Coaching?…What does that mean?

After 15+ years working as a full-time professional leadership and executive coach, “Coaching?…What does that mean?” is still the most common question I get asked when someone finds out what I do for a living.

Read on to learn how I address this particular FAQ and some of the others that come with it.

First and foremost: Coaching is a conversation.

Conversations happen all day long in all parts of life. Coaching, however, is different and unique. It’s a conversation that may not happen anywhere else in someone’s life. The coaching conversation is devoted to expanding perspective, supporting forward movement, and inviting intentional action. It gives attention solely and completely to the client and to what the client cares about.

The coaching conversation focuses on exploring, discovering, and going beyond what is already known to uncover valuable insights that lead the coaching client to new, more powerful action. Oftentimes people who are new to coaching will find it unusual, perhaps even uncomfortable, to have this light, this attention shining on them for the duration of a coaching session; that’s because it’s not a familiar experience for us to feel like we have the space to think, to dream, to envision and to wonder aloud without judgment, without interruption – it’s rare and special to be heard (and held) in this way.

Coaching is a relationship.

The coaching relationship is constituted by a client giving the coach permission to coach. The relationship is built on trust, openness, care, awareness, exploration, and listening. As a coach, my focus is the well-being of my client, as well as their learning. Each time we meet, we clarify and then focus on what is most relevant, meaningful, and satisfying to the client. We look to link challenges and insights to the bigger aspiration(s) that the client holds.

Clients bring concerns and challenges for which they have not been successful or satisfied in navigating on their own. My role is to be a committed listener of their experience, their interpretations, their patterns of action and the areas where they may be blind. With deep listening, I bring curiosity to the space – to ask questions that are intended to elicit the clients’ innate wisdom; probe for insights that shed new light, explore possibilities that create openings through which the client has not yet walked. My role is not to problem-solve, provide expertise, give advice, or direct action. My role is much more expansive, spontaneous, and inspired….it is to make room for the creativity and resourcefulness in the client to find its way up and out through the client.

Coaching embraces accountability.

Accountability partnership is another aspect of coaching that differentiates it from what we often experience when we have conversations with partners, colleagues, family, and friends. The coach and client agree on commitments to be fulfilled and actions to be practiced that are intended to develop and/or sustain important insights and learning in between coaching sessions. As the coach, it is my role to be an effective customer of these promises and to hold the client as capable of meeting their own challenges and helping them to be successful. In coaching we look to bring the fullness of the other to bear. It is in the spirit of full potential and championing that this accountability works best and serves the client’s ambitions, rather than in the spirit of “I’m gonna get you!” – I’ve found that when someone believes in me and helps me to be successful with what I’ve said I’d do, the chances are much higher that I’ll not only fulfill and reap the rewards of having stretched, but I will learn and change as a result. This is the intention and aim of accountability in coaching.

Why do people work with a coach?

While each person is unique and special, there are common challenges and themes that often motivate private individuals and corporate leaders to work with a professional coach. Here are a few examples…

  • Experiencing self-doubt that fosters procrastination and self-sabotage
  • Challenges with setting and keeping healthy boundaries in work and relationships
  • Suffering from the effects of stress, overwhelm and constantly being overcommitted
  • Ineffective communication habits that weaken impact and influence
  • Lacking confidence and playing small
  • Feeling consumed by negative emotions and energy
  • Yearning for something new and different but not knowing where or how to start
  • Missing a sense purpose, inspiration, and personal power

How does coaching work?

Clarifying the overarching dreams and aspirations is where we begin. We consider the ‘end game’ for the client – what is it that the client most wants to generate and become, and we consider what is in the way, the obstacles that need to be addressed and navigated. We consider the qualities and characteristics to be enhanced and strengthened and we articulate indicators and signposts that guide us on the journey and toward the desired destination.

The length of time that an individual works with their coach will largely be informed by the client’s desires and outcomes for the coaching. For individual coaching, starting with a commitment of 4 – 6 months allows the coach and client to establish a rhythm of conversation, generate momentum, build on successes. In the corporate setting it is common to begin with a 9 or 12-month commitment of time depending on the kinds of results that are being promised.

Coach and client meet at a regular cadence, and usually start the conversation with updates on previous commitments and actions, followed by clarifying the desired outcomes for the session, coaching to the topic or challenges presented and then closing out with agreement on actions and practices to take into the world based on insights and learning generated in the conversation. Each conversation will be moving the client closer and closer to what they set out to achieve both in the session as well as in the larger scope of the coaching engagement.

Progress reviews, course-corrections and celebrations are also part of how coaching works. It is important to acknowledge where things are working, what’s contributing to the successes and to savour and let in the good. At the midpoint and toward the end of the contract we review of how we are doing relative to the goals that were established at the outset of the coaching engagement. Sometimes we need to pivot, update, or renegotiate the measures of success based on unforeseen circumstances, new cares or learning that has arisen. All of this happens within the context of the coaching relationship and is part of what it means to be in a living rhythm of conversation.

Coaching works best when both the timing and the fit are right.

If you are curious about coaching and wonder if it is appropriate for you, I recommend searching out a few coaches for introductory/chemistry calls. Most reputable coaches will offer a no obligation call so that you can experience what is it’s like to be coached by them. It also gives you the opportunity to ask questions, get a feel for the style and sense whether it’s a good match.

I hope this has answered some of the questions you brought with you when you decided to read this post. If you still have questions or curiosity about coaching, please reach out and we can schedule time together.

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