What is Coaching and do you need it?
By Annie Rodgers
A recent client really didn’t know what they didn’t know about coaching before we started. He had a sense of curiosity, coupled with a brow furrowed by scepticism of a professional service that is as broad and deep as the multiple incarnations of coaches who practice it.
This is also understandable as the industry is largely self-regulated and extremely diverse: You can seek the skills of agility leadership and organisational capabilities for crisis management at one end and colour code your wardrobe at the other. As a fan of orderly drawers and top performing teams and business leaders, I can see there’s a role for both, but I needed to quickly clarify what I do as an executive coach and my view on coaching before we could determine if there was a need and if this could be a good partnership.
So, as a dutiful member of the ICF, (International Coach Federation), www.icf.com, I complied with ethics and recounted their definitions of coaching and other personal or organizational support professions: At the footnote of this piece is the detailed comparison, but in a nutshell. My coaching is not counselling, training, mentoring and does not involve sports. That’s the official line, and one I comply with whilst coaching, but it’s fair to say that the support and guidance offered by a coach could be perceived to overlap other disciplines.
The official bit: According to the ICF (International Coaching Federation), www.icf.com, a global authority in coaching practice and accreditation, coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change.
So back to my furrowed browed curious client. Why had he decided to meet me? At a certain level, his curiosity was piqued by the fact I was coaching a peer in another organisation.
In fact, in his own words, he had no pressing need for support. So, we simply explored and an open discussion commenced, wrapped in the safety and trust of the critical confidentiality of any coaching conversation, stated from the outset and laying the foundations of a contract, psychological as well as logistical.
Themes and topics were revealed, encouraged by open and direct questions, all delivered with zero judgment and absolutely no agenda on my part. The conversation was at all times equal, at a pre-agreed pace and level of challenge. What emerged was then prioritised. Some topics could be referred to as ‘transactional’, clear actions required, whilst others were much deeper and transformational, requiring time to explore, acknowledge and develop. Our coaching journey had not started….this was our discovery session, but it provided a foundation for a six-month coaching programme which almost nears completion.
So, whether you are middle or senior management, a high performer or a serial entrepreneur, the chances are you have come across coaching of one kind or another. Whether you’re open to coaching or not, for those considering whether to make the personal investment or ask for corporate support, here’s a bit of background on what it is, what it isn’t and what it can offer and why you might want to reach out to me or another coach for a Discovery Session of your own: The question is, do you need it and what should you expect?
There are any number of scenarios where coaching and the opportunity to work with a trusted and trained thinking partner come into its own, but the circumstances and details will be as varied and rich as the individual presenting themselves.
Before that let’s bust a few coaching myths. Coaching is not just for the C-Suite or senior management. To reach a successful outcome, whatever that may be, only requires an open mind, a willingness to reflect and a commitment to make change happen towards a personally-defined goal. The coach will guide and support through this process with a level of challenge and insight, creating awareness and discovery, to keep the coachee on track and accountable. Whether you are 25 or 65, everyone has the choice to invest in their own personal purpose, so why not enlist the help to get there at whatever point?
‘But my boss/friend/partner coaches me..’ I hear you say. No matter how selfless the intention, the support of a manager, friend or partner comes with a well-meaning opinion, a judgement and a personal agenda, so it’s tipping into the realms of advice and suggestion, which in part stands in the way of your own thinking, self discovery and problem solving. A coach is independent, a confidante, a powerful challenger of your thinking, supporting you in measures and goals you hold yourself accountable for.
‘I don’t know what to be coached on’…. whether it’s a life purpose, a life transformation or how to address a specific and immediate challenge in the office such as managing conflict or the fear of a public speaking engagement, we are all the archetypal work in progress, and if we believe we are perfect and complete, then there are practices to deal with narcissistic tendencies too. What is often difficult to accept is that we are all gifted with the answers and it’s a coach’s job to expand the thinking and unlock the solutions. This is an important distinction, coaching is hard work since the solution lies in you, not the coach. It is, after all, your agenda not theirs. Avoid bossy coaches who say ‘should’.
Coaching as a journey of self discovery in the workplace. At work, our chances of rising to the top are driven by our ability to craft solid and sustainable working relationships that help us grow into agile business leaders. This doesn’t come naturally to most and often our own impression of our confidence, assertiveness, empathy and management skill rarely mirrors the perception of others. Bridging that gap of self awareness and shining a light on the reality of ourselves and our reputation can floor some but is often revelatory to all. What we discover requires areas for further development and coaching if we are to perform at our best.
After all, we don’t show up to work as a version of our ‘complete selves’. Our personal and professional selves interweave, whether we like it or not. So, whether we want to understand why we ‘can’t speak in public’, ’lose sleep over an interview’, ‘feel like a fake’, we inevitably need to lift the lid on what else is driving that and how we need to resolve in order to surmount the challenge. We carry our personal highs and lows into work, and whilst professional engagement provides a veneer, we are still breathing the home life we’ve left behind. Coaching will help reconcile the two and strive for the balance.
To that end, coaching generally begins with a lesson in self awareness, and this is often where a solid understanding of strengths, weaknesses and blind spots are revealed. Those of us open to being challenged might explore further and examine patterns of behaviour and manifestation of those traits. Some will remain in denial for a little longer but prizing open thinking will still shine a light on the real you.
You are at the centre of every challenge you face, large or small, from transformational life changes to near term crisis management and everything in between. The journey to rise to that challenge is often best accompanied by a professional, non-judgemental and trusted partnership of a coach. One who has no agenda but to champion your cause and allow you to find the stepping stones and unlock the potential to greater self discovery and most importantly be the best you can be.
If you’re curiosity is piqued and your brow is furrowed but not wincing, let me know if you’d like to find out more in a Discovery Session. Email me here.
According to the ICF (International Coaching Federation), www.icf.com, a global authority in coaching practice and accreditation, coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change.
But sometimes, it helpful to understand coaching by distinguishing it from other personal or organizational support professions:
Coaching Vs Therapy: Therapy deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an individual or in relationships. The focus is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past that hamper an individual’s emotional functioning in the present, improving overall psychological functioning, and dealing with the present in more emotionally healthy ways. Coaching on the other hand supports personal and professional growth, based on self-initiated change in pursuit of specific actionable outcomes. These outcomes are linked to personal or professional success. Coaching is future focused. While positive feelings/emotions may be a natural outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in one’s work or personal life. The emphasis in a coaching relationship is on action, accountability and follow through.
Coaching Vs Consulting: Individuals or organisations retain consultants for their expertise. While consulting approaches vary widely, the assumption is the consultant will diagnose problems and prescribe and sometimes implement solutions. With coaching, the assumption is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks.
Coaching Vs Mentoring: A mentor is an expert who provides wisdom and guidance based on his or her own experience. Mentoring may include advising, counselling and coaching. The coaching process does not include advising or counselling, and focuses instead on individuals or groups setting and reaching their own objectives.
Coaching Vs Training: Training programs are based on objectives set out by the trainer or instructor. Though objectives are clarified in the coaching process, they are set by the individual or team being coached, with guidance provided by the coach. Training also assumes a linear learning path that coincides with an established curriculum. Coaching is less linear without a set curriculum.
Coaching Vs Athletic coaching: The athletic coach is often seen as an expert who guides and directs the behaviour of individuals or teams based on his or her greater experience and knowledge. Professional coaches possess these qualities, but their experience and knowledge of the individual or team determines the direction. Additionally, professional coaching, unlike athletic development, does not focus on behaviours that are being executed poorly or incorrectly. Instead, the focus is on identifying opportunity for development based on individual strength and capabilities.