Six things that coaching isn’t

Illuminated letter sign saying Hype

Freighted with “Hey, make like an ice unicorn, be horny for life but be chilled,” self-help baggage, the business coach can meet with a lot of scepticism. Vast crowds of unqualified practitioners simply slapping a ‘coach’ tag on their blog probably don’t help.

Thing is, you only need to experience the real thing once to understand what a powerful ally a professional coach can be, and how they can help your life both in and out of work. With that in mind, here are some common misconceptions about coaching, and why there’s more to it than ice unicorns and management-speak.

Coaching is not…

A flash in the pan. While it’s certainly easier to access or read about coaching now, it’s actually far from the new kid on the block. Some of the approaches coaches use, particularly around exploring topics through discussion and questioning, have their roots in the Socratic method employed by (among others) Plato, although a coach may not spend quite as much time talking about shadows on cave walls. Maybe just using PowerPoint.

Therapy, consulting or mentoring. They cross over sometimes, sure, but coaching, therapy, consulting and mentoring have discrete functions.

Therapy. As CoachingPartner puts it, therapy tends to focus on resolving difficulties from the past to improve emotional functioning in the present, whereas ‘coaching is future focused. The emphasis is on action, accountability and follow through.’

Consulting. A consultant identifies specific business issues, perhaps using quantitative analysis and insight into engagement strategy (and if that’s what you’re after, we should talk). They may also suggest solutions. A coach asks open questions, and they don’t give instructions.

Mentoring. A mentor offers guidance, answers and wisdom based on their own experience. A coach helps you get to those answers by yourself. To use a Star Wars analogy: Yoda was a mentor (‘Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi seeks not these things’); Vader, for all his faults, was nonetheless a coach (‘Search your feelings’). Note: a reputable coach won’t Force-choke you.

A quick fix. Coaching isn’t about nipping in, getting a solution in a box and having done with it. It’s often a process of incremental discovery and change, requiring an investment of time if you want to get the most from it. As the International Coach Federation says, coaching involves ‘partnering with clients in a creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.’ It’s not something you rush.

Easy. A process that often involves asking yourself some hard questions about your fundamental beliefs and what you want from your life (professional or otherwise) can be tricky. Done well, coaching will challenge preconceptions and make you examine things from new angles; none of that happens without encountering some resistance or discomfort.

One-size-fits-all. Because good coaching can – and should – adapt to the needs of the person being coached, there’s no single approach to it out there. “It’s not any one thing,” says professional coach Robbie Swale. “It’s not all serious and business, but it can be; it’s not all about emotions, but it can be; it’s not all flowery and hippy-like, but it can be; it’s not all about action plans, but it can be.”

A magic bullet. Coaching won’t fix every issue you have at work, or out of it. But then, it’s not supposed to. It’s more about helping you address how you approach those problems and why, and making gradual adjustments to the way you might think about things in the future. As Swale says, “it’s not the solution to everyone’s personal or professional development needs, but with the right coach for the right person it can be the solution to most.”

That’s coaching in a nutshell: it’s not magic, not easy and definitely not therapy. But given the potential rewards if you commit to it and find the right coach, and given that many coaches offer a free introductory session, it’s perhaps not something you can ignore either.

Or you could just stick with the unicorn thing.

Posted on 3rd January 2018 in Culture&Insight&Leadership
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