Almost every month I have the honour of delivering a training course from the ‘Co-Active Coaching’ curriculum. This is the kind of thing I love doing, and at the same time it makes me even more aware of the fact that there is still a lot of confusion about the notion of ‘coaching’. To make the issue easier to understand, in this article I will try to explain what the essence of professional coaching is. And I use the word ‘professional’ consciously because I believe there are a lot of people who call themselves coaches but they are in fact doing the profession a disservice. It’s not something you do as a ‘hobby’ next to a regular job, or a role you play; coaching is a profession that is the result of years of training, practice, mentoring, reflection and self-reflection. So going on a 2-day training course won’t turn you into a good coach, for example. As an introduction to the topic, I’d like to start with an example of what coaching is not… Take a look at this sketch by Bob Newhart.
So what exactly is professional coaching then? The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as: ‘partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Coaching acknowledges the coachee as the expert in his* own life and work, and believes that he is naturally creative, resourceful and complete’. As an individual, the coachee is ‘not broken’ and so he does not need to be ‘repaired’ by the coach. This is a vital starting point in the coaching relationship. If, after an initial interview, a coachee has the feeling that the coach does not see him as a creative, resourceful and complete individual, then my advice would be to look elsewhere for a coach. But the converse also applies. A coach that does not unconditionally have the same ‘good’ feeling about the coachee will not possibly be able to coach that person effectively.
Additionally, a coaching relationship is a long-term and results-focused collaboration with the aim of allowing the coachee to obtain results that give him satisfaction, both in the professional area as well as the personal one. The ultimate goal is to help the coachee increase his ‘performance’ as well as to improve his quality of life. In other words, with respect to his personal challenges and opportunities (the coaching question), to ensure that he experiences fresh perspectives, that his capacity to take decisions increases, as well as his self-confidence, thereby reaping the fruits of the choices he makes.
The actual coaching process can take place via the telephone, face-to-face, via Skype, via email or a combination of the above. To this end, professional coaches have been trained to listen, to observe, to have an enquiring mind, to make use of their intuition, and to ‘dance in the moment’ so that they can either follow or direct the energy of the client as and when necessary. By choosing any or all of these skills, the self-learning, self-solving and self-directing capacity of the coachee is increased and the existing skills, creativity and knowledge are further developed.
You might now be thinking: Does this mean a coach never gives advice or offer an opinion? And in theory the answer is No! However, it may occur during the session that the coach temporarily assumes the role of, for example, mentor, trainer or consultant. The coach should ask permission to do this beforehand. After all, the key aspect is how the coachee views the issue and not what the coach thinks. Prior to engaging in the coaching relationship, both parties should agree on how to deal with the different roles and the extent to which they will be used during the coaching process.
Coaching can only take place if the coachee really wants to be coached. It’s impossible to coach someone who has been ‘forced’ to take part in a coaching trajectory by his manager, and who is not at all motivated. After all: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Or to put it another way: if the coachee is not prepared to assume any responsibility to change, then you cannot force him to. Additionally, the content of the sessions remains confidential at all times. This also means that no feedback is given to the manager in terms of what is covered in the sessions. The coachee is of course free to do this if he wants to. It is important however to agree on this jointly (coach, coachee and manager) beforehand. In other words, even if a coachee decides to resign as a result of the coaching trajectory, for example, the coach will continue to stand behind the coachee and to support him.
But the question remains as to why anyone might want to enlist the services of a coach in the first place. An ICF study (2010) comes to a clear conclusion. People turn to professional coaching to achieve goals in their personal and professional lives. The top 5 goals are:
- Optimizing individual or team performance;
- Improving career opportunities;
- Improving business management strategies;
- Increasing the feeling of self-worth/self-confidence;
- Managing the work-life balance.
If you would like to be coached, make an appointment with one or more coaches for a free coaching session (one of these coaches can be me of course). During this session, you will experience whether that person’s way of coaching appeals to you and whether you are confident that this coach can help you find the answers you’re looking for and help you develop strategies for your personal themes. You will also experience whether you and the coach get on with each other and whether a safe and trusted environment has been created in which both you and the coach can be completely transparent, honest and open with each other. Based on your experiences with the different coaches, you can then choose the coach that you feel is the best for you. And if you have the slightest hesitation about the suitability of the coach… just say a gentle ‘No’!
Enjoy your coaching!