Fitted for a New Hat
“That’s insane. Why not start another worship service within the church you are currently serving,” the coach asked me. I had been going through a year of discernment, telling two churches “No, thank you” after they offered for me to serve as their senior pastor, and had been approached by two other couples in the church about my willingness to meet and pray with them about starting a radically different new church. The coach assigned to me had been provided with an 18-month leadership development program. It was exactly what I needed then, but the coach’s question was not a coaching question at all.
Coaching is not therapy nor an advice hotline. Instead, a quality coach listens beyond your words to understand what is at the heart of what you are saying and feeling in the moment. The coach pays attention to that subtle sigh or deep breath and goes right there to find out what is behind those words.
Tom Camacho, a retired military officer and professional coach, was transformed by a coaching experience that inspired a new way of approaching leaders within his context and encouraging others to do the same. “For years, I struggled with the pain and frustration of my inability to see. I saw myself through my own broken lenses. I carried a false identity, which didn’t line up with God’s Word and hindered my growth. I felt handcuffed to harmful mindsets and behaviors,” noted Camacho.
Mining for Gold is a popular press book geared towards equipping leaders with a basic understanding of a coach approach to leadership and the steps to implement that knowledge. The latest iteration of professional coaching has been around for nearly 60 years, with typically an eye toward executives who could afford an outsider to talk through challenging situations and ideas. Coaching has become more commonplace and affordable over the last several decades, including among ministers. For example, when I coordinated our denomination’s church starting/planting initiative, we required a church starter to receive three years, once per month, coaching from an appointed partner organization.
However, Camacho takes on a unique approach by framing it as a leadership approach and looking at it through a theological lens. He builds the book around six key principles:
- Learning and following the leaders of the Holy Spirit
- Knowing our true identity as a child of God is a critical understanding for thriving
- Thriving comes as a result of aligning ourselves with our God-given design
- Discover our sweet spot, the place where flow happens
- Refining and purifying ourselves comes through the cross
- We cannot thrive without living in healthy relationships with others, especially God
While professional coaching might not be available for everyone, the skills of a coach can be gleaned and nurtured into how we approach others, especially those we work alongside. At its core, coaching is about observation, deep listening, and responding with a question that allows the other person to process what they have said or are working through. Eve Poole’s Leadersmithing might have something to say about this. She lays out the essential ways a person can craft and practice leadership through four areas of meta-learning: leadership muscle memory, self-regulation, reflective judgment, and learning to learn.
For many, it is hard to give up the impulse to fix, give advice, or take off the “expert” hat, especially when you are used to people coming to you. It is especially challenging to encourage people to lean into the pain and failure they are sensing, as Camacho wrote about the gut-wrenching reality that his church plant failed.
For a leader to begin to approach coaching, they certainly need the skills of differentiation. Freidman wrote, “The struggle between individuality and togetherness exists in every relationship system and is a far more basic issue for compatibility in relationships than any other (social science) difference.”
In my last few leadership roles, I have tried to implement a coach approach to leadership, including incorporating coaching sessions with each of my staff members, where they drive the agenda and goals they want to cover. At the same time, I started to realize how much of my day was interrupted by staffers coming into my office to ask me a question or to give them the answer to a problem with which they were dealing. It was difficult at first, but I built in a few key questions as my first response, which included:
- How can I help?
- What do you think?
- How do you feel right now?
- What’s your first stab at resolving this?
- What’s at stake?
- What’s preventing you from tackling this?
- And what else?
What’s at the heart of Camacho’s Mining for Gold is for individuals to see the incredible potential within themselves as a child of God, capable of discovering their God-given giftedness (design), cultivating the capacity to manage what has been thrown at them, and developing trusting relationships with others to accomplish more together. As Camacho urged, “To be a Christian leader is to relate to others in a particular way. We don’t use people to pursue a goal; we love people as God is working his goals in them.” So, for leaders, it is time to take off the expert hat and put on the coach’s hat, equipping people to discover the answers for themselves as they journey with them. For many, this requires us to go through the difficult work of being fitted for a new hat.
 Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders Through Coaching (Nottingham: Intervarsity Press, 2019), 18.
 Ibid., 12-13.
 Poole, Eve, Leadersmithing (London: Bloomsbury Business, 2017), 12.
 Friedman, Edwin, Margaret M. Treadwell, and Edward W. Beal. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. (New York: Seabury Books, 2007), 172.
 Ibid., 101.
13 responses to “Fitted for a New Hat”
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I can relate to your observations about coaching, and especially appreciate two comments you made. First you called out that sometimes the right questions are not necessarily great coaching questions. Secondly, you use a metaphor about putting on a new hat. When I am coaching people, I often think about going back and forth between hats. I might even say, “OK, I am going to take off my coach’s hat, and put on my friend, boss or consultant hat.” I think it is helpful to be clear about when I am remaining neutral as opposed to offering needed advice. Do you agree?
Question: what did you think about Camacho’s review of Close- and Open-ended questions?
Yes, I agree. I do the same thing with my coaching clients. Since the conversation concerns them and what they are dealing with, I always ask permission to take off the coaching hat to offer some thoughts.
Camacho’s book was, at best, a beginner’s introduction to coaching as a theological concept. However, more training is needed, or it will turn into another tool of religious manipulation from the one “trying to help someone live into their God-given identity.”
Close and Open ended questions seem to be the primer for going deeper. Thoughtful and listening, they appear to be the type of questions that coaches will ask. To be frank, when I reviewed Camacho’s list of sample questions (kindle page 70 & 71), I was put off by them. I am wondering how I will react when MY coach (I found one in Colorado Springs) starts asking me those questions. I don’t think I have been ever questioned in that manner. I am looking forward to this new experience.
Andy. Thanks for sharing your insight and experience with coaching in relation to the book. I would be interested in hearing more about the protentional pitfalls of coaching among spiritual leaders.
I think it is all too easy to use this model to manipulate people. A mutual and authentic level of trust and respect must be present for this to work.
Thank you Andy for sharing how a mentorship opportunity impacted on you and how it came at just the right time. You have referenced Eve Poole’s Leadersmithing and the essential ways a person can craft and practice leadership through four areas of meta-learning: leadership muscle memory, self-regulation, reflective judgment, and learning to lean. How can these apply in your situation as you coach and mentor leaders?
Andy, you have many great insights in this post. Let me ask a question that flows from this statement: “For many, it is hard to give up the impulse to fix, give advice, or take off the “expert” hat, especially when you are used to people coming to you.” As someone with a strong, natural leadership gift, do you think there’s a greater challenge to coach rather to direct? Leadership often sees issues and defaults to action. Do you find that a challenge in your new role as the final decision in the local church is not yours to make? Also, I appreciate your connection to Eve Poole. I struggled to find a connection to previous readings, but you are right on about Poole’s help with this topic.
Andy H: You make some great points about coaching and I have a hunch you are-or would be-great at coaching. This book really grabbed me; I read the whole thing and I didn’t read any book reviews. I have never been coached but after reading this book I wish I have been. Great post.
Great blog, Andy. Boy, in your role, coaching is a BIG deal, both as a pastor but also now as a denominational leader.
How have you found balance between “coaching” (listening, drawing out, etc.) and your own strong opinions/convictions? For me, that can be a point of tension.
Andy for you what are the key differences between coaching and mentoring? Can you say more about how you understand Friedman’s thought , “The struggle between individuality and togetherness exists in every relationship system and is a far more basic issue for compatibility in relationships than any other (social science) difference.” benefiting the dynamics of coaching?
Andy: I’d love to hear more about you becoming a certified coach and where that fell in your vocational career – or what contributed towards you pursing that certification.
Andy, thank you for your thoughtful post. I appreciated learning more about your journey with coaching. I agree that without appropriate training, this tool can become manipulative. I’m curious to learn more about what you found most helpful in being ‘fitted with the new hat’ of coaching and shifting out of the ‘expert role’? What tempts you most to move back into ‘expert mode’ and what helps you discern when each hat is most needed in a particular situation?