What is coaching?
Many different definitions exist, there are many different types of coaching, and people use the term coaching differently in a variety of contexts. It is therefore surprisingly difficult to sum up coaching on one sentence, because there are so many varieties and approaches. It's like trying to summarise what doctors do in one sentence. In practical terms, a good starting point is to look at the kind of areas that coaching can help with - have a look at the about you page to see the kinds of issues that coaching can help with.
Coaching is a learning, thought-provoking and creative relationship between equals, focused on change and action. The agenda is set by the coachee, who seeks to maximise their potential. The coach sees the coachee as resourceful, and coaching deals with the whole person. The coach uses skilful questioning, feedback, challenge and support, in order to facilitate performance, development or transformation.
At it's simplest, coaching is a supportive and developmental process that helps you:
- set and achieve personal and professional goals
- make important decisions
- identify and use your strengths
- identify the values that drive you
- live your life in accordance with your values
- develop resilience
- develop emotional intelligence
- develop soft skills and leadership skills such as empathy and communication
- become the best that you can be in all aspects of your life
The key thing to remember is that coaching is a process, not a one-off intervention that you attend and then forget. Coaching is a process where we work together for some aspects, and then you use what we develop together to make changes and achieve your goals in the real world. Coaching is very much about you acquiring the skills, strengths, courage and power to make changes in all aspects of your life, personal and professional alike.
In coaching, I will treat you and see you as
- an equal
- able to make the best choices for yourself
- capable of more than you think
I believe that the solutions that you develop yourself, with my support, are the ones that are most relevant to you, most useful and most likely to be carried out. The focus of coaching is on career / life balance / life direction, often a specific goal that we address during a fixed-term engagement. Remember that I am not an expert in your professional field, and the focus will be on your own resources and self development, which I will help you access. I will support you and work with you, but you are the ones that knows best what is right for you and what works for you.
Coaching differs from counselling or therapy in that coaching is about the future, action, change, and achievement of full potential, whereas therapy relationships are reparative in nature focused on overcoming traumatic events, understanding the past, and dealing with mental illness. Coaching is about self-awareness, self-management and self-efficacy; although the past can be useful in coaching to help us understand ourselves, the focus is firmly on the future, action, and development.
The coach is an expert on the coaching process, rather than an expert in professional or technical aspects of the coachee's job. In contrast, in mentoring the mentor is a more experienced professional sharing their wisdom with a less experienced person. In training relationships, knowledge and skills are imparted from an expert to the person learning. I principally offer coaching, with elements of mentoring if that is needed to help; on occasion, I may act as a trainer for example in relationship to interview skills. When we discuss coaching, we will agree on what is needed, and if I switch roles because that is needed to help you, I will make that clear.
Science behind coaching
The coaching knowledge-base arises from a number of different disciplines including education, leadership, social science, philosophy and psychology (Backhirova et al 2018). Each brings to coaching a variety of established traditions, approaches and assumptions. This can make it confusing when trying to understand what coaching is about. When wishing to provide the best coaching experience most well trained and experienced coaches will be able to flex and utilise a variety of different approached depending on what the coachee needs. My own approach is described here.
Skills, performance, developmental, transformational...
Coaching can be used to achieve different outcome types. Whilst terminology is by no means universally applied, broadly speaking, there is a continuum of "depth" between skills training, through performance coaching, to developmental coaching.
-Skills training focuses on shorter term goals and specific pre-defined objectives related to acquisition of the skill. This often relies on teaching a skill, so it sits in the world of training rather than coaching (although usually still called coaching). Coaching is about helping individuals become their best as their own experts - if an individual lacks a skill, that requires telling them about the skill, rather than expecting them to get there by themselves. So skills training is very important when someone lacks a skill, but for me sits in the training / education world more than coaching. A typical application for me would be interview skills training/coaching.
-Performance coaching focuses on use of judgement to apply the appropriate skills in complex contexts. It is not about acquisition of skills, it is about their application. Leadership coaching, confidence, life balance, prioritisation would be examples.
-Developmental coaching is about learning and building new capacity, rather than simple acquisition and application of of performance skills. It is thus learning about learning. It is a more long term process, and helps a person change in order to engage in different ways with present and future experiences. A subtype of developmental is transformative coaching, which involves a change in assumptions and beliefs that currently form a person's view of the world and drive their habitual thoughts, feelings and actions. It is about how they see themselves, what their "life story" is, or what personal illusions they hold. Self-identity, searching for meaning, and significant life events / transitions would be in this category.
