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What is Professional Coaching?

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Professional coaching is a term I use to describe my work partnering with individuals who are striving to reach their full potential. But what is professional coaching and what does it offer to the potential client? This article provides basic information about the practice of coaching, and specific information about my coaching style and approach.

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What is Coaching?

John Whitmore defined coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance” (2002). Differentiating coaching from “instructing” he noted that it is not the job of the coach to tell the person what to do, so much as to bring out the talents that an individual already posesses and help them reach their full potential. In translating the idea of coaching from the sports field, to the business world, he emphasized that coaching means seeing potential in people and helping them experiment and practice in a way that moves toward that potential.

In 2005, Lynn Grodzki and Wendy Allen further defined coaching by differentiating it from other one-on-one relationships. Coaching, they said, is different from therapy which often focuses on diagnosing a challenge and applying a specific treatment to that challenge. Coaching, on the other hand, is about working alongside a client to help them identify and work toward goals through a partnership that helps them make more progress than if they were doing it alone. Coaching also emphasizes grounding in the present and thinking about the future, where as therapy might focus more on processing the past.

Coaching is also different from consulting, which often involves and “expert” advising you on how best to run your organization or program. Though the two are often combined (as they are in my practice), coaching is more about working alongside a client then taking the lead.

Kimsey-House et. al (2018) further differentiate and define coaching by stating that coaching is not so much a method as a relationship. Coaching is about understanding the specific client with whom you are working and working with them in a way that is best for their needs and goals (even as those things change and evolve).

All of this work on coaching led to the creation of the International Coaching Federation which offers credentials and aims to try to bring common ground to best practices in coaching. The ICF defines coaching as: partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” This is the definition that I use to ground my practice with clients. I love the terms “thought-provoking” and “creative” to describe the work that I do together with my clients.

What does Coaching Look & Feel Like?

As emphasized by Kimsey-House et. al., coaching is all about developing a relationship with a coachee. As such, every coaching relationship will be unique based on the goals and preferences of the individual being coached. That said, there are common practices that are often used by coaches to help clients identify and achieve their goals.

In general coaching sessions emphasize interactive conversations between the coach and the coachee, but they can also include tools and strategies that help to illuminate the path. Coaching sessions (a coaching relationship usually entails a series of meetings) may also include the following components:

  • Grounding and Mindfulness Exercises to help a client focus on the conversation at hand, free from distraction and able to make the most out of the time together with their coach;
  • Reflective Exercises or Conversations to help clients identify strengths, passions, goals, or ideas that will carry them forward in their development;
  • Question-Posing by the coach to dig deeper into what the client is saying and hopefully spark insight and aha moments;
  • Goal-Setting in both a larger sense (what is the goal of our work together?) and a micro sense (what goals will you set for yourself before we meet again?) in order to focus on desired outcomes of the client.

Coaching might take place in-person or online. Sometimes, there will be exercises or “homework” between session that the coachee comes prepared to discuss with their coach.

Most importantly, coaching is driven by the individual who is being coached – not by the coach themselves. Just as players on a sports team are the ones on the field doing the work, a professional coach is on the sidelines prompting you with ideas that will bring out your potential – not on the field with you.

Personally, I love working with clients to identify and lean into their strengths rather than focusing too much on their weaknesses. I also love using assessments and outside readings to spur your thinking, as I believe that having “tools in our toolbox” can never be under-valued. For example, I might suggest that you take the Clifton Strengths Assessment or read a book by Brene Brown for inspiration and reflection; these are all suggestions, not assignments, and I always ask clients what they would like to do next (while providing some options). All of these recommendations come from a combination of personal experience and a sense of what you might enjoy.

What Results can you Expect from Coaching?

This is a tough question, as the word “results” can infer that there is a pre-determined final product that will come out of coaching sessions. Instead, coaching is about flexibility and progress much more than products. It is true that a coachee may reach an important decision in their life by working with a coach (quitting a job, getting a job, starting a business, etc.) but a coachee may also just work their way through a different professional challenge and feel a sense of resolution rather than a specific outcome.

Coaching can also focus on developing positive professional habits, like work-life balance (if such a thing exists), self-compassion, or better organizational skills if those are things the coachee wants to prioritize.

And yet, you may find that coaching goes in an entirely different direction than you initially thought once you get started. In the end, the biggest “result” in coaching is a relationship with a trusted coach who can help you to identify and move toward goals, whatever they may be or however they may change. It means you have someone “in your corner” who not only cheers you on, but offers you a balance of challenge and support to spur your growth.

In my work with clients, mindfulness is an underpinning value. How can we become aware of our present state of being and use that awareness to make the progress we want? Finding an ability to be more aware of ourselves, kind to ourselves, and self-empowering are all meaningful outcomes of coaching for me – regardless of the destinations to which they lead professionally.

Coaching Resources

The following texts are cited in this article and have helped me to define and understand the coaching profession:

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