So we’ve spent the past few months giving you a glimpse into the foundational skills and principles that underpin the coaching profession and you’re starting to get a taste of what coaching is all about. We’ve explored some of our inner landscape: our dreams, our goals, the way we formulate our limitations, and critically how we can overcome them.
We’ve also learned a bit about how we translate our inner objectives to the outer world; how we go about formulating clear and achievable action plans and stay accountable to a coach, one step at a time, as we complete them.
By virtue of your requests, over the coming months we’ll be delving into the popular topics of:
- Emotional Intelligence;
- Dynamic Communication; and
- Developing/Maintaining High Energy Relationships.
But just for this week, I propose to take a quick detour……
Why you ask?
As someone who runs an internationally accredited professional coach training programme, you can probably imagine that when I’m going about my social life and someone enquires what I do for a living, it often begs the question, “So, what exactly is coaching, Anna?” (otherwise known as “the Question”).
In recent months I have not only observed a noticeable upswell in people asking the Question but I’ve also been a tad surprised by how often coaching suffers from a case of mistaken identity; sometimes being confused with consulting, mentoring or therapy.
So in honour of all the people I have met over the past few years who have asked me the Question, this week allow me to fill you in on what coaching really is, so that we can all enjoy a clear and shared understanding of it.
You may not be surprised to learn that in part, coaching incorporates key aspects of all 3 of the modalities mentioned above. Whilst admittedly that has the benefit of meaning that most people can identify with certain parts of it, in my experience, coaching is often best understood less by looking at the similarities between the modalities and more by looking at the critical differences between them.
Coaching vs. Consulting
Here’s how I see it: clients typically hire consultants to identify problems and formulate solutions to fix them. Consultants are considered to be experts in a certain field, so they are paid to come up with a plan for the client and then the consultant’s job is usually complete. On occasions where consultants are further engaged to implement the plan, it fosters a relationship of dependency between the client and the consultant in respect of getting the critical tasks done.
In contrast, coaches view their clients as being the “experts” in their own lives and businesses; they partner with the client to help implement a plan they create collaboratively. You may have noticed that people are far more likely to get excited about and follow through on ideas they help develop rather than those that are offered to them by someone else. That’s why coaches don’t tell clients what to do, but instead, facilitate discovery of their own answers.
The coach’s expertise is in providing guidance, tools and methods for clients to improve their own ability to repeatedly develop and implement their own solutions, both now and in the future.
Coaching vs. Mentoring
To my mind a mentor is someone who has ‘been there, done that’ and helps guide a client to emulate the mentor’s own success. Mentors are often chosen because they have travelled a very similar road to the one the client is on. Whereas coaching centres much more on the fact that everyone is unique and thus empowers clients to discover their own path.
A coach’s value lies not in their technical know-how or specific knowledge about their client’s issues or field of expertise (although this can be helpful in some circumstances), but in their ability to help clients draw from their own experience and wisdom so that they can move forward.
Coaching vs. Therapy
In the field of therapy, therapists typically help their clients to deal with dysfunction in order to become fully functional individuals. Often, this requires looking back into the past and asking what was the “problem” that caused this – exploring ‘why’ the client feels that way. It’s typically a problem-focussed modality that often involves healing, and, sometimes, managing mental illness.
In contrast, coaches help clients focus on their plans for the future; looking at what they want to achieve and asking “how” they are going to get there. It’s a results and solutions-oriented process that moves them from functional to optimal performance.
So What IS Coaching?
The focus on attaining one’s potential is what sets traditional coaching apart from the problem-solving, expert opinion and coping strategies of other modalities. In a nutshell, other helping professions were created to solve problems. In consulting, mentoring and therapy, the helper is the authority, and the client is looking for answers.
In coaching, coach and client work together as a team. Coaching is far more focussed on what’s working in order to build upon success.
I said earlier that coaching incorporates aspects of consulting, mentoring and therapy. There are times when coaches act like consultants, suggesting new ideas from their intuition, knowledge and experience. Like mentors, coaches can certainly provide valuable insight into their client’s experiences or situations. And, like therapists, coaches sometimes “visit” the past to understand the present.
True coaching is a powerful and transformative process that focusses on partnering with individuals to create the future they envision from a place of authenticity for them. It’s about challenging and supporting people to achieve higher levels of performance, while allowing them to bring out the best in themselves and those around them. The best coaches in the world help clients reshape their ways of thinking, feeling and acting in order to become who they really want to be.
Next time we’ll begin to explore the area of Emotional Intelligence. In the meantime, to learn more about ways you can cultivate your self-awareness and increase your level of consciousness I invite you to check out our Facebook page.
‘Til next time…!’