So what exactly IS coaching?

I’ve just come off an intensive four-day course to learn all about – and try my hand at – coaching. Fifteen strangers gathered in a hotel in the east midlands – with different careers, backgrounds,  personalities and ambitions – but all with the same question. How can we help other people by becoming great coaches?

What coaching is (and isn’t)

So, what exactly is coaching? It’s probably easier to say what it isn’t – it’s not about offering advice, expertise or knowledge. It isn’t about solving other people’s problems or offering solutions. It’s different from mentoring and it’s not psychotherapy.

So, what is it ? Our homework question at the end of the course was “how would you explain coaching clearly and concisely”.  Here is my work-in-progress definition.

Coaching is a meaningful conversation which helps a person solve a problem, make choices and/or take action, through which they can get to a better place.

What a coach does (and doesn’t do)

The first thing to say is that your coach is 100% on your side. They respect you as a unique individual with 100% positive regard. They are there to support to you, encourage you and to be your best professional friend for every minute of the coaching sessions. Typically, there will be half-a-dozen of these of 1 – 1.5 hours each.

However, this is not like the type of friend who offers advice or tells you what to do. A coach recognises that the expert on you in the room is – you! We are all highly complex and unique individuals dealing with fluid and complex situations. It would take a coach many years to understand all of the detailed aspects of our life and personality.

So, the coach is here to listen and ask questions and help you to find your own answers. To help you navigate and drive to the better place you discover you want to get to.

Five things a good coach does

How does a coach do that ? Here are the five key things that a good coach does:-

  1. Listens relentlessly
  2. Holds up a mirror
  3. Shines a light
  4. Asks great questions
  5. Empathises and encourages

When did you last sit down and talk to someone who really listens to you ? I mean REALLY listens? Someone who is paying attention to you, rather than just waiting for an opportunity to speak. Who doesn’t interrupt, change the subject, check their phone or have a meeting to go to? Who is 100% present with you, concentrating and understanding?

A coach will do this for you, with genuine interest and concern. Then, they will play back to you what they have heard, observed and understood. They will hold up a mirror, so you can see yourself and your world, with a perspective you haven’t seen before. They may well shine a light into corners of your head you haven’t looked at or haven’t wanted to look at. But again, all with the intent of helping you, without judgement.

A coach will do this not by providing easy answers, but by asking helpful and searching questions. How does it feel when? What would happen if? What would good look like? What would prevent you from doing this? What would you do if you knew it would succeed?

Throughout the process, the coach is there to empathise and encourage, even when – especially when – the conversation becomes challenging and maybe (dare I say it) emotional.

Better understanding, choices and outcomes

The aim is to help the person being coached to understand themselves better. What sort of people we are, how we react to certain situations, what impact we have on the people around us and how – by greater self-awareness – we can play these out in a more positive way.

This includes understanding our:-

  • goals & values
  • drivers & motivations
  • sensitivities & vulnerabilities
  • strengths and (most importantly) our potential

It also means critically examining the stories we tell ourselves – the self-limiting stories, the assumptions about other people, the over-simplistic interpretations we often make. The things we tell ourselves we cannot do “because”. The stories we believe which prevent us reaching our full potential and making that important next step in our lives.

Once we understand ourselves better, we can make better choices. The outcome from the coaching sessions might be making a difficult decision, re balancing our life, improving a difficult relationship, letting something go, picking something up, making a particular career or life choice. We may decide to change how we behave, or how we react, in order to be more effective and in a happier place.

What does this require of a coach?

We learned a whole load about what all of this demands from the coach – in terms of mindset, skills, and  techniques, and most importantly being self-aware and authentic ourselves. The key is to build a trusting relationship with the person being coached – all in the cause of helping them and serving their needs.

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