What do you want to be when you grow up?

I am 31 years old, have been in China for nine years, and I have a masters degree—but I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  I’m not sure many people my age do.   Apparently some people at 57 don’t know what they want to be “when they grow up”, either :).  It was a much easier question when we were five. However, after a coaching session today I’m getting a clearer picture of what I might like to do.  And how I might get there.

For the past semester I, along with some of my colleagues, have been attending a coaching training program.  We are using the book “Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach” along with the workbook “Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills“ by Tony Stoltzfus.  This has been a valuable time that has opened up something for me of which I hadn’t been much aware.  Previously the word “coach” invoked the image of a yelling professional football coach like Denzel Washington in my favorite movie “Remember the Titans.”

So, I ask you.  What do you think of when you hear the word “coach”—of the non-athletic variety?  I know that sometimes the words “trainer” or “mentor” are used synonymously with “coach”.  Or pictures of “cheerleader”, “encourager” or “supporter” come to mind. However, I have learned that coaching goes a step further than all of these things, even though it can be acknowledged that all of these things have value in and of themselves.

People often say to me, “I have the spiritual gift of encouragement.”  The question I always always come back to is—“yes, but what does that MEAN?  Encourager how?”  You see, encouragement is more than about patting people on the back and saying “good job!”  It’s more than writing a beautifully crafted note that says “I am praying for you.”  It’s more than sending American candy to people who live in faraway lands. But, it certainly starts there.  (now, American candy and nicely scented things is a different story :)).

Whatever it looks like, encouragement is definitely more than handing out clichés and platitudes.  Instead, it involves truly and sincerely speaking into someone’s life.  Along with mentoring, coaching embodies this gift well.

I have been trained to do many kinds of tasks and projects.  I have a mentor that meets with me regularly who truly speaks into my life.  And I am learning now the value of coaching.

  • A trainer says, “here are the skills you need to learn in order to do your job well.”
  • A mentor says, “let me speak to where you are at, so this is some advice I’d give you as a learned person myself and expert in leadership and as one who has been there.”
  • A coach says, “I believe and have the faith that God has already started this work in you and is already active in your life, so I’m going to ask the right kinds of questions so that you can figure it out for yourself.  Then I will guide you toward an action plan while providing accountability and support as you act on what you know—but, you, the coachee, will do the hard part in thinking and owning up to that responsibility.”

Each of these are valuable.  Each of these has its place.  However, many don’t know the benefits of coaching because it seems so foreign.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier if I just gave you my advice?  Maybe. Oftentimes just handing out advice would be easier for both parties. But, if you truly want to impact people (and be impacted) you need to allow ownership to take place and unpack that potential within.

Coaching, at its essence, is about asking the right questions and listening a whole lot.  Turning off that conversation in your head and listening some more.  And asking more questions.  Listening and asking questions are the disciplines of believing in people, the author says.  He also says that information does not produce transformation- relationship does.  Unlocking those questions will allow the coachee to think of the answers for himself.  This will allow for true “ah ha!” moments because the coachee finally has ownership in the process.  It is saying “your own insight is much more powerful than my advice.”  It’s about building people, not solving problems.  And keeping people responsible is about building leadership capacity.  It is a support structure for change. It’s amazing how much time people all of a sudden discover they have when something like that opens up to them!

Coaching is having the faith that God is instilling a passion in this person’s heart for something in a specific role and season, and He allows us to be part of that awakening process.  That is a beautiful thing.


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