What is coaching?

by Andy Scantland, Managing Partner, Upside Partners

Coaching is about identifying goals and working collaboratively to identify how to reach those goals. It provides a structured approach for problem resolution, improved performance, better communication or reaching an objective. Coaching is about the transformation that occurs in an individual when the individual’s innate gifts, skills, and perspectives are leveraged to improve his or her effectiveness.

Coaching starts with goalsetting, based on those things in life or at work that hold you back or a goal that you would like to achieve. Then, through facilitated discussion and accountability, you will find new perspectives, ideas, approaches and habits which can result in improved performance or concrete progress toward the goal.  It’s about moving from point A to point B, always around behavior and action.

Leadership (or Executive) Coaching involves working with organizational leaders to understand the impact the Leader is having and to learn to bring his or her most effective self to the practice of Leadership.  In other words, improving your team’s performance by bring your whole and best self to your work as a Leader. Typical areas of focus for Leadership Coaching are increasing engagement, improved team dynamics, better decision-making, building resourcefulness and creativity.

Coaching can take many forms but a typical Coaching session is simply a structured, confidential discussion, either face-to-face or via phone or web conference. The session is tightly focused on the Coachee and his or her goals.  Often, the initial conversation focuses on identifying the individual’s core values, strengths and limiting beliefs that affect performance.

Over time, new perspectives emerge and new ideas come forth on how to deal with issues.  Generally, each coaching session ends with some homework or inquiry. At this point, the Coach’s job is to hold the Coachee accountable for meeting his/her commitments and championing the Coachee in pursuit of reaching the goals.

At the end of a coaching engagement, the Coachee and the Coach (and often a sponsoring Executive or Manager) will review the original goals and the progress toward reaching those goals.

Coaching can have a powerful, positive impact. A 2013 meta-analysis performed by researchers at the University of Amsterdam said that ‘..coaching has significant positive effects on performance and skills, well-being, coping, work attitudes, and goal-directed self-regulation. In general, our meta-analytic findings indicate that coaching is an effective tool for improving the functioning of individuals in organizations.’1

The involvement of a highly-trained and certified coach is important because the training allows the Coach to create a successful framework for the coaching. Good coaching incorporates a discipline which keeps the discussion on task and creates the environment where the Coachee feels challenged yet safe exploring new options and ideas. And a trained coach can listen for small changes in the energy of the Coachee which indicate either issues that need to be addressed or areas of real strength which can be leveraged.

Coaching is not therapy.  This is not about identifying the original sources of behaviors (although it may come up). The coaching process focuses purely on identifying goals and working collaboratively to identify ways to attain those goals. The result is a Leader more empowered to make positive contributions to the organization.

1 Does Coaching Work? – A Meta-analysis on the Effects of Coaching on Individual Level Outcomes in an Organizational Context. A summary for the International Coach Federation Tim Theeboom University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Bianca Beersma University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Annelies E.M. van Vianen University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands