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Becoming a Design Thinking Coach

When I first attended a Design Thinking course in Potsdam, I was quite puzzled as to why the trainers were called coaches. I subsequently learned that the practical application of the Design Thinking process requires a lot of coaching skills. Therefore, a good Design Thinking practitioner will make a good Design Thinking coach.

Of course, the Design Thinking practitioner would have already acquired or learned the essential coaching skills if the practitioner intends to progress to becoming a Design Thinking coach. On the other hand, practicing the Design Thinking process provides the opportunity to sharpen coaching skills.

From my point-of-view, the following are the essential coaching skills needed in Design Thinking coaching:

1. Passionate to unleash individual potential

As a coach, we need to be passionate to help others. In Design Thinking coaching, our coaching purpose is to unleash the creative confidence of the coachees. Every individual has the potential to build their creative self-confidence.

2. Lead with questions, and not instructions

Unlike class lecturing, coaches lead with the right questions to provide coachees with the opportunity to uncover their answers. Instructions will be minimal so that the coachees will learn by doing; i.e. experiential learning. Such questioning skills are also essential in applying the Design Thinking process.

3. Listen deeply with empathy

Another essential skill in the Design Thinking process is the deep listening skill needed for us to gain empathy towards people of whom we are designing our solution. As a coach, we will need to listen deeply with empathy to provide appropriate guidance to our coachees.

4. Maintain a positive attitude

Throughout the Design Thinking process learning, coachees will experience a journey of ambiguity and volatility. Coaches will need to maintain a positive attitude to help and energize the coachees through the learning journey.

5. Give honest, supportive feedback

For continuous improvement, coaches will need to give honest, supportive feedback. Feedback with specific details and evidence or observations will be required. Coaches should provide a positive motivation that concludes specific actions that coachees can take to improve.

6. Learn to learn and share

Having a growth mindset is essential. Coaches will continue to learn to improve themselves and to share their learnings with other coaches. Coaches can learn from each other as well as learn from their coachees.

7. Encourage collaborative learning

The Design Thinking process encourages collaborative learning, and hence coaches will need to promote teamwork and collaborative learning. Working with people of diverse backgrounds and disciplines will be required in the Design Thinking process.

8. Adapt the coaching style appropriately

As described above, one uniqueness of the Design Thinking process involves dealing with people with various experiences and knowledge. Therefore, coaches will need to be flexible to adapt their coaching style appropriately. Coaches must also be open to seeking help from other coaches in certain situations.

9. Model behaviors

Finally, as a coach, we will need to model behaviors that we wish our coachees to learn. The above essential coaching skills and expected behaviors are also core skills developed from applying the Design Thinking process and mindset.

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