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What Skills Do You Need To Be a Coach?

A business coaching session discussing items written on a whiteboard

The power of coaching is increasingly recognised.

Business coaching can boost productivity and morale.

It can change the mindset of those you work with and help you create a team that doesn’t need micromanaging.

And it can aid leaders as they steer their organisations through change and reach new heights.

But there is a question that keeps coming up – what skills do you need to be good at coaching?

This is something we look at on our new online ILM Level 5 course in effective coaching and mentoring.

But we felt it is something we should also explore in our business coaching blogs.

So, I caught up with independent business coach Tienie Loubser.

Tienie believes there are four skills to focus on:

  • Asking the right questions
  • Listening
  • Moving things forward
  • Giving supportive feedback

These are underpinned by:

  • Vulnerability
  • Reliability
  • Integrity
  • And – most importantly – empathy

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Asking the right questions

Good coaches know how to ask the right question.

But what is the right question?

Well, it is a question that helps the person you are coaching reflect, see their actions from a different perspective, elaborate on an issue and think more creatively.

There are a lot of questions your leaders can use, and our ILM Level 5 course in effective coaching and mentoring will help them build a bank of questions for their coaching.

Tienie said: “The vital thing to remember is that these questions are there to help people prepare for their coaching.

“We don’t want people to memorise them. And we don’t want you to repeat them word for word – questions must sound natural.

“The worst thing would be for a coach to be sat in a session desperately trying to recall the question they feel they should ask next and not listen to what the other person is saying.

“That may mean the coach finds themselves in a position where they don’t know what to ask next. The key is to respond authentically - ‘That’s a great response. I don’t know where to go with this. Where do you think we should be going with this?

“Those sorts of things show the coach is listening and is present in the conversation.

“Over time, coaches develop a bank of about 20 questions they regularly use that they can tailor to what the other person says.”


There is a tendency to make listening seem unnecessarily complicated.

You’ve probably heard people talk about ‘active listening’, ‘effective listening’ or ‘proactive listening’.

They are all pretty meaningless.

And I much prefer Tienie’s definition - “You are either listening or you are not”.

Ultimately, a coach needs to listen attentively to understand an issue, explore it in more detail and ask the questions that help the person they are talking to find a solution.

But can people improve listening skills?

“Listening skills can be developed,” said Tienie.

“A technique I use is to practice in a crowded room not being distracted by the people next to you and focusing on the individual you are talking to.

“Also, make sure you are not just listening to the conversation to find a space where you can add your bit.

“You need to listen to what is being said, and potentially, what is not being said, so that you can explore that.”

Other options include taking notes, which can help keep you focussed, and summarising or paraphrasing. It helps to show a coach is listening when they summarise what has just been said.

And it creates a little time for the coach to think about what to ask next, rather than thinking they need to ask a question as soon as the other person stops talking.

Moving things forward

Something always needs to happen as a result of a coaching session.

Coaches need the ability to ensure there is some progress and a clear way forward from each session.

This involves setting actions.

And it can be as simple as ensuring the person they are talking to understands the next step they need to take.

“But ‘moving things forward’ is not just about meeting the objectives of the person you are coaching,” says Tienie.

“It is also about the growth of the relationship. And the growth of the relationship that person has with other people as a result of the changes they are making through the coaching.”

Supportive feedback

Feedback is a pivotal part of business coaching.

It must be given regularly.

But it is vital coaches don’t fall into the trap of giving general praise - or criticism.

Tienie says it is vital coaches provide feedback that is not only constructive but is also supportive.

But what is supportive feedback?

Tienie said: “This is about catching the person you are coaching doing things right. ‘I love what you did there – do more of that’ is supportive feedback.

“To do this, you have to listen properly, connect authentically, be present and show empathy.

“Work happens between coaching sessions, and as a coach, you need to be able to flex with that.”

These four skills are covered in more detail during our online ILM Level 5 course in effective coaching and mentoring. And that training will help leaders develop them.

But behind them sits some crucial human skills that also need some work.

One of the most crucial is vulnerability. The issue with vulnerability is people often see it as a weakness. And there is often a notion that a coach is someone who has everything together.

So, showing vulnerability takes courage and can feel exposing. But it is crucial for building trust and developing the relationship with the person receiving coaching.

Reliability, integrity and competency are also vital human skills that can be grouped together in what Tienie describes as the ‘follow-through’.


No matter how good a business coaching session is, it can all be squandered if coaches don’t keep promises.

This isn’t about coaches promising or guaranteeing results.

Instead, it is about them making sure they do the things they say they will during a session.

“Do what you say you are going to do,” says Tienie.

“If you say ‘I’m going to catch up with you next Wednesday’ or ‘we’ll follow up on these three things when we talk again’, make sure you do it.

“When a coach says these sorts of things and doesn’t do them, it can damage the relationship, their authenticity and reliability and the currency as a coach.”


However, the most important human skill for a coach is empathy.

Empathy has become a leadership buzzword. Everyone wants to be an empathetic leader – or, at least, say they are on LinkedIn.

Such has been its use over the past few years that it can be hard to understand what people mean when they say it.

So, I asked Tienie to elaborate on what it means in coaching.

“Empathy is about truly being in the same place as the other person,” he said.

“There is fake empathy - ‘I’m so sorry, I know how you must be feeling’. Compare that to something like, “I’ve not experienced anything like that – I can’t imagine how you must feel – but I can see by looking at you it must be emotionally draining’.

“Revealing you may now have had that same experience can help you truly connect. It is much better than just opting for what we are told to believe is the right response of “I’m so sorry”.

Fostering empathy in coaching can also come from asking questions that show an interest in what the other person is saying and help them get their perspective across. Questions like ‘how did it feel?’ and ‘what was that like?’ - which pretty much takes us back to where we began with ‘asking the right questions’.

Find out more about the coaching skills your leaders need on our new online ILM Level 5 course in effective coaching and mentoring.

The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.

We deliver training that makes a difference. Find out more about our business coaching, management training and interpersonal skills options.

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