In this chapter we look at the skills, competencies, and processes behind a successful coaching conversation. We introduce the Forton leadership coaching and mentoring model (2005) and explore why we think this is a useful model for the dental profession.
We’ll link them to the principles underpinning a coaching approach (explored in the previous chapter) and where they might also be successfully adapted for use in mentoring conversations.
We’ll explore key principles that underpin coaching and mentoring (‘The Principles’), the skills a coach/mentor needs to develop (The Skills); the conversation framework (‘The Steps’); the context in which coaching/mentoring takes place and the relevance of the individual’s place in that environment and the role of the organisation (‘The Field’).
Skills and Competencies of Coaching
Upskilling matters in coaching and mentoring because every conversation matters. Poor communication results in poor performance, confusion, and low morale.
Whether the subject matter is service delivery, customer relationships, performance improvements or addressing sensitive issues, good communication skills can make or break the success of that conversation.
Whether a conversation is defined as ‘mentoring’ or ‘coaching’, we believe that competency and professionalism matter. This means holding coaches and mentors to a given standard and helping them understand what makes for a better coaching or mentoring conversation.
The challenge is that many people believe they are already up to a high level of competency in this skill‐set. If your colleagues, friends, and family tell you what a great listener you are; remark ‘that’s a great question’ to you; thank you for being understanding and supportive, and for noticing your empathy – congratulations!
If however, you work in an environment of misunderstood intentions; are living with the unintended consequences of something you’ve said – or have someone tell you that ‘you haven’t listened to a word I’ve said’, then welcome, you’re in the majority.
Definition of a ‘Skill’
an ability to do an activity or job well, especially because you have practised it
(Cambridge Dictionary 2020)
a type of work or activity which requires special training and knowledge.
(Collins Dictionary 2020)
Defining skills gives us a framework of abilities to do a job well: supporting others to achieve their goals, learn, and grow.
Core skills (called ‘Key Skills’ by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in England [QCA] and ‘core skills’ by the Scottish Qualifications Authority in Scotland (SQA, 2020) cover topics such as: communication, numeracy, information, and communication technology, problem solving, working with others and improving one’s own learning and performance.
Coaching and mentoring others combines several of these skills. And yes, these skills are practised every day, but without the additional discipline of having them evaluated by others, they risk being used ineffectively in professional situations.
Definition of Competency
We need to know how to be effective in supporting others to achieve their goals; then learn to do it to an effective level. Competency frameworks provide a context within which, and against which, specific skills can be evaluated. For example, receptive listening may be valuable in many contexts, but within the coaching context, it plays an important and central role.
Definitions of competence include:
An important skill that is needed to do a job
(Cambridge Dictionary, 2020)
Competence is the ability to do something well or effectively.
(Collins Dictionary, 2020)
Therefore, the mentor or coach needs to learn both what those skills are and develop them to a level of success, as defined by an independent competence framework, which is regularly reviewed and updated, such as those defined by the International Coach Federation (ICF) (2020–2021).
Thinking about the ICF questions (described in the ‘Coaching’ chapter, above) that can validly assess that success, can the mentor or coach use their skill sufficiently well to support goal or habit setting, progress, achievement, and/or the sustainable maintenance of any change? Can they enable a coachee to develop insight and awareness? Can they support life‐changing experiences?
It should be noted that while a ‘life‐changing experience’ is a subjective, personal experience, ‘insight’ can be demonstrated more objectively, such as through reflective speech or writing, while goals or habits are objectively observable.
The Role of the Coach
A coaching conversation is one of partnership and co‐creation; evoking the skills, experience, and knowledge of the coachee such that their learning and development is internalised, and decisions are taken from a foundation of both insight and inspiration, motivation, and optimism.
The ICF has defined a set of competences that a skilled coach must reach, at minimum level, to achieve their credentials, currently defined as ‘Associate Certified Coach’ (ACC); ‘Professional Certified Coach’ (PCC) and ‘Master Certified Coach’ (MCC). The ICF also trains assessors to identify behaviours (known as ‘markers’) that evidence these competences and thus evaluate coach performance (ICF 2020) in a consistent way.
Tools for Mentoring and Coaching
One of the challenges we offer all our students, whether dental professionals or not, is to consider how they will adapt and apply the skills and tools of coaching and mentoring, in their context. This builds upon the wider coaching philosophy of autonomy in decision‐making, flexibility, and adaptability to the local context.
This is not a challenge with an instant answer. Many students take months to ponder this, while others know where they might start – such as coaching/mentoring within an organisation – yet still have a longer‐term vision for their mentoring skills within their career.
Without identifying specific tools for mentoring in this chapter – as distinct from coaching – we do offer these points for consideration:
- How might the chosen tool impact on the power or status relationship between the coach/mentor and mentee?
- If so, in which way is the relationship impacted? Partnership and equity (in our definition) is more ‘coach‐like’; authority and status imbalance point to a mentoring role.
