Three things I've learned in my first three months of coaching

20 October 2023

Jeff Slater, Full-time MBA Careers Coach, digs into what he’s learnt in his first three months of coaching, and how professionals from all backgrounds can benefit from a coaching relationship.

It’s been three months since I started working at Warwick Business School (WBS) as a Full-time MBA Careers Coach. Obviously, I can’t claim to know everything about careers (or coaching) after working in the role for so short a time, but I have learned a bit – so I thought I’d share.

It’s a bit meta, in a way. It turns out that a job I really enjoy doing is helping other people find a job that they’ll enjoy doing.  

Coaching is fun. It’s about being alert, intentional, responsive, reactive, caring, considerate, empathetic, communicative and approachable. To be wise and pragmatic while witnessing someone’s mind open up to new possibilities and alternative perspectives is such a joy and a privilege. It’s part priest, part wizard, part confidante, part friend. It’s all professional. I love it.

The power of questions

Anyone who has done – or received – much coaching will have come across the concepts of directive and non-directive coaching. Simply put, non-directive coaching focuses more on asking questions and allowing (or supporting) the coachee to find the solution themselves.

I had the privilege of receiving a coaching supervision session recently (kinda like a check-up on how my practice is going; like a priest might go to a confessor). One of the things I noticed about how this experienced coach approached the conversation was that they spoke very little and asked questions. These were seemingly simple questions, but the more space my supervisor left for me to respond the deeper my reflections became. It ended up being a very deep – potentially life-changing – conversation.

All because they asked questions.

And listened.

I’m still figuring out where on the directive, non-directive scale is my personal preference. Recently I’ve been reading Challenging Coaching by Day and Blackey. This has been super helpful to think about how we might respond to the needs of different clients by being adaptive.

The importance of humanity

It is so tempting to fall between two stools in a coaching conversation. It is also possible to sit entirely on one stool without getting up, moving, and sitting on the other stool. These two stools are process and logic-driven (outcome-focused) or emotional and empathic (person-focused) approaches. A truly effective coaching session might utilise both of these mindsets. One is not worse than the other, although it might be less intuitive or natural.

Flexing to use different approaches in different contexts is massively helpful. However, if using a coaching model or methodology, it’s so important to remember that there is a human on the other side of the conversation.


Check in.

Ask what they want from the session.

Their answers may surprise you (and often do!).

Being able to respond in the moment is part of what the coach is expected to do. If the agenda is primarily led by me, it may not be 'scratching the itch' that the coachee came to speak to me about. To ‘treat others as you want to be treated’ is one of my favourite phrases. Applying it to coaching is sometimes harder than it looks.

The energy of authenticity

Some moments of ‘unlock’ have come from sharing my own experiences with coachees. (It’s usually best to ask permission before doing this, since the session is not about you, but about them!). However, helping people to know that they are not alone, sharing some tips and tricks and strategies that have helped me, e.g., with prioritisation (MoSCoW frameworks, any Agile practitioners out there?) can aid growth.

Balancing this, one piece I have been reflecting on recently is the importance of boundaries. If you haven’t read it, I suggest Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries as a good introduction to this subject. Wise boundaries protect both ourselves and others.

Sharing inasmuch as you feel comfortable to can build trust and create a space for open dialogue. Sensitivity and sensibleness work hand-in-hand here for the common good. (Thanks, Jane Austen.)

(Cheeky fourth point) Continue to learn.

And the journey of learning continues! A few weeks ago I submitted an application to a postgraduate certificate in coaching. Call me nerdy, but I love learning new stuff. Very excited to – hopefully! – begin a new course combining academic rigour and reflection with practical application. (I'm still an apprentice at heart.)

Jeff currently coaches on the Full-time MBA programme. Discover more about our coaching and careers provision here.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn:

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