Coaching - A Fad or a Viable Development?
by Claudia Nuber
Coaching is one of the most talked about topics these days! Everyone is coaching somebody on some issue. But what does it mean and how does one muddle through the many confusing terms?n
In order to fully understand the concept, one must first differentiate between the often interchangeably used terms, i.e. Training, Consulting und Coaching.
Training and Consulting versus Coaching
Training is chiefly focused on the transfer of technical know-how (for example PC-Training or Management Training), which the participants then apply within their professional contexts.
Consulting conventionally involves the assessment of the "current situation" and ensuing proposal of solutions, sometimes with input from the Client.
The implementation of one or more recommendations is then intended to lead to the desired outcome. In both cases, the Trainer and/or Consultant hold the expertise for the solution, as their task is to fix the participants' or Clients' shortcomings.
But Coaching is different. It is not the Coach but rather the Clients, who retain responsibility for the solution to their issue. The term Coaching, which originates in sports, can best be described by a sports analogy. Ion Tiriac never won the Wimbledon but he coached Boris Becker to victory. He may have enabled Boris Becker to succeed, although it was Boris Becker himself who triumphed. A Coach is someone one who effectively mobilizes a Client's strengths.
Coaching - When and How?
People typically seek a Coach only when they stumble and need help with an obstacle in their life. However, professional Coaching offers far more --- it serves to unleash and develop one's full potential. It serves as a reflection of one's unique characteristics and makes the unfulfilled areas visible. These insights empower the Clients to consciously reflect and reach the necessary conclusions which further enable them to modify their perspectives and adjust behavior. When one's behaviour is altered, the surrounding world then manifests the desired outcomes. These developments come about through the deliberate process of Coaching, with the support and accompaniment of the Coach.
Coaching takes place through focused conversations held in absolute confidence. No other party listens in and the Coach is bound to maintaining full confidentiality. After the first few in-person meetings, Coaching can also proceed via telephone, as scheduling weekly face-to-face meetings can be challenging to a busy manager.
The frequency of the meetings should be established at the start of the Coaching process and can serve as a reference point, to be adjusted based on the Client's and Coach's special needs and considerations. The structure of the collaboration is tailored to the Client's particular goals and modified to accommodate new requirements.
How does Coaching work? First and foremost, it is based on trust, mutual acceptance and respect. In fact, prior to starting the relationship, it is advisable to have an introductory session, which is non-binding and often free-of-charge. At this session, the Clients' issues and objectives as well as the Coach's credentials should be reviewed. Unfortunately there is still a lack of regulation and accreditation for the Coaching profession, and some certifications are questionable.
It is therefore imperative that you use caution and trust your intuition when it comes to selecting a prospective Coach. Some basic questions you should pose are:
- Can I trust this person?
- Do I have a good rapport with this person?
- Will this person create an environment for my individual growth, purposeful action, and sustained improvement?
- Is this person an effective sparring partner for me?
The Coach should also possess a certain level of experience in the business and professional issues faced by managers and should have a well-stocked tool-box which they can reach into as required. If the Coach relies on only one methodology or philosophy, there is the danger that their paradigm would not correspond to or in any way assist the Client.
It is also very important to ensure that the Coach is under regular supervision. Furthermore, Coaching is a sacred trust between the Client and the Coach and the assurance of neutrality and binding confidentiality should be provided without the Client having to demand it. And finally, the Coaching fees, payment terms, as well as the estimated duration of the Coaching sessions need to be agreed upon at the first meeting.
Possible Structure and Process
Coaching is a very individualized process and tailored to the specific situation, needs, requirements and objectives of the Client. It is thus difficult to portray a universal coaching structure however, some key elements can be specified.
At the start of the Coaching process, it is important for the Coach and Client to undertake a thorough and comprehensive review of the goals and mutual expectations. This ensures synchronized collaboration towards clearly identified goals. It is also important to set objectives which can be properly measured at the end of the process. For example, measurable results could be the reduction of the work week by five hours or the receiving two positive feedbacks to an executive presentation or acquiring a certain new order, etc. Clearly defining and agreeing upon the roles and responsibilities is also critical.
