If you are new to executive coaching then this article is for you! Coaching is a focussed form of learning and development that can be applied on its own and/or used to accompany other forms of personal development to progress the adoption of learning. Here’s an overview of what it is and what to expect. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
What is coaching?
Professional coaching is a form of learning and development that’s wholly focussed on the individual client. It’s often applied in a one-on-one, coach-client context and can be used in a team context too in order to benefit the development of an overall group.
Coaching is self-directed which means that it’s very client led. As professional coaches, we do not bring a prescribed agenda of learning points to a coaching session. The self-directed nature of coaching requires the client to consider what they wish to use each session for and they’ll also take the lead on the overall goals and outcomes of the coaching programme. We, as coaches, bring different methods and techniques to facilitate goal-setting and learning.
In an executive and leadership coaching context, the coach will seek to reference and connect the programme to the wider goals and results of the organisation.
Coaching programmes encourage motivation by introducing and focussing on outcomes and goals. In coaching we celebrate and learn from successes as they happen and unpack the learning points when things didn’t go so well to affect the results next time around.
What will coaching achieve?
In this focussed context, a coach will facilitate a client’s learning to work through specific challenges. Change is the focus of most coaching programmes; clients often want something to be different by the time the programme closes. Change might be in areas such as self-awareness, communication skills, leadership capabilities, conflict management skills and also change in how clients respond in different contexts. For the organisation, these shifts should translate into new and/or improved commercial results. These can range widely – some examples are better team and/or individual performance, an increase in innovative thinking, improved client relationships or new capabilities to lead others through change.
What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?
This is a frequent question from new clients who are unsure of the distinction.
Mentors are often more senior professionals to their client mentee. They also usually have experience in a similar field or from working in a comparable business model to the mentee. Mentors offer a mentoring client the benefit of their experience and insight into those factors that have shaped their progression. Mentors will share this experience generously in the interests of developing expertise within the mentee to support their own path to learning and growth.
Mentoring is usually voluntary for both mentor and mentee. The mentoring process involves the mentee learning directly from the mentor through observation, direct feedback and reflection.
Now back to the coach. The coach is not and should not profess to be an expert in their client’s area. Coaching is not advisory because it’s based on the premise that if a client has a question, then, somewhere within, they are capable of finding their own response. Coaches are expert in the art of coaching which will help to unlock the answers.
Should my coach be qualified?
Professional coaches will have undertaken qualifications that will have given them a firm grounding in psychological traditions. While unregulated as a profession, today it’s generally accepted that for coaches to be effective for their clients and to operate ethically and in a way that’s true to their profession, qualifications and continuing professional development matter.
Coaches will also usually have some form of coaching supervision arrangement which is a way of assuring they are reflecting on their practice, acting ethically, and exploring the effectiveness of coaching methodologies and techniques as well as their overall coaching presence – all in support of their own learning and growth and in the interests of care for their clients.
What’s the structure of coaching?
Timings vary slightly by the style of the coach, the area we’re working on with our clients and what happens along the way. I have some individual clients who like sessions to last for an hour and a half and others who prefer 45 minutes. Some coaches coach for two hours. Team coaching sessions tend to sit at the longer end of the timeline because of the group numbers. The coach will be able to clarify how they tend to work when you first meet.
Sessions themselves can vary in frequency. Between two and three weeks in between sessions is usually a good idea. Assignments are usually set after a coaching appointment and the coaches will need time to complete these before the next session. Too great a gap between sessions can impede the learning pathway and impact on the ability of the coach to keep motivation levels up.
The quality of the client-coach relationship is hugely influential to the success of coaching. Research into the effectiveness of coaching is currently mostly based on feedback from coaching clients who cite the relationship as being crucial to the success of coaching. They also comment on the level of empathy and also positivity demonstrated by the coach as having influence.
As coaches, we acknowledge that clients will initially gravitate towards us for particular reasons – like feeling an affinity with our own professional backgrounds and expertise or because of our own coaching style, or the particular methodologies and techniques we apply in our practice.
Ultimately though, rapport needs to be present for the coaching conversation to flow well. And for the record, rapport is not about being ‘nice’. It speaks to the relational dynamic that’s intrinsic to coaching where there is mutual respect and where a good coach will create a safe and motivational environment in which reflection, problem solving, support and constructive challenge can take place.