Does a leadership coach need experience solving my problem? (It's a definite maybe.)

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Does a leadership coach need experience solving my problem?

Two days ago, I mentioned that one of the most important skills of a leadership coach (or mentor – regardless of what label they choose to wear) is the skill of listening to help you evoke awareness for your current situation.

So many times, we don’t find the answers we’re looking for because we haven’t yet had the awareness to find the right question. A qualified coach or mentor can help you find the awareness to ask yourself the right question.

If that’s true, and I believe it is, then how important is it for a professional coach or mentor to have experience doing the job that you’re doing? How important is it that they have faced the same challenge you’re facing and found a successful path forward for themselves?

On one hand, most of the tools in a coach’s toolbox are fairly universal. Coaches can be immensely helpful and valuable in helping you navigate your challenges and discover the right answer for your situation. In fact, one of the big dangers that can get in the way of a coach being helpful is their belief that what worked for them is a good idea for you. Coming to a conversation with far more curiosity than certainty is a big part of what makes a coach or mentor successful in their relationship to their mentee.

But as long as a coach is trained to put their ideas aside for a while and to help you explore your own creativity, then having at least some shared background with you can be helpful.

For example, one of the people I’ve coached is a retired U.S. Navy captain. He will frequently use military or nautical terms as jargon or metaphors. I don’t have a navy background, so he would sometimes have to spend some of our coaching time explaining the jargon or metaphor. Once I understood what he was saying, we were able to have a meaningful and valuable conversation.

With my clients who are software engineering leaders, my decades of history leading software engineers in the corporate world mean that our conversations can spend far more time exploring, and very little time explaining.

Is a shared background crucial? Not for a skilled coach who knows how to invite the right kind of exploration.

Can it be helpful? Certainly!

And that’s why I like to concentrate on helping software engineering leaders become the people who will succeed as their circle of influence grows. And I know plenty of other coaches with different backgrounds who specialize in helping other kinds of people.

If you’d like to see if someone I know can help someone you know, let’s talk. Visit for a complimentary conversation.

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