I offer all types in different contexts depending on what you need. For the most part, my focus is on developmental / transformational aspects. Even if we discuss skills and performance, I still hope that you will go away not only with that, but also an understanding of how you learnt and what thoughts and feelings may have arisen, so that you have the skill plus greater self-understanding. If your world-view is holding you back, then the solution may not be in the realm of skills and performance, but a re-appraisal of how you see yourself and your "life story" may be required. A good example to illustrate this may be a new leader seeking coaching to improve their feedback-giving skills, and also walking away with a new understanding of how they see themselves in relation to others, what impact they have on others, and constructing a new view of themselves based on change in circumstances and deeper understanding.
What happens in practice?
Initially, we will arrange a free coaching session to see how we might work together. Coaching will then take place as a series of discussion. The goals and strategies that you develop will be with you for the long term, but the coaching sessions with me will be over a fixed term period of a few months or so.
In coaching, a variety of activities may be undertaken, such as talking, drawing, using coaching cards, role play, brainstorming, review of questionnaires that you filled in, or working within set coaching or leadership frameworks. What we do will depend on what you need and what you enjoy.
We will meet in person or via Zoom, and the discussions will last around 1 hours. The exact process isn't fixed, in our initial discussion we will discuss exactly what would work for you. Face to face meetings usually take place in comfortable private surroundings in the beautiful village of Cropwell Butler in Nottinghamshire.
What about psychometric testing?
Psychometric testing is about measuring a person's psychology. I'm afraid that I'm not a fan. Such testing assumes that human traits can be measured, but it is my view that being human is infinitely complex and many things are simply not possible to measure. Further, how one responds to the questionnaires will vary day to day and situation to situation, so I simply don't think that a questionnaire can have much useful to say about a human being as a whole. I also don't think that it is useful to know that a person is of a certain type, as that risk pigeon-holing people instead of allowing people to choose who they want to be or develop new traits an abilities.
If you are looking for someone to formally assess you and tell you what "type" you are, then I'm not the coach for you.
Instead of psychometric testing, I use questioning, discussion, word lists, or pictures as a way of finding out what you are like. These are then individual to you, and don't in any way measure you or assess you or compare you to other people. I believe that this is a better approach as it is less judgemental and encourages reflection and growth rather than pigeon-holing you into a type for the rest of eternity.
Is coaching for me?
Anyone can take advantage of the coaching process and can benefit as a result. Some reasons why people come to coaching include a promotion or job change, major life or career event, needing to make an important decision, needing help to progress personal and professional development, or to plan long term goals aligned with individual values. Coaching is about helping you achieve your best, whether that is a happy life balance, or great work performance, or values-based living, or something else.
Coaching may benefit people from all walks of life, including students, doctors, allied health professionals, senior leaders and senior managers. I coach people from all these groups.
Have a look here to see some research on the benefits of coaching.
What are the costs?
Coaching is an investment into your future. Studies in the organisational context indicate the the benefits are at least five times greater than the investment. What would be the cost to you of not being at your best?
The cost of coaching will depend on what you require. We will discuss this in advance.
Am I ready for coaching?
Coaching requires a significant commitment in terms of your time, emotions, and thinking capacity. Coaching may challenge pre-conceptions, it may offer you new ways of thinking, or be upsetting at times. Therefore, you need to be in a position ready to embrace the process, it's challenges, and your future. To get the most out of coaching, you need to be ready to immerse yourself in the process, work hard for your goals, and be ready to face challenges in the way.
You don't have to be facing a crisis to look for coaching. Many people use coaching as part of their ongoing journey of self-discovery to help them work out where they want their life to go, and to build up resilience to face challenges that inevitably come in the future.
Usually, by the time people are looking for coaching, they are ready. Your search is an indication that you are facing a challenge, and are looking for help with your journey. If you are not sure whether you are ready, just book the free 60 minute session to find out.
Are you ready? I'm ready to help.
Not sure how you manage it but you have got me to do so much! More than I ever imagined I could.
Trainee doctor discussing careers
If you have any questions regarding coaching, please get in touch.