So, what is coaching?

Coaching is a rich and wonderful discipline, but commonly misunderstood. So I want to explain what coaching is, how it’s distinct from other disciplines like mentoring and therapy, what people commonly bring to coaching and the ingredients needed for success.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as ‘partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential’. It’s about working alongside people to achieve changes that are important to them. Of course, making change is never as straightforward as just implementing a solid action plan. We humans are complex beings, so it’s crucial that we first look to understand ourselves, get clear about what’s most important to us, and address any barriers that might be holding us back. Ultimately, coaching is very much focused on maximising our potential.

Isn’t it just a type of mentoring? Or therapy?

Coaching has clear distinctions from other disciplines like mentoring and therapy. Mentoring usually involves a more experienced person training or advising a less experienced person in a particular subject area. Therapy tends to focus on addressing problems from the past. Both are very valuable disciplines in their own right, however coaching is different altogether.

In coaching, we look towards the future rather than the past – considering who you need to be, and what actions you can take now in order to achieve your potential and become the best version of yourself.

Coaching is founded on the premise that people are inherently whole and already possess the answers they need. My job as a coach is not to give you advice or tell you what’s best (as if I could possibly know that for you!). What I will do is help enable you to discover what you really want, create awareness around what might be holding you back, and design and implement a roadmap to get there. If it sounds like a linear process, it’s not! If achieving the changes we desire was as easy as following through on a logical plan, you probably would’ve done it by now. I will also offer you my observations as you journey through the coaching process, and appropriate challenge too – coaching is as much about reflecting and learning as it is about taking action.

What might I bring to coaching?

The possibilities for coaching are infinite. Anywhere you see an opportunity for change or improvement, coaching can assist. You may bring something specific (improve my communication skills at work, or plan my next career move) or more general (things could be better in my life and/or work, but I don’t know where to start). The beauty of coaching is that it is not a rigid process – we work with exactly where you’re at, provided that you bring the right ingredients for success. More on that shortly.

Want more of an idea about what coaching can do for you? Here are a few examples where it could help:

  • I want to feel more satisfied at work, but am unsure how
  • I’ve got heaps of things I want to achieve, but struggle to prioritise them
  • I know I’m not living up to my potential but I don’t know where to start
  • My priorities are out of sync and I need some help to get them in order
  • I want to do more meaningful work that’s better aligned with my values
  • I need to find a way to become more resilient in life and work
  • I’m juggling a million balls in the air and I need help simplifying my life
  • I’ve reached a certain point in my career and am unsure of my next step
  • I had some challenging feedback at work recently and I want to explore it further
  • I want to improve my leadership skills so I can be more effective at work
  • I’m feeling stuck with where I’m currently at in life, but don’t know how to get unstuck.

And the list goes on. The possibilities are endless.

Ingredients for success

In my view, there are two crucial ingredients needed for coaching to have a successful outcome. The first, which is inseparable from success is the approach and attitude the client brings.

You must be prepared to take responsibility for your own success. Coaching is not for excuse-makers. You simply cannot achieve change without a healthy dose of courage, determination and openness. And I don’t say that naively. I understand firsthand how challenging it can be (and continues to be!) to step outside my comfort zone, overcome the barriers in my way, and particularly, commit to taking full responsibility for myself.

Coaching can be uncomfortable, frustrating and challenging. You need to be motivated towards your own success, and shouldn’t come to coaching expecting someone to fix you or tell you what path to follow.

Be willing to invest time, energy and effort both during and after the coaching sessions. Coaching is a commitment to yourself, and you get out what you put in.

What you should expect is to form a partnership with someone who will support you, challenge you, and invest wholeheartedly in your success. Isn’t that a wonderful opportunity?

The second crucial ingredient is the partnership and dynamic that is created between the coach and client. This is why it’s essential to find someone you feel comfortable with, supported by, and able to trust. Don’t be afraid to shop around to find someone who is right for you, as it’ll have a big impact on what you get out of the process.

As a client myself, I have experienced coaching with several different coaches – each with a distinctive approach. Some women, some men. Some who had an explicit focus on work, others who took a more holistic view. Some based within my organisation, others working independently. Some who had a fixed programme and toolkit to work through in a series of sessions, others who were more flexible and happy to work with whatever was ‘on top’ for me that day.

Most resonated for me, but some more than others, for instance in the degree to which I could be honest and completely myself. You can imagine how this might have influenced the outcome, and how it might do so in the same circumstances for you.

An effective coach has the capability to be fully present with their client, to listen to with their ‘eyes, ears and gut’, to be curious about their client’s experience, to put aside any of their own judgements or preferences, and to ask powerful questions that support their client’s development.

When talking at length about coaching recently with a fellow coach and friend, we agreed that at its foundation, coaching is about being present, building trust, listening deeply and non-judgementally, and reflecting back in order to support that person’s development. It’s not rocket science – but it is a rare set of acts in today’s world.

Think about what that experience might feel like for a moment. How often do you feel completely heard? How often do you have dedicated, exclusive space with someone who is focused purely on you? 

More often than not, I’m met with curiosity and interest when I tell people I’m starting out in coaching. It’s interesting to hear how many people are intrigued by the topic and have wanted to look into it further. I hope this post has helped shed a little bit of light on a topic that is very close to my heart. It may have even helped you consider where coaching could be beneficial for you. Trust me when I say that I believe coaching has the potential to add immense value for just about anyone.

But after all, what unfolds in the coaching process is unique for every person, and there’s nothing like experiencing it firsthand to understand its own unique brand of magic for you. I’ve chosen this field because I know firsthand how truly transformative it can be and I’m so enthusiastic about giving others that opportunity. Life and work can unfold in the most glorious and unexpected ways by partnering with someone who wants to see you succeed.

I always welcome feedback on these posts! And you can contact me here if you’re keen to find out more.

P.S. Here’s a great little read on the gift of presence if you’re interested. 

So, what is coaching?

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