Moving from trainer to coach

So you want to be a coach? If you’re already a trainer, it’s easy to assume you can quickly adapt to coaching. Matt Somers points out some pitfalls to avoid.

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Pivoting is all the rage at the moment:

  • Businesses are pivoting to new models and ways of working in response to Covid19 and the lockdown
  • Charities are pivoting to new processes and procedures as people work from home and communicate online
  • And individuals are pivoting to new jobs or doing old jobs in new ways

So how do you pivot from being a trainer to becoming a coach?
Returning to full classroom training may be some way off, and we may never return to the way things were. But there’s a limit to how much group training can be moved online. As a result, trainers may want to work more on a one to one basis. To move to this coaching role requires a fair bit of thought.

So, you’re a trainer that wants to be a coach
If you’re an accomplished trainer, you’ll hopefully know a bit about neuroscience, different speeds of learning, engaging learners by asking questions, spacing learning, reflection, and putting new skills into practice. The good news is that, as a coach, you will definitely need to draw on these skills.

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The bad news is that a lot of other things that you do as a trainer will be counter-productive as a coach. The most obvious of these is instructing or telling. In training – particularly technical training – these might be vital skills to pass on knowledge and information and check we have been understood. 

In coaching, we’re more concerned with helping learners find their own way forward and should therefore avoid telling and instructing. Tell or instruct someone what to do and you don’t just assume responsibility, you deny learners the opportunity to think for themselves. And your ‘recipe’ may not be quite as appropriate for your learner anyway.

A desire to help people achieve their own results is a useful starting point, but the best advice for the trainer come budding coach is to undertake some coach training.

Spoilt for choice
With the coaching profession still in its infancy, there’s a bewildering array of development options out there. You can choose from a 90 minute seminar, a series of weekend retreats or even a Masters level degree programme – all available online.

Each has its merits and my advice is to consider your own needs carefully. I get at least two enquiries a week from people wanting to know which is the best coaching qualification they could take. A little questioning soon reveals that they want to set up as an executive or life coach, and believe getting qualified will be a guarantee of untold wealthy clients. 

Personally, I have never been engaged on the basis of my coaching qualifications and I know of no coaches who have either. So choose coach training that has a curriculum that appeals, an appropriate study timescale and a delivery mechanism that suits your preferences and circumstances. It’s worth noting that costs can vary hugely, so that may be another consideration.

Afterwards, it’s a question of continuing professional development in the true spirit of the term. This means doing as much coaching practise as you possibly can. So much the better if this can be supported by feedback – and indeed coaching – from an experienced supervisor.

So, you’re a coach that wants to do some training
It’s more unusual for coaches to become trainers. But if you’re a coach who has done some group training, and want to more, again there are some initial considerations.

As a coach you’ll be accustomed to having people describe goals, analyse their current situation, generate options and commit to a course of action. The person you’re coaching is responsible for making their own decisions, and you know that they will learn more and become more self-reliant that way.

You can take these skills into the virtual classroom of course, but you may find that groups seem less able to take responsibility than individual coaching clients. 

This is probably because training is usually an appropriate intervention to address a knowledge or skills gap, and a quite different approach may be necessary. An analogy may help.

Imagine taking your finely honed coaching skills and applying them to driving instruction. Your next pupil is young Jennie who runs towards you excitedly clutching her brand new provisional licence. Jennie takes the driver’s seat – for the first time – and the lesson begins:

“So Jennie”, you say, “you’ll notice a series of pedals beneath your feet. Tell me, what options do you have for depressing these in such a way as to move the car forward?”

Jennie would suspect she was being set up for a practical joke and would probably never use your driving school again. Clearly there would need to be some basic tuition and training before you could use coaching skills to help her develop advanced skills in her own way.

In other words, trainers tend to pick up learners earlier on in their development path than coaches, and we need to adapt our interventions to reflect this.

About Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the founder and Managing Director of Coaching Skills Training Ltd, a specialist training consultancy focused on the idea of the leader as coach. It operates throughout the UK and beyond, working in partnership with clients to ensure that what is intended is achieved. It has a wide and varied client list including charities.

As advocates of the coaching approach Matt works hard to make sure clients are able to continue developing the skills learned long after any initial project has finished. 

He is a leading voice on training and coaching in the UK publishing Coaching at Work in 2006 and Coaching in a Week in 2016. He holds an MSc in Human Resource Development and is a Fellow of the CIPD.

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