Coaching As A Whole Life Skill

I just really pay attention to what people say and through that I can then reflect back thoughts they’ve told me about themselves that they don’t know about themselves. And allow them to unlock those doors to get to the places they want to go artistically.

—Rick Rubin


If you’re not aware of who Rick Rubin is (that’s his quote just above), let’s just say that to the best of my knowledge he isn’t a trained coach, but his words highlight how a couple of the key skills of professional coaching — in this instance: great listening and reflecting — can make a huge impact in all areas of life.

And Rubin has made some impressive impacts.

He is a co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, and former co-president of Columbia Records. Rubin, a rare white face in the field at the time, helped popularize hip hop in the early 1980’s producing acts such as Run-DMC, Public Enemy, and LL Cool J. But his range runs way further including hits for metal acts such as Metallica and Slayer, through alternative rock such as Red Hot Chili Peppers  and Rage Against the Machine all the way to country legends such as Johnny Cash.

I pulled the above quote from the 2021 documentary Rick Rubin: The Invisibility of Hip Hop’s Greatest Producer. 

Watch it below if you’re interested. I think it’s absolutely terrific.

I was totally caught with how Rubin, without any formal coach training I’m aware of, speaks of the heart of his own creative process in a way that equally points to one of the powerful engines of change in a coaching conversation— the ability to listen deeply and reflect back what someone’s said yet ‘don’t know about themselves’ in ways that help them think bigger and more creatively themselves and their situation.

All coaches know this effect when using the same moves. Those moments when a client will respond

‘Wow! Did I just say that?’

And then go on to explore from a whole new level. Simple but astonishingly effective.

It’s no coincidence that great listening and reflecting — a skill that coaching embodies in the competency of active listening — is the very first skill we teach in our coach training program. Rubin’s quote neatly underscores why that is so.

It’s also one that most of us rarely learn and almost never master.

In his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the late business guru and motivational author Stephen Covey aptly wrote thatMost people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Having this skill alone in our toolkit will clearly get you quite a long way not just as a coach, but in many other areas of life. The point here is that these are the very skills actively taught in good professional coach training programs which can and will improve all areas of one’s life.

What other skills do coaches learn that fit this bill?

There are many powerful conversational and inter-relational skills including those of simple empathy and the ability to emotionally self-regulate which are an essential part of any well-trained coach’s resources. Alongside coaching competency development and a wide range of skills, our program builds self-development into the training, emphasizing the truism that …

One simply cannot coach beyond their own level of development!

Powerful coaches have done (and continue to do) their own work and know themselves in ways which support them to hold the kind of  sacred space where a client feels truly safe, held and heard. Equally, this ‘skillset’ doesn’t (or certainly shouldn’t) simply evaporate when outside of the session. We need to be joined up and authentic and not simply an in-session persona. The well-trained coach is able to conduct themselves more effectively in all facets of their life. As a result, those around them can feel safer, seen and more able to be themselves.

This emphasizes our view that when one commits to becoming a truly powerful, embodied coach (at least to doing so with us!) one is committing to a lifetime of continued evolution, development and awakening.

One has to be a coach rather than merely do some coaching!

One’s presence — their state of immediate, mindful, empathic engagement with a full availability to the client and the moment — is an embodied state of being not merely a  garment one only wears in professional interactions.

The humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers (pictured left) captured a core element of this in his notion of Congruence also more simply called Genuineness or Authenticity. Great coaches live their way of being. In this view coaching is clearly a whole life skill, and a great coaching program will support you into being a more evolved, authentic and capable human as well as a truly effective professional.

Before we finish, one caveat with employing coaching skills as life skills is that unlike our regular personal interactions, the professional coaching conversation has a specific purpose: to help the client think differently, bigger and take actions to achieve their stated goals. Alongside maintaining the structure of a coaching session, the kinds of question we ask — called powerful questions — support that movement. Yet these type of purposeful questions simply aren’t fit for all of our personal interactions. It’s important to adjust to the type of conversation we’re having while still bringing the spirit of our skills to bear.

For example: we can still ask great questions, they just might not be ones which aim to help someone think deeper if all the other person wants is a friend to hear them. Or simply to have an easy chat.

Nonetheless, even that chat can be one infused with great listening, presence, curiosity, care and all the important qualities of coaching as a whole life skill.

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The Emergent Coach Training offers three training tracks from Level 1 ACC, Level 2 PCC & Core Program. Most of our modules can also be taken as stand alone professional training courses. All earn ICF core units.

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