By MICHAEL HEAH
When I was 51, I took on a coaching role for Ashram, who was only 17 at the time.
We spent six months together, working on building his social confidence, as his mum wanted me to get him ready to face the world outside.
It was one of my most successful mentoring roles and we have remained friends until today. Another case in my coaching experience was Richard, who at age 72 got me to become his mentor or coach; I was 53 then. Generation gap aside, we have stayed friends until now.
On the other side of the coaching fence, I am now being mentored and coached by a Turkish man who is in his 40s, while I am in my 60s. I also have a social media coach in his 30s – a young genius from whom I am constantly learning.
In over 14 years, I have been in many coaching roles for a wide range of people; they come from different age groups, backgrounds, social statuses, religions and others. All these people have offered me so many forms of learnings that continue to enrich my ability to effectively coach individuals. I am glad that I don’t have to think or use a different pack of tricks each time I encounter people from different demographics or personalities.
My career would have been so boring, frustrating and difficult had I been restricted to ‘who I could coach well’, and ‘who to avoid coaching’. This was because I do not have separate personality traits, differing values and skills sets that are needed for this or that generation of clients.
So, I quickly shrug off this hotly discussed topic of ‘who can coach who better’, or what ‘an older coach needs to do, (or not do)’ to coach someone younger because I am strongly convinced that we can coach anyone and anywhere whether younger or older as long we apply four universal fundamental principles in all our coaching endeavours. Allow me to share them with you.
1. Trust is to be earned
Perhaps the most important of them all is earning the trust of the client. Recently, I got to know a client of one of my colleagues, who said that he was put off right from the start.
According to him, this coach had “boasted about his credentials and experience for almost half an hour at the first meeting without even asking a word about my well-being”.
This 20-year-old lad was more put off than impressed with how this coach was trying to connect with him. This meeting proved to be the beginning of the end; he told his father he didn’t want to continue engaging him. I told myself that this coach could have earned his trust easily if he had just kept to a simple conversation or ‘small talk’. Instead, like many coaches whom I know, he was coaching from where he was, instead of where his clients were. This lack of adaptability cost him a client so early in the relationship.
2. Listen > Talk
Mindful coaches watch what they say so that they do not talk too much like an expert; they would choose to listen more, with humility and genuine interest in the other person.
Older coaches to younger clients or subject matter coaches to those seeking their knowledge, tend to show off their expertise, under the misconception that their position would give them the mandate to go on an ‘ego trip’ of non-stop rambling. In my experience, this part of ‘reducing the talking and increasing the listening’ is perhaps the hardest part of learning to be a good coach.
The act of listening says so much about the coach – he is interested in me, he is humble, and most of all, he is a nice guy!
This might interest you: Be A Leader: Are You Listening?
3. Respect people and make them feel valued
As a coach, I know that it is easy to lose this perspective as we can quickly get tempted to chip in, interject, disagree, offer another viewpoint when we hear of something that doesn’t jive with our values, beliefs and knowledge.
We jump into autopilot mode of correcting the person. Instead of solving the problem, it creates even more problems, such as: incurring the client’s wrath, burning bridges and unnecessary arguments.The end result: the client switches off from the conversation, and ultimately this destroys the relationship.
4. Start on a clean slate
Related to this, is the final one of starting the relationship on a clean slate, with no filters, prejudices or egos. In our coaching circles, we jokingly remind each other that we should not forget to park all these outside the coaching room before we get past the door.
Recommended reading: Are You Biased Without Knowing It?
Whenever I remember to do this, I feel so light as I’m no longer burdened to find the best solutions for my clients. I can let my thoughts flow freely; isn’t this what the young and the old want to have?
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Michael is an ICF master certified coach with Corporate Coach Academy and a faculty trainer with Leaderonomics.