The question 'what is coaching?' will elicit many different responses depending on who you ask, and it is worth spending a bit of time understanding what coaching means if you are going to invest your time and money in engaging a coach. I am going to share my perspective on coaching which is aligned to those recognised professional coaching organisations such as the International Coach Federation (ICF), Association For Coaches (AC) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).
Broadly speaking coaching is a process that allows an individual or group of people to reflect and gain awareness of who they are, what is important to them, their strengths, challenges and how they act in order to make the changes they want in their work or life.
Unlike training and instruction where the emphasis is on the trainer imparting their knowledge to you, coaching focuses on helping the coachee to take responsibility for identifying their own goals, assessing their own strengths and areas for development and identifying their own solutions for moving forwards. This is achieved by the coach providing a safe non-judgemental space, asking thought-provoking questions and listening to help the coachee explore, reflect and make decisions.
People engage in coaching for a variety of reasons. It can help you to make changes in your life, business or career, improve your performance, enhance your relationships with others or develop specific skills.
To further clarify exactly what is coaching, here are a couple of definitions from two well-known coaching experts:
"Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them learn rather than teaching them" (Whitmore, J, 2004)
Coaching is 'a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be successful, a coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills, and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which coaching takes place'. (Parsloe, Eric 1999)
One definition I particularly like is 'Effective coaching – listening, summarising, asking questions to encourage fresh thinking and listening further – is a facilitative, catalytic intervention which raises awareness, brings about personal reflection, learning and development leading to commitment to self directive problem solving and decision making.’ (Michael O’Flaherty 2011)
There are also different approaches to coaching and this is where the definitions of coaching become blurred.
Non-directive coaching is coaching in the true sense of the word where the coach simply asks you questions to allow you to find your own solutions. A non-directive coach will certainly not offer you advice and rarely even give you suggestions, although through skillful questioning they will help you to see your situation from a different perspective, gain clarity, uncover options, challenge inconsistencies and hold you accountable to your actions.
The great benefit of non-directive coaching is that you, as the client take full ownership of your own solutions rather than ‘doing what you have been told to do.’ Through this approach you will feel a sense of empowerment to make changes in your life and your confidence bolstered.
Directive coaching on the other hand is where the coach offers you solutions, tools and techniques for moving forward. You may like to be offered solutions however the danger is that the solution may not be appropriate for your situation and consequently may not feel fully committed to the solution provided.