- How might other modalities (such as consulting, training, teaching, or counselling) benefit the mentee? Having clarity as to which ‘hat’ the mentor is wearing at any time and understanding the boundaries, is important for coaches and mentors.
The 2021 ICF Coaching Competences set out eight factors which summarise what embodies a ‘coaching mind‐set’, which are:
- Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices.
- Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach.
- Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching.
- Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others.
- Uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients.
- Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions.
- Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions.
- Seeks help from outside sources when necessary.
It’s interesting to note that ‘coaching mind‐set’ combines a number of factors: a philosophy of learning (clients ‘responsible for their own choices’); the active role of the coach in their own personal and professional development (e.g. ‘regulate one’s emotions’) and the need to ‘seek help’ as necessary’.
Using these eight factors as a guideline for ‘coaching’, also enables a mentor to appreciate the distinctions between the two modalities and apply the tools in this chapter in ways appropriate to the mentee and their context.
The Coaching ‘Journey’
Whilst it is a cliché in the tradition of talent competitions, or celebrity dancing on national TV, that we go on a journey to success and stardom, the journey metaphor is still valuable to understanding the value and method of coaching and mentoring.
The journey, as a metaphor, also highlights the importance to coaching of storytelling, analogies, metaphors, and the use of imagery in the coaching conversation. They are shortcuts to emotions; they enable us to explain ourselves, or order our thoughts, more easily and help our brains communicate more effectively.
In this chapter, we take the reader on a journey and we invite you to consider the process of taking a trip, say a holiday. Here’s a quick overview of the coaching journey through the steps of the Forton coaching conversation model:
- We have a picture of what a great holiday looks like for us (Vision).
- We justify our need for a holiday; this isn’t just about having fun; we’ve worked all year for this break. We deserve it (Values).
- We recognise that we need to prepare for our holiday, to be at our best; whether that’s getting fit for a holiday activity; update our wardrobe; buy the books to read beside the beach (Ideal Self).
- We negotiate with our family and friends to ensure there’s something for everyone who’s coming along (Leadership).
- We take a look at the stock of sun‐cream in the cupboard and check what’s in and out of date (Resources).
- We look at what we’ve saved towards the holiday already, and what we need in total (the gap).
- We explore how we feel about the planned holiday: not just the anticipated pleasure, but managing the stresses of sorting out the work commitments – prior to going away, and catching up on our return (Emotional Intelligence).
- We plan how we might fill the gaps in our resources, where we need to prioritise, and what we need to do to mitigate any challenges, such as getting cover at work.
- We take steps towards achieving our goals. We pack our suitcases, get the passports and tickets ready. We go!
- We check in with what’s working and what’s not working towards achieving our goal, and we adjust our actions to ensure we stay on track. For example, if the weather forecast for our chosen destination isn’t living up to our expectations, we may have some choices to make – whether that’s investing in an umbrella, packing an extra jumper, or cancelling a picnic. (Adaptability)
Yet coaching and mentoring isn’t just about the actions and choices. It’s also about the learning and development – of individuals, teams, and yes, families. So this journey isn’t just about the places we visit, it’s also about the inner journey of self‐discovery and discovering how we impact on others.
In coaching we talk about ‘forwarding actions and deepening learning’; it’s doing and ‘being’. Which is a far more fulfilling and rewarding experience than either activity alone.
This means there’s a visible journey, for all to see, and an invisible journey – how we’ve changed as a result of travelling.
The Forton Model
The Forton Professional Leadership Coaching Model has its own metaphor: that of planets and orbits:
- Planet one: the steps of the coaching conversation.
- Planet two: the principles of coaching.
- Planet three: the Field, or the world of the coaches.
- Planet four: the coaching skills.
The Field has its own sub‐orbits: resources and resourcefulness are so vital to the coaching conversation that they have a mnemonic – and their own metaphor – to help coaches remember to explore each area in the coaching conversation – PIES:
- Emotional, and
- Social resources
PIES feed and nourish us; in British culture they are ‘comfort’ food: warming, and filling. We prepare our picnic before setting out: the food, drink, and other things we need for the journey to be successful. If we travel alone, our packing may be light; by contrast, taking a child can add a whole new dimension to our preparations!
By exploring the resources in our vision for success, we know what needs to be in place for that success to happen. By exploring the resources we already have available to us, we boost our self‐confidence in our ability to succeed. We also more easily identify the resources we need – the gaps – that are currently standing in the way of our success.
As coaches, we explore the Field to identify where those resources are, who can enable access to them and who is a gatekeeper, withholding access.
In leadership, part of our role is to understand and navigate the Field, such that our team members have the resources they need to be, individually and collectively, successful.
It’s important to note that this is just a model: a way of presenting steps and processes to make them easier to apply (Figure 4.1). In a real‐life coaching conversation, the coach might blend a principle within a step, explore the field then go back to purpose. The model is not linear, nor is it prescriptive; the goal is for the coach to have a free‐flowing conversation that supports the coachee to get where they need to, by drawing on any relevant element of the model.
