The Power of Coaching Skills

By Marci Mayer Eisen

When Deborah Grayson Riegel first brought her Jewish Coaching Academy™ to the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Millstone Institute in November, 2014, we were seeking to sponsor leadership training and to maximize a shared learning experience between professionals and volunteer lay leaders. I knew Deborah was a dynamic presenter and I anticipated that coaching skills were a proven methodology that aligned with Jewish values to explore deeper listening, use of inquiry and impact on the culture of staff teams and boards.

What I didn’t realize at that time is that coaching skills would have major influence on many, including myself. Now planning our 4th year of multiple cohorts, engaging nearly 180 professionals, volunteer leaders and community partners, coaching training has become a core initiative of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. As a result of the feedback from the initial cohorts, I was inspired to participate in an 18 month process to receive the ACC credential through International Coach Federation (ICF). Even after 35 years as a professional in the Jewish community with extensive continuing education, becoming a certified coach has truly been life changing.

How is coaching different than consulting, mentoring or managing?

Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. (International Coach Federation)

Coaching is guided by a set of skills and ethics with recognized standards throughout the world. All coaching programs sanctioned by the ICF share the same foundation of skills and body of knowledge. It is then up to the coach to determine how to focus their skills – from life coaching to team coaching, career coaching and executive coaching, just to mention a few.

Integrating coaching principles can advance the work of any professional or leader, no matter their background, but that does not make one a coach. Consultants generally use research and interviews to assess situations. Yet the work of consultants is based on making recommendations drawn from their own education, past experience, and expertise. Mentors provide a supportive, caring relationship to help someone else advance professionally. Like consultants, mentors frequently bring in their own experience and advice. Managers can enhance work relationships through presence, deep listening and inquiry. These skills are also beneficial to empower and motivate staff and teams to action. However, managers have a simultaneous responsibility to represent the goals of their organization, provide clear direction, clarify expectations and measure success. In other words, coaching skills can be incorporated into effective consulting, mentoring and management, but each have their own purpose, distinct from coaching.

What makes coaching distinct?

  1. Coaches consciously take listening skills to a deeper level with physical and emotional presence, including when coaching over the phone. Coaches are trained to listen deeply to what is being said and notice what is also showing up through emotions or body language. Coaching means turning down the voices in your own head to fully focus on the other person.
  2. Coaching requires that the client sets the agenda and is seen by the coach as fully capable of identifying their own goals and solving their own challenges. Coaches remain objective, supportive, and optimistic. Coaches don’t give advice, except for rare occasions where it is requested and does not interfere with the client’s own problem solving (note: withholding of advice is the hardest skill for most new coaches to learn).
  3. Coaches explicitly state and honor that the relationship is based on confidentiality and trust. Coaches create a contract with clear expectations for the coach-client relationship. Coaches use assessments, personality tools and feedback from supervisors and colleagues when appropriate.
  4. Coaches stay in a mindset of authentic curiosity and take inquiry to a deeper level. Coaches help the client identify values, hopes, dreams, and new possibilities along with specific goals and priorities. Coaches assist the client with exploring factors getting in the way of desired change. Furthermore, coaches help clients concentrate on the desired behavioral changes and help them stay on track through a series of short-term commitments that are continually reviewed and reprioritized by the client.

How is coaching used in Jewish organizations and what is the potential for the future?

  1.  One-on-one Executive Coaching for CEOs and senior managers: Hillel International, led by Scott Brown, former Vice President for Talent, in partnership with Rae Ringel, was one of the first national Jewish organizations to embrace coaching as a significant skillset to advance the work of campus executives. Many agencies now include coaching as part of the package for a new executive.
  2. Coaching as part of leadership/executive training: Organizations such as the Wexner Foundation through their Field Fellowship and Leading Edge through their CEO Onboarding, include professional leadership/executive coaching as a key component of high level training.
  3. Team Coaching: Coaches with skills in group dynamics within organizations can be hired to help executive teams, boards and/or departments address timely issues, resolve conflict or facilitate planning.
  4. High quality day-long seminars: With the best example in the Jewish community being Deborah Grayson Riegel’s Jewish Coaching Academy, we encourage other communities to explore the many benefits. Note that in St. Louis we have followed up Deborah’s training to offer additional sessions to allow alumni opportunities to review and utilize the skills.
  5. Introduction to Coaching Workshops: Utilize qualified coaches with skills in training to help individuals practice listening and inquiry. I have recently developed a workshop which presents coaching basics and provides participants with an opportunity to experience how to shift from being the expert to bringing out the expertise in the other person.
  6. Coaching Circles: Jewish Federation of Cleveland utilized the expertise of executive coach and former Jewish Federation HR director, Jennifer Cohen, to create Leadership Coaching Circles through Women’s Philanthropy. Their six month program, coordinated by Lisa Hacker, Director of Women’s Philanthropy, was created to give participants opportunities to connect to one another and enhance leadership skills and talents through meaningful conversations based on coaching principles.

Increasing research in neuropsychology proves what we’ve known all along – people perform at higher levels and are more open to change when there is trust, support, excellent communication and empowerment. I envision a time when coaching skills training is standard throughout leadership development programs. I also look forward to creating a network of coaches who include within their work a focus on the Jewish community. The long term benefits of coaching as a fully understood and utilized methodology in Jewish organizational life has tremendous potential. We all know how it feels to be heard, understood and respected. Clearly this is a goal we want for ourselves and throughout the culture of our organizations, and it is more likely to be achieved through the principles of coaching.

Marci Mayer Eisen, MSW, ACC, Director, Millstone Institute/JProStl, Jewish Federation of St. Louis.