The Day I Discovered The Two Most Important Skills For A Coach

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Taking The Exam

The day had finally arrived. I was about to FINALLY attempt the FINAL requirement to earn my ACC (Associate Certified Coach) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF). I had been coveting and consistently working towards this day for the last two years. I sequestered myself in my home office, chai tea, and a snack by my side for support. I followed the instructions to access the test, organized my notes, took a sip of my tea, and breathed in deeply. The last thing to do was to click “Take Test.” For me, earning this certificate has been an essential step towards becoming a real-life ICF coach! Before hitting the button, it dawned on me just how much I have accomplished to reach this particular point.

Bridge in autumn

But First, Some Reflections

I took a brief moment to reflect on all that I had learned – from all the wonderful mentors I have been blessed with – that contributed to my success. In my mind, I was running through the technical pieces of being a coach. The coaching conversation, the ICF core competencies, my niche’, how to conduct a complimentary session are all essential pieces that I had acquired.

Still, there are two particular skills that are the lifeblood of a coach – asking questions and listening. This may be overstating the obvious, but I feel it is worth highlighting. You see, I have been working at building my business for a couple of years now. I have seen the pattern of being spammed by companies who promise to get you 1000 leads a month. An offer to work with some guru in the coaching world, only to find out that their services cost a lot of money and results are suspect at best. Where I have grown the most as a coach, and human, is when I slow down and connect with another person. Listening to someone is, to me, is one of the greatest gifts I can give to another. I believe that we spend so much time being told what to do by others that we forget the most crucial fact: We need to be heard.

Dad’s No Longer In Complete Control

An experience with my daughter is the best way I can illustrate this point for you. I have raised my kids on my own since they were 2 and 3 years old. To make a long story short, as my daughter became a teenager… well let’s just say it was like an alien race came down and replaced my sweet baby girl with this hormonal imposter (not fun). I went from being her hero to the dumbest man on earth, at least in her eyes. I admit I may have been in over my head, as most single parents feel.

At the time, I was teaching business in a local vocational college. So I was used to having command of the room, at least when I taught my classes. When I came home – not so much. When she would ask me a question, my default was to try and impart my fatherly wisdom to her. I would start out my answers with “Well, let me tell you….” that bought me about a minute until she rolled her eyes and walked away.

The Growth Process

Fast forward about ten years, some serious family drama, and maturity (on both our parts), and things are much better now. My daughter is now a parent herself. As she navigates these waters, she will turn to me for guidance. I remember when she gave birth to my grandson thinking, in a very remote corner of my mind, that it would only be a matter of time before she comes to me for help with my grandson.

Then one day, it happened. She called me and said, “dad, what do I do about…?” That was my chance! My mind began to gather the various files of information I had as a successful single parent. Time to impart my wealth of wisdom onto my daughter, who has clearly come to her senses about my intelligence!

As I drew in my first breath and formed the word – Well… a memory popped into my head. It was when she was a toddler and learning to walk. As she gained confidence in her ability to walk, she eventually bumped her head on the dining room table. At first, I stopped her, trying to protect her. Then it dawned on me: if I keep rescuing her, she is not going to learn on her own that bumping your head on the table hurts. She had to learn to navigate around that obstacle on her own (with my guidance for support).

Lesson Learned

Life Compass

As she stood before me as an adult, asking her parenting question, the relativity of life dawned on me. By imparting my “wisdom” to her, I was neglecting to give her a chance to discover the truth in her own life journey. I smiled at her and asked a question instead. I asked, “hmmm, tell me more about what is going on?” Well, that opened up the floodgates, and she began to pour out her heart. By this time, I was not only a seasoned father, but a trained life coach. So I employed my active listening skills. Asking probing questions that helped her unravel what was going on for her.

I coached her (not imparting my “wisdom” on her) to a solution that was workable for her. My reward in taking this approach was not only having a conversation with my daughter (that I have been craving for years), but the joy of seeing my daughter create her own solution. She said one thing that floors me to this day, she said: “wow – you have really changed.” I replied, “I think we both have.”

That was one of my own personal discovery moments as a coach (and, of course, a father). It was not a checklist of items to address in a coaching conversation, nor an excellent website or the best sales funnel that made a difference in this journey. I had taken time to connect with a person (in this case, my daughter), giving her the space to open up and asking a question and hearing what she had to say. Eventually, she figured out the right answer for herself, without any direct advice from me.

I Did it!!


As the memory faded and I came back to the present moment, the next thought I had was, “holy crap, I still need to take this test!” So I took a deep breath, a sip of tea, and took the exam. It took me nearly the entire time allotted, and I think my anxiety may have burned off a few thousand calories, but the time had come to end this portion of my coaching journey. As I nervously clicked the ‘complete exam’ button, I awaited the results in the form of an email (which are sent almost immediately). As my computer pinged, indicating that a new email arrived… I opened it, sat back, and high fived myself as an ACC ICF Coach!


Mark Ricktor

Mark Ricktor

I am an ordinary guy who’s made extraordinary transitions! I served my country in the U.S. during the first Gulf War, I raised my two children as a single father, had a 20 year career in higher education and am now blessed to be doing my dream job - helping others manage transition with Authenticity, Love and Grace.

Mark Ricktor

Mark Ricktor

I am an ordinary guy who’s made extraordinary transitions! I served my country in the U.S. during the first Gulf War, I raised my two children as a single father, had a 20 year career in higher education and am now blessed to be doing my dream job - helping others manage transition with Authenticity, Love and Grace.

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  1. Andrew

    Loved this article Mark, thank you.

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