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As a coach, you have to always keep learning and improving your skills to stay relevant and consistently deliver high-quality services.

Trends are currently changing faster than ever, and virtually every field of coaching and education is subject to constant innovation. This means that even the most successful coaches have to be aware that knowledge and coaching styles can quickly become outdated.

Without enough investment into your coaching skills, you might notice that:

  • You have a hard time connecting with new clients
  • Your existing clients are becoming less engaged
  • You feel like you’re not progressing your career

So how do you acquire new skills for effective coaching or improve your current coaching style?

In this guide, we go over the most important skills every coach needs and list actionable tips for improving coaching skills.

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What skills do you need to be a good coach?

Before diving into the specific skills that make a good coach, let’s define coaching itself:

Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.  — Sir John Whitmore, Coaching For Performance (1992)

Coaching is different from mentoring. A good mentor offers their advice and experience; a good coach asks lots of guiding questions to help their client find the answer for themselves.

In this way, coaching is very future-centric, which also sets it apart from therapy and counseling (often focused on analyzing the past).

There are lots of coaching styles that suit different types of clients. Some clients, especially if they are early in their journey, need more direction and hand-holding. For others, simply voicing their ideas is enough.

Good coaches have to meet people where they are. 

To become great at coaching conversations, you need to consistently improve a few essential coaching skills.

Coach with empathy

In any coaching course or session, make sure to pay full attention to the other person’s needs, not your own. Don’t think about how you’d do things. Instead, put yourself in your client’s shoes, and ask good questions so that they are able to figure out their own path through self-discovery.

Be a good listener

Active listening is critical to any type of coaching.

Try to be as attentive as possible, without jumping to conclusions. More often than not, your clients are going to find the answer themselves while explaining their thinking to you.

Stay calm under pressure

It’s essential that your clients stay as relaxed and comfortable as possible during your coaching sessions. This means you have to be calm and present, no matter the topic of conversation or any external pressures.

Our body language gives us away. And if you’re anxious, your client will start to mirror that anxiety, which will interfere with the coaching process.

Check your biases and don’t judge

Everyone is different. While it’s easy to look at someone through the lens of your own experience, what worked for you wouldn’t necessarily work for them. Your mission is not to impose solutions but to help your clients find their own. Remove any judgment from your coaching sessions — approaching each clients’ unique circumstances with an open mind will help you help them.

Communicate in an encouraging and respectful way

Being supportive of your clients is critical because it creates a safe space and fosters a good coaching relationship. Showing that you care about and respect them can help them open up with more ease — but it requires strong communication skills.

Focus on people’s talents and potential

Growth is a lifelong process. It’s always possible to improve something.

A good coach can identify the inner critic who limits their own potential and set high-enough expectations to inspire clients to act.

Be confident to inspire confidence

Being confident in your coaching process doesn’t mean doing the work for your clients. Instead, your role is to inspire them to demonstrate commitment and take responsibility for their own success.

The combination of the skills above, without doubt, will ensure more effective coaching. But what are some signs that your coaching might need a little boost?

When is it time to revisit your coaching skills?

Consistently working on your coaching skills, even as a successful coach, is a great idea. The best time to improve your qualifications is when you have plenty of clients and feel on top of your game. You’ll be easily motivated and absorb new ideas faster.

But there are also a few red flags that might suggest you should take a critical look at your coaching and potentially seek ways to get better.

You’re new to coaching

As with any other line of work, getting good at coaching requires lots of practice.

Managers who know how to coach employees and team members often try to jump into a coaching career full-time, without realizing that helping employees develop inside a corporation is not the same as guiding someone to realize their true potential in a non-work-related context.

So developing coaching skills at the very beginning is critical for your later success as a coach.

Your clients are not as engaged as they used to be

Even if you’ve been relying on a tried, well-thought-out coaching program for a long time, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to work forever. At some point, you might see that your clients are not as enthusiastic as they used to be.

This is the time to look for another approach or plan of action for your coaching.

Your work has become less satisfying

It could be that it’s not the clients who are less engaged — but you. You might not find your career as exciting as it used to be when you first started.

Whether it’s the process, results, or the overall purpose of your coaching, pausing and reevaluating your approach is the first step to bring you back on track.

