The Heart of a Coach

Excerpted from Leadership Coaching by Tony Stoltzfus

Iíve worked with hundreds of aspiring coaches around the world. In the process, Iíve developed a training philosophy based on the idea of disciplines, skills and heart. While all three are needed for maximum effectiveness, the heart of a coach is the foundation. When you begin to think like a coach, believe in the coaching values and see others through the eyes of a coach, the coaching skills come naturally to you. Simply put, coaching is a radical belief in people, practiced in a consistent, disciplined way in order to help others grow. Understanding and embracing the heart of the coaching paradigm is vital to coaching success.

When you start with the heart of a coach, the coaching skills take on a greater significance. They are not practiced as stand-alone techniques, but as the disciplines of believing in people. Coaches donít listen because listening is a good technique, or because it is effective, or even because people like to be listened to. A coach listens because to listen is to believe in you. Itís a conscious imitation of the way Christ treats others. Listening is one of the most powerful, compelling ways to say, ďYou are a great personóI have confidence in you!Ē

When I practice a technique as a discipline, an important byproduct is that it changes me as well. For example, when I pray regularly, my ability to tune into God increases, I see more clearly how God is at work in my life, and I come to value prayer even more. In the same way, when I listen habitually, my ability to tune into others increases, I see more clearly how God is sovereignly at work in them, and I come to value what they have to say even more.

Practicing the coaching techniques (listening, asking, goal-setting, taking responsibility) in a disciplined, consistent way is living the lifestyle of a coach. Itís when you believe enough in the coaching paradigm to reorder your own life around it that youíll truly be great at coaching others.

Your Biggest Obstacle

The biggest obstacle faced by the Christian coaching revolution is the get-skills-quick mentality we bring to leadership development. Everybody wants to go to a one-day workshop and then come out magically transformed into a coach. It doesnít work that way. That approach treats coaching as a set of techniques, not a lifestyle. Practicing techniques on people just to get a certain result ultimately fails: technique without heart is manipulation. Sooner or later, people will realize that you are more interested in the results than you are in them.

Reading a book in a few hours wonít make you a coach either. Beyond whatís in this book, the things youíll most need to coach well are:

  1. To have your own heart genuinely and radically transformed by the coaching values;
  2. Lots of practice;
  3. Interaction with a professional coach trainer.

But, ultimately, everything comes back to your heart. If you have the heart of a coach, you can make every technique mistake in the book and youíll still transform peopleís lives.


Tony Stoltzfus is a long-time coach, the author of Leadership Coaching and founder of the Leadership MetaFormation Institute, a innovative training school that teaches coaching the heart.