Neha asks:

“What do I do when I feel inadequate to coach other people but part of me knows I can definitely ‘enlighten' some? But what if I attract too smart, too knowledgeable ones?”

My answer:

That’s a great question, Neha, and the answer is one you may really like.

As a potential coach, we think we need to be smart. We think we need to have answers. We think we need to know just what to say, or just what to suggest, or just the right solution.

We’re wrong. We’re so wrong. We couldn’t be more wrong if we tried.

See, good coaches are not where the answers come from.

Good coaches are where the questions come from.

Coaches give permission.

Coaches guide thought.

Coaches ask interested questions.

Coaches know when to stay silent.

Coaches bear witness.

Coaches hold a space.

Coaches create safety.

The most important skill in a coach is knowing how and when to shut the hell up.

If you can ask a halfway decent question and then shut up for long enough to allow your client space to find their answer? You’re already the head of your class.

People don’t really go to coaches for answers. They go to coaches for help finding their own answers. They want help uncovering what they already know. They want permission to follow their instincts. They want space to think and percolate. They want a whole hour to just focus on their situation, their concerns, their world. They want someone to take them seriously.

This is even more true when they’re too smart and too knowledgeable. I’m pretty smart and I’m pretty knowledgeable, and God, I wish beyond wish I had someone I could talk to who would guide me through my own head. If you were my coach, I wouldn’t want you to tell me what you know. I’d want you to help me discover what I know.

For more on this, I recommend pretty much anything by my friend and fellow Toronto-ite, Michael Bungay Stanier. He’s the coachiest coach who has ever lived. I interviewed him for Write a Book With Me and he spent the entire time coaching me. I don’t think he knows how to turn it off. In addition to being ICF’s Coach of the Year and a Rhodes’ Scholar, he also wrote a few handy books. Do More Great Work and The Coaching Habit are the ones you’ll want.

Thanks for the great question, Neha.