In recent years the idea of coaching and the role of the coach have made the journey from the sports field, via Human Resources become part of everyday managerial life. The term ‘coach’ and ‘coaching’ have become common, even trendy, but both are widely misunderstood. If you ask anyone to define the word ‘coach’ you will get a wide variety of responses even from professionals.
In sports, the role of the coach is crucial to help people perform at their peak. Even the most accomplished sports people still gain huge benefits from a good relationship with their coach. Few of these coaches were gifted performers themselves; their skills lie in getting the best out of other people.
Looking at coaching in this way, we can see that there is a great benefit to be had from having people in organizations with the skills and abilities to draw the best out of others.
To develop our understanding of coaching, we need first to be aware of the difference between coaching and other ways of developing people.
–Coaching and teaching
From our experience at school and university, we can understand that teaching tends to be delivered to groups, following a predetermined lesson plan and with people of mixed abilities developing their understanding as best as they can.
Of course, it can be given on a one-to-one basis. However, the dominant party in the teacher-pupil relationship is the teacher. The teacher will be concerned with passing on knowledge, facts and wisdom and, as pupils; we usually take a passive role and try to absorb them. Pupils have little scope to set or follow their own agenda and have to try to interpret what the teacher is saying and make sense of it even if it is against our own experience.
Coaching, on the other hand, is more often than not delivered one to one. It is the coachee who sets the agenda and decides on the issue to be considered. As coaches, we are not there to provide input or advice or tell the coachee how we would do things. Instead, our role is to probe and encourage and help the coachee make sense of things for himself -or herself.
As this can be a difficult concept to grasp and seems to be platonic, let me explain better through a comparison:
When we get up in the morning, we usually pad across the halfway to the bathroom and begin the morning routine of making ourselves look presentable. For some, this may mean shaving their face and brushing their hair. While others may concentrate on applying makeup or hairspray. All those activities would be almost impossible without our trusty friend the bathroom mirror.
But does the mirror say, ’ooh! I wouldn’t do it like this, or that’s not how it should be done,’ or ‘you have never done your hair like that before? Or If I were you, I would do.. .’ Of course not! The mirror does help us make sense of what is going on and achieve our aim, which is, in this case, to look presentable before we face the world.
When we are coaching, we are trying to perform the same function. The best coaches will hold up a ‘mirror’ so that people can develop a deep sense of self-awareness. When people are highly self-aware, they have more choices about how to move issues forward.
–Coaching and training
Training is concerned about helping people to perform, of course, to develop a skill or certain expertise, that’s why again it is centered on the trainer and the subject matter, not on the individual.
–Coaching and mentoring
Coaches and mentors share many of the same skills and abilities, but they should better be different people. A mentor is typically a senior person of greater experience who is invited to take us “under their wings” and let us benefit from their wisdom. If it is coaching we want, however, we are probably best advised to avoid a more experienced person who may be tempted to persuade us to “do it their way”.
Coaching is completely concerned about drawing out and not putting in. It is less concerned about the highest experience or position in an organization than the right skills to coach
–Coaching and counseling
When we want compare coaching with counseling, we need to define first the limitations of coaching. Coaching in an organization is concerned with helping people to perform well or better in their jobs, not with dealing with deep-rooted problems from the past.
It is possible that we may find ourselves as coaches in situations where we uncover some painful or personal issues as we coach, so we need to know when to bring in the appropriate expertise. Those situations are more frequent when we do life and personal coaching.
Most coaches are not trained counselors or therapists, but the most effective coaches are able to deliver excellent coaching support when faced.
Now that we went through these comparisons, I think it is fair enough to say that it is not the way we use, as coaches, to help others that count, but the philosophy behind it.
My philosophy is quite simple:’ the brain with the problem is the one with the solution.”