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A beginner’s guide to coaching


Despite the rapid increase in popularity of coaching in recent years (to whit, see the use of 'coach' in people's job titles and job descriptions), there is still a great deal of misunderstanding around what true coaching is. Here, Shaun Durham of Ki People offers a beginners guide to coaching.
"Coaching is the art of facilitating the development, learning and performance of another" - Myles Downey
What does that mean?
Coaching employs techniques from psychology, education, sport and business to unlock the potential of the individual (or team) being coached, leading to increased performance. Or as Tim Gallway put it, Performance = potential – interference (Source: Tim Gallway, The Inner Game of Tennis)
The choice and responsibility rest firmly with the coachee. Practitioners of non-directive coaching believe that the coach should not lead, or 'direct', the coachee. Rather, through reducing the interference and focusing on achievable goals they enable the coachee to 'answer their own question', to find the answers within.
Performance coaching in the business context (not life coaching or the other related fields) is goal-orientated. This distinction is crucial. At the start of a session, a clear goal is identified, something that can be worked towards at the end of one, two or three hours. The goal must be specific. The aim of some sessions may be just for the coachee to 'offload'. Fine. But the outcome must also be measureable – how will the coachee know / feel that they have 'offloaded'? Then, coaching is more than a conversation.

What coaching is not

Coaching is not mentoring or counselling. It may share certain techniques and require some of the same skills in the practitioner. It is also not advising, consulting or managing (though a coaching skillset and sensibility certainly wouldn't harm those professionals). It is not training or appraisal. A couple of examples should suffice:
  1. Mentors are people who have travelled the road; they possess experience and skills in a certain field that they then 'pass on' to the person being mentored.
  2. A coach does not need to be a specialist in a given subject or discipline since there is already one in the room: the coachee.
  3. Counsellors tend to address a medical or therapeutic need, which may have its causes in a past event or a recent trauma.
A coach tends to focus on the present, with a view to influencing the future.
Coaching then:
  • Leaves the choice and responsibility with the coachee
  • Is based on the premise that the individual's potential resides within
  • Is non-judgemental
  • Is goal-orientated

Selecting a coach

With increasing popularity and greater claims of success, comes responsibility. With budgetary pressure forcing organisations to justify their spend on coaching (see below) there is now increased awareness that a systematic process for selecting the right coach should be in place. Whether this in an internal or external coach, the following questions should be borne in mind:
  • How much experience does the coach possess?
  • Do they possess an accreditation or qualification from a reputable source? (It is unlikely that a two day 'coaching skills' seminar will suffice)
  • Who did they train under?
  • Are they receiving supervision? (which ensures high professional standards are maintained)
  • Do they have client references?

Return on investment

Where's the value then? There is much debate about this, since coaching is a relatively new profession (and even that term in disputed, as the various industry bodies' debate acceptable professional standards, qualifications and oversight) and research into the benefits and outcomes is being produced all the time. (For example see, Institute of Leadership and Management, Creating a Coaching Culture, May 2011)
In one sense the value is very visible – it is evidenced in the 'transformation' of the coachee, through their outlook, actions and general persona. In the work we do with people in transition (promotions or between jobs), this is especially evident. Can coaching add value in a smaller business? Of course. In human resources, in accounting, in marketing, in logistics, in engineering, in design? Yes, to all. And why? Because people matter. Even in the most automated of industries, people make decisions, have tasks to perform and require motivation.
To quote from the above report, "the majority of organisations believe that coaching delivers a wide range of benefits, often stretching beyond their original objectives."
So the question becomes, not can you afford coaching, but can you afford not to?
Shaun Durham is an executive coach with Ki People and managing director of Crisp Professional Development, a coaching, career management and leadership development business. He has a PhD from the University of Southampton. He can be contacted via

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