7 Practical Skills of the Best Coaches


Very few people can climb to the top of the mountain alone. They need a guide and individual training. In fact, if the mountain is high enough, we all need someone who can help us get there.

It’s the same in leadership. I’ve been blessed with incredible coaches and mentors, I hope you have too, but if not, they are not out of your reach.

(For an article on the difference between coaches and mentors and key traits of the great ones, you can read it here.)

Perhaps you don’t have a budget for a professional coach, but my hunch is there is a business leader in your church or a pastor in a larger church near you that might give you an hour once a month, or maybe once a quarter. 

But you have to ask.

Don’t be discouraged if they cannot do it. Perhaps ask for just one appointment. If that isn’t workable, pray and ask another person. And when someone says yes to coach you, be a good student. Come prepared with your questions, and when you see them again, tell them what you did and how it went.

On the matter of being coached, sometimes God asks you to first be for another person, the very thing you desire for yourself. You have something to offer.

If you coach others now, the practical skills in this post will sharpen you by allowing you to reflect on the ones you consistently do well and the ones that need improvement.

If you are beginning to coach others, these skills will give you a great starting line.

Before we jump into the seven skills, here’s some helpful guidance.

Advice for all who coach:

  • Keep growing. The best coaches continue to excel in their field.
  • Know your heart’s motivation, why do you coach others?
  • Genuinely care about those you invest in. That always increases your impact.

7 practical skills of the best coaches:

1) Keep the relationship authentic

It’s impossible to coach someone toward life changing results if you don’t take the time to truly get to know them.

A great coach knows a person’s dreams and desires, their pressures and worries, their gifts and abilities. The coach takes the time to know a person’s story as it unfolds in a way that shows they care.

An authentic coaching relationship is a two-way street. The best coaches let you in at a heart-level so the personal connection remains real. This greatly enhances trust and the overall process of growth.It’s impossible to coach someone toward life changing results if you don’t take the time to truly get to know them.Click & Tweet!

2) Make expectations clear

Clear expectations in a coaching relationship are essential, in fact, without them, frustration is just around the corner.

The best coaches know that expectations are a reciprocal process. The person being coached must know where they want to go, and the coach must be able to help them get there.

However, the coach doesn’t own the achievement of goals. (If you think about it, that’s not possible.) The person being coached owns their own goals. As a coach you are responsible for the steps, (the process) to help them get there.

For example, if Charlie Wetzel, (John C. Maxwell’s writer) is coaching me on my writing skills, he doesn’t write the book for me, but he shows me how to do it, or do it better. I’m still responsible to do the writing. I’m responsible to finish the book.

Note: If you want help writing a book, Charlie is the best coach I know!

3) Get on their agenda

Let’s continue the idea of expectations and connect that to an ongoing agenda. Here’s a little discussed truth about expectations, they can change over time.

In fact, it’s often a result of good coaching. When someone grows, they change, and when they change some of their expectations follow suit. The best coaches adjust to the change.

The key in making that work is two-fold. First, as a coach, be sure to keep growing yourself and second, stay on their agenda! 

Coaching isn’t a program, it’s a process and it follows the contours of life including the ups and downs along with the curves and turns and needed adjustments.

Continually keep abreast with their expectations.

  • What to they want?
  • Where are they headed?
  • What do they need?

4) Practice intuitive rather than linear conversation

The best coaches practice intuitive conversation that begins with one good and intentional question. This is followed by careful listening that fosters wise counsel and creates the next intentional question.

There is nothing wrong with a list of prepared questions, in fact that is often useful. But it’s rarely as valuable as questions that occur in the moment, as the conversation unfolds.

This practice helps prevent a more predictable conversation and includes reading between the lines as well as extending permission to answer honestly in a safe environment. Coaching isn’t a program, it’s a process and it follows the contours of life including the ups and downs along with the curves and turns and needed adjustments.Click & Tweet!

5) Present measured growth challenges

I’m a floundering guitar player, but not because my coach is a bad teacher, it’s because I don’t practice.

One thing he does really well is discern what music is just difficult enough to challenge me but not so much that it discourages me. I don’t want simple, but over my head doesn’t help me at all.

A great coach knows how to measure the size and rate of challenges he or she presents to the person they coach. Too little and they are bored, (and don’t grow) too much and they become discouraged.

If you’re a parent, you have an intuitive sense of this. Just enough challenge for your child to stretch, but not so much that they feel defeated.

6) Give honest feedback

Giving honest feedback is one of the most artful skills any coach can employ. Most coaches lean either a little toward “easy” or a little toward “tough.” Knowing your bias helps you find a healthy balance.

Honest feedback also embraces timing and life experience. For example, if the person you’re coaching is going through a tough time personally, that’s not the time to push. That seems simple, but if you aren’t aware of what’s going on in their life, you will miss cues of how to appropriately coach.

My experience as a coach and with other coaches, is that in general we are often too easy. The truth is, they can take it. Always be kind, but you don’t help anyone if you aren’t direct and speak the truth.

The best coaches are not afraid to be direct and speak the truth and those they coach are grateful for it.The best coaches are not afraid to be direct and speak the truth and those they coach are grateful for it.Click & Tweet!

7) Pay attention

My personal (short) definition of great coaching is “pay attention.”

If a coach will stay in the game, be invested at a heart-level, and put think time into the process, then “paying attention” to words, behaviors, habits and patterns reveal exactly what you need to coach effectively.

If you pay attention, you can deliver the right words to the right person in the right moment – and become a great coach.

The best coaches add value in critical moments of a person’s life. Every meeting is not dramatic or life altering, it’s the cumulative effect of paying attention over a long period of time that produces great results.