to eat he said, “Rob, I know you don’t like to tell people what they should be doing, but you’re more experienced at this than I am and I really want to hear what you’ve learned.” He was giving me permission to bring more to the table than just questions. He was inviting me to share my experiences—not so that he could mimic them—but simply to learn from them.
In a sense he was asking me to put a little more mentoring into my coaching, and from time-to-time that’s exactly what we all need from those who have experienced things we have yet to experience.