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Academic Coaching & Writing

VII. Champion, Challenge, and Create Accountability

Feb 25, 2016 by Kathryn Kleypas

As a coach, you are in a privileged position to see the greatness of your coachee. More importantly, though, you want her to see it and believe in it. You do not want ever to be tricked into buying into the logic of her negative self-talk. Once you’ve worked for a while with your coachee, you will have a clear picture of her strengths, values, and vision of her Future Scholar. As her coach, your job is to hold to that vision for her even, or especially, when her confidence flags or her vision for herself grows hazy.


Championing is what academics often forget to do. Research in positive psychology suggests that around a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback is the most effective to motivate learners. You may have been mentored by people who use what my father calls the “Army Bootcamp” method, in which you are only told what isn’t right in what you did and simply told to fix it. This method may work for some people, but I think most succeed only if they’ve become resilient in withstanding criticism. I don’t think anyone succeeds because of it.

Championing is the skill of expressing to your coachee what you believe is great about her and her work. Don’t assume that she already holds this view. She probably needs to be reminded (or convinced!) that she is skillful at teaching, researching, writing, or working with a variety of difficult people. These are strengths that you want to nurture in your coachee, and if she believes she is good at these things, she will be far more likely to further develop those strengths and search out opportunities to put them to use.

If you weren’t championed yourself in your own professional development, you may feel awkward practicing this skill. The words might not come easily or you may feel that the words ring hollow. However, with practice and with the championing that is based in reality, the words will ring true and will go a long way to building your coachee’s positive self-worth. I have learned through my own coaching practice that pointing out a specific example of something you are discussing or examining greatly increases the likelihood that your coachee will absorb your positive feedback. So instead of saying, “You are a very good writer,” you might say, “What I really value in this article is how you make extremely difficult theoretical concepts seem simple to the reader. This is a very difficult skill to master and you’ve done it well.”


Challenging your coachee is another tool that you will find very effective. It is a way to keep your coachee’s eyes on her vision and to break her out of her own self-imposed limitations. I used a challenge in the example of a coaching dialogue in the last blog when I asked the coachee to submit the abstract and then to engage the scholar in conversation after the panel was over. I did not put the challenge out until I felt that she was ready, and then I purposely asked for more than I felt she was willing to do. If you experience pushback from the coachee, you are in the right place. You want your coachee to see that you have faith in her, and that your vision of her is bigger than the one she holds for herself.


Creating an accountability structure for coaching agreements is extremely important. Without accountability, the enthusiasm felt in the coaching session has a tendency to dissipate, which may lessen the forward momentum. By asking the coachee to tell you how you will know that she is going to do what you talked about, she will be far more likely to actually do it. Be sure to follow up with your coachee. Make a note to email her at a strategic time to ask how things went with her challenge.

Discussion Questions:

When have you have felt the effects of positive feedback and championing in your own professional development?

What are ways to build positive feedback and championing into your work with your coachee?

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