You’ve been doing things the same way for a long time

Today, the world is literally changing before our eyes. Anyone who doesn’t want to be left behind has to change along with it.

So if your coaching style hasn’t evolved over the years, it’s likely that you’ll benefit from revisiting your process and finding where it could be improved.

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6 ways to improve your coaching skills

Coaching is a powerful way to help others progress and develop unique strengths. But to maximize your coaching potential, you need to make sure that you continuously reassess your coaching skills.

Here are 6 ideas you can revisit any time you’re thinking about how you could make your coaching practice better.

1. Never stop learning

Learning is a life-long pursuit. If you’re not constantly getting better, is your coaching business stalling?

Thanks to the Internet, the variety and depth of available learning experiences is pretty much endless. From online conferences, to one-day workshops, to university courses, and more. That’s besides industry newsletters, podcasts, websites, and YouTube.

In the coaching process, you should lead by example. Whether it’s management development or leadership skills, you should always have fresh examples and case studies on hand to back up your guidance.

Set a learning budget for yourself and make it a priority.

2. Find a coach for yourself

Being a coach doesn’t automatically make you an all-knowing expert who can resolve any situation.

In fact, coaches do need coaches too. You need to be able to ask someone questions and see what’s going on from a different perspective. Being a coachee will, in turn, make you a better coach yourself.

3. Set clear expectations for your clients

Coaching is not just having simple conversations. There is a clear goal for every session as well as long-term goals your clients are trying to achieve.

For any coaching methodology to work as expected, you need to set expectations that both you and the client are aligned on. Only then can you build out a plan that will help them improve.

At the same time, your client should be able to revisit their goals and vision as their priorities change.

Related: Use this free coaching program template to stay organized and deliver consistent quality to all of your clients.

Free Coaching Program Template: Download Now

4. Develop a template for your coaching sessions

The best coaches have a model (or a few) they rely on to keep their sessions structured and effective.

Models are situational and give you time-tested tools to improve performance. Models for leadership coaching can be different from the ones you’d use when you coach employees.

One of the most famous coaching models is GROW, first explained by Sir John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance. GROW stands for:

  • Goal: Both short- and long-term goals have to be set clearly
  • Reality: Explore the current situation the client is in
  • Obstacles and options: Identify what prevents the client from achieving their goals and what are the opportunities for moving forward
  • Way forward: Transform the best opportunity into an action-based plan

GROW has been used a lot in corporate and executive coaching for over 20 years. But there are dozens of other models out there for any area of coaching. SMART, for example, can help you create effective goals — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Knowing a few models and switching between them will have an immediate effect on your coaching versatility.

Besides, think about how you can adjust the sessions themselves to give your clients more flexibility. A spontaneous five-minute phone call can often do as much as a scheduled two-hour session.

Free Coaching Session Template: Download Now

5. Practice active listening

If there’s any single skill that can be foundational to good coaching, it’s active listening.

Active listening means not being distracted and not using the time your clients are talking to think about what you’re going to say next.

To improve active listening:

  1. Focus on everything your client is saying
  2. Maintain eye contact
  3. Ask clarification questions
  4. Stay on topic for as long as your client has something new to say
  5. Paraphrase and summarize what your client has said

Really listening to your clients helps build trust and lets them open up. It can even show you what your clients are not saying (by watching their body language).

Related: Use this free coaching session template to have more consistent, productive coaching calls.

Free Coaching Session Template: Download Now

6. Ask your clients for feedback

One of the fastest ways to improve your coaching skills is to ensure you’re always getting timely feedback from your clients.

The feedback process can be as simple as asking a few questions after every session or sending out an anonymous survey to all your clients every quarter or so.

Discuss the feedback you get with your own coach and create actionable steps to make your coaching conversations even more effective.

With all the coaching skills you can improve with the tips above, why not share what you know and scale your coaching business with an online coaching course?

Thinkific makes it easy to design, market, and sell online courses, helping coaches generate sustainable passive income. Start for free today. No programming skills required.

Scale your coaching business for free
Use Thinkific to make a bigger impact on your clients and earn more revenue — without trading your time for money.


Whitmore, John Sir. Coaching for performance: a practical guide to growing your own skills (1992). Nicholas Brealey Publishing.