The Client remains the "subject-matter-expert" for both the area of concern as well as the consequent solution. They retain full responsibility for themselves - whether action or inaction.
The Coach on the other hand, is responsible for posingeffective questions and listening actively. The Coach's task is not to know better or judge or evaluate. Under no circumstances should the Coach offer unsolicited tips or one-size-fits-all solutions. Should this occur, immediately terminate your relationship, which should be possible without incurring any financial penalties. The same applies should the Coach overstep the Client-established boundaries.
In fact, after each Coaching session, which typically lasts between one and two hours, the Client should feel relieved and more energized than prior to the session. Should the Client however feel weakened, this must immediately be brought to the attention of the Coach as it could possibly point to difficulties in the collaboration. And lastly, the Client should have access to telephone sessions in between the meetings, if necessary.
Coaching as Management Tool
"Managers as Coach" is the new buzz phrase in many corporations. It is worth examining what exactly is being expected from Managers.
What does a Manager have in common with a real Coach? Nothing. In fact, it is like releasing a bull in a china shop. The Coach supports the Clients by ensuring that they find their own solutions and implement them in their own time - which is not what management nowadays is all about.
It would be much more honest and effective to implement a collaborative management style that is based on key values such as:
- Integrity: (Does the boss "walk his talk"? Does he do what he preaches?)
- Authenticity: (Is the boss' praise genuine?)
- Mutual consideration and respect for human dignity.
These are the fundamental principles for managing a successful working environment and are increasingly being applied to Coaching on the job. This after all ensures that the management serves as a role model for the employee base.
Coaching is not a dry and stressful undertaking as so often portrayed in corporate training and development. Humor and laughter can be an effective element in Coaching as it enhances respiration, oxygenates the blood and brain and results in refreshed and energized activity. This quality was recognized in the courts of medieval Europe, where the court jester was often a King's most important advisor and the only one who could entertain and make fun without the threat of losing his life. Nowadays the Coach often serves the role of the court jester.
It is said that a good Coach makes them self redundant by enabling the Client to 'coach' themselves within three or four sessions. However, change takes time and as Einstein said, "The significant problems we face can not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. That means that we as humans cannot be objective with ourselves and tend to have blind spots and areas which we simply do not notice."
The Inner Voices
We are constantly bombarded with inner voices. Were we to diligently write down every inner conversation, we would conclude that taking control of our thinking is just as critical as mastering our job skills. We are all well aware of the disorientation and self inadequacy one experiences with admonitions like, "Don't do this, shouldn't do this, can't do this", "He certainly doesn't mean it", "We have tried this already", "We don't need any new ideas", "Careful! You'll be disgraced", "I'm not going to the meeting...I'll just be embarrassed again" etc. These inner voices have a significant impact on our behavior patterns. But working with a Coach can help you move beyond these negative messages and be inspired in a positive direction. In this respect, Self Coaching provides the tools to gain an inner distance and reflect objectively. In addition, it provides a stable anchor that keeps us grounded during the rough times. In effect, one can develop an internal traffic light cautioning us to slow down, stop or go full speed ahead. Although these self Coaching techniques can be acquired through self-help books, one can only achieve the best results through the guidance of an effective Coach.
How to Select an Ideal Coach?
A Coach can accompany you through life and serve as a flawlessly clear mirror reflecting your inner perceptions and true potential. Therefore choose very wisely whom you invite to join you on this journey. In addition to the questions noted at the start, below are a few more tips for your selection:
Interview more than one Coach.
Compare their experiences and offers.
Listen to and trust your first impression.
Ensure the issue of confidentiality. A professional Coach does not volunteer the names and fees of other Clients.
Inquire about the Coach's ongoing supervision and training.
Clarify the limits of the Coach's competencies.
If possible, request a Mini-Coaching session.
f you are uncomfortable with the Coaching relationship, request a further referral, which any competent Coach should be ready to provide.
Incidentally and Finally:
Coaching is a true luxury. So, when will you indulge yourself?