Before we explore the skills needed in a coaching conversation, we need to review the underpinning principles of coaching and mentoring. In our journey metaphor, the principles comprise the inner journey. The principles set the foundation for a developmental conversation and go some way to explaining the ‘why’ of the skills. They also highlight who you are being when you coach, not just what you are doing.
Many development areas that coaches identify in their learning journey relate to the shifts in attitudes, or leaning fully into the principles, in support of their development.
The ICF emphasises a coachee‐centric approach and the role of coach as a partner in the coaching conversation. The coaching conversation: where the topic and direction are identified by the coachee, who is also expected to define measures of success for the conversation and to uncover the issues relevant to the topic.
This agreement creation (sometimes called ‘contracting’) is not a one‐time discussion; it’s an ongoing partnership. In the Forton model, we call this ‘bookending and signposting’ in the coaching; because, even if the coachee starts in a particular direction, or a goal in mind, that may shift as the conversation progresses and the role of the coach is to be led by the coachee in the direction they choose to go in. This doesn’t mean that a coach may not challenge the coachee, or present options and different perspectives, but it does hold the coachee to be the expert in their own life.
The coaching conversations may have been preceded by a conversation about the overall direction or objectives of the coaching programme, to which others may have contributed. For example, the coachee’s line manager, a member of the Human Resources or Leadership and Development team (sponsors) who may have a role in the coachee’s development.
It is important to distinguish between the objectives for the coaching conversation and the content of the conversations themselves – the conversation itself remains confidential while the purpose or objectives may be known to others.
With well‐defined objectives, it is then possible to measure both the outcomes and the impact of the coaching. The coaching conversation is only a catalyst for change; a precursor. Unless and until the coachee makes change in their inner world, coaching remains aspirational. Once change has happened, then the behavioural change is observable. The inner change is hard to observe, hence a better focus for success is to measure behavioural change: goal progress, achievement, and sustainability.
Whilst some coaching models start from the ‘inside out’, that is, they explore beliefs, attitudes, and values first, the Forton model is a behavioural one, that is, ‘outside in’. This is not to say that it ignores the inner dimensions, far from it; it just means that it starts from a more tangible place, more easily accessible to a coachee.
The Forton Principle of Partnership is:
Coaching is a relationship that requires both parties to trust, risk, and explore. To be most successful together, the coach and client should consciously work together to create agreements and structures that keep the partnership safe and effective. The ideal coaching relationship is purposeful, flexible, mutual, and sustainable.
Another way to look at the partnership is through the Forton Group ‘Ask/Tell’ Model:
In Figure 4.2, each mode describes certain roles. For example, when a new manager wants to establish her/his credibility s/he will share and tell what they know. This establishes trust that the manager knows what they’re doing. However, if overused, it can lead to dependency and resentment – who wants to be told what to do the whole time? Traditional teaching, or sports coaching, are also examples of where someone who knows, tells someone who is new to the information, skill or knowledge.
More experienced managers ask questions of their team members; ask their opinions; explore options with them. This supports people to think for themselves and shifts responsibility and accountability towards the team member. Likewise, with the mentor/mentee relationship; asking questions, even from a position of experience and knowledge is a way to develop another person’s sense of responsibility and accountability. And of course, there are times when a mentor will share their knowledge and information – by telling.
In ‘pure’ coaching the coach or mentor appreciates that they may not have ‘all the answers’; that it’s a good thing to withhold assumptions about what the ‘right answer’ might be. There might be more than one answer; an answer that used to be ‘right’ (or ‘correct’) may be outdated. With technology changing so rapidly, what was right yesterday, may not be the best answer today. Asking questions from an attitude of ‘beginner’s mind’ or ‘not knowing’ can evoke some great ideas and innovation.
There’s a time and a place for each of these three modes in the mentoring relationship, but hopefully no place for the fourth – the fool!
The ‘Tell and Know’ quadrant is a place where most people are comfortable to operate. This is a particularly comfortable mode for dental professionals who typically possess considerable knowledge and expertise.
The challenge for a successful mentor/mentee relationship is in moving to the ‘Ask & Know’ (ask questions, even when you might know some answers) and the ‘Ask & Don’t Know’ quadrants (ask from a totally open perspective, with no assumptions as to the answers).
Principle Two: Trust
The simple, often overlooked fact is this: work gets done with and through people. There‘s nothing more impactful on people, their work, and their performance, than trust.
In the Forton model principle of trust is based on a foundation of trust that the person being coached or mentored is capable, creative, wise and benevolent, and is acting with integrity. It doesn’t mean they are infallible, or even necessarily trustworthy at all times in their life.
Students of coaching are expected to craft their own phrase to express this sense of trust, as they are shaped by our differing personal, cultural, and professional values.
The one most challenged by students is that of ‘capability’ – what if the coach doesn’t believe their coachee is capable of what they aspire to?
This may be lack of trust in capability or potential capability, or it may be lack of belief in the coachee’s potential: a subjective, limiting belief about another person.
The former is testable: if someone has the motivation to learn and the necessary resources to do so, then they will demonstrate their potential or actual capability – over time.