When Should You Coach (or Be Coached)?

Have you ever wondered what’s involved in coaching someone or being coached? Every work role involves training of some kind. When that training is less about learning the “what” of a job and more about understanding why a role matters, when to move forward, and how a position affects everything and everyone else in the organization, coaching makes sense.

Photo by Deb Nystrom, Flickr

Some of the more common reasons for coaching or being coached in the workplace include:

  • Gaining clarity about vision and long term goals.
  • Developing leadership skills and capacity.
  • Improving job performance.
  • Improving sales performance.
  • Assessing succession potential.
  • Providing/accessing remedial support (to address gaps in understanding, change behaviour or correct poor performance).

Coaching is Based on Trust

Whatever the reason for choosing a coaching approach, it’s important to establish the coaching relationship based on certain fundamental principles. First and foremost, the coaching relationship is one of trust built on:

  • Shared intent:  Both parties are committed to the success and fulfillment of the person being coached.
  • Communication: Free and safe exchange of goals, aspirations, thoughts, feelings, anxieties and successes. A focus on outcome-oriented interaction.
  • Propriety:  Confidentiality. Respect for each other and for personal, cultural and corporate values.
  • Capability: Acknowledgement of and respect for each other’s capabilities.

Coaching Requires Mutual Commitment

For coaching to be effective, both parties to the relationship commit to certain things.

The person being coached* must:            *for simplicity, let’s use the term “client” from here on, since “coachee” is just not bearable!

  • Commit to the coaching relationship.
  • Take responsibility for the learning opportunity.
  • Cultivate an attitude of learning, staying focused on what s/he is learning; not what s/he knows.
  • Commit to taking action on what is learned and promised.
  • Commit the time to scheduled coaching sessions.
  • Provide feedback on what’s working and what’s not working in the coaching process.

The coach must:

  • Create learning experiences that support meaningful change toward the achievement of goals and aspirations.
  • Perceive what’s really going on and focus on it through identification and inquiry.
  • Be a sounding board for complex issues.
  • Clarify the client’s thinking, beliefs, attitudes, and help distinguish between subjective and objective observations and conclusions.
  • Help reframe limiting beliefs and attitudes so that they can be overcome.
  • Share the impact on others of the intentions and actions of the client to heighten his/her self-awareness.
  • Stimulate and motivate.
  • Encourage an attitude of positive change rather than self-protection.

A Typical Coaching Approach

Actual coaching sessions draw on the principles of adult learning—awareness, action, and reflection. The coach will introduce discussions and activities (e.g. purposeful conversation, role-play, videotaping, relevant reading, supportive confrontation, work analysis and planning, etc.) designed to:

  1. Enhance awareness of the implications of typical behaviors.
  2. Learn skills, build competencies, change behaviors and achieve results.
  3. Reflect on ways to improve and refine skills and behaviors. [1]

A typical coaching session might unfold as follows:

  • Review outcomes against goals
    • Report from client.
  • Establish, clarify and validate the facts
    • Coach listens, reads between the lines and identifies concerns.
    • Clarifies wants and needs of client.
    • Focuses inquiry to get at root causes and assumptions behind issues.
  • Expand the possibilities
    • Coach probes into the client’s model of situations and circumstances.
    • Reframes situations, inviting client to see and model things in new ways.
    • Together, generate realistic, attainable and motivating options.
  • Decide on a course of action based on personal and corporate principles
    • Together, evaluate options against benefits and risks.
  • Produce a scheduled plan
    • Define tasks in a specific and measurable manner
    • Identify resources available and needed
    • Hook actions to a time frame for accountability
  • Take breakthrough action
    • Client commits to plan and taking action.
    • Client commits to new practices.
  • Schedule next coaching session.

Essentially, coaching is about one person helping another to excel. Research shows that coaching has a significant and beneficial effect on performance/skills, well-being, coping, work attitudes, and goal-directed self-regulation. Findings indicate that coaching is, overall, an effective intervention in organizations.[2] Whether you’re considering providing coaching for members of your team, or want to tap into some coaching for yourself, chances are it will make a positive difference.


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[1] The Executive Coaching Handbook: Principles and Guidelines for a Successful Coaching Partnership. (2008) The Executive Coaching Forum. http://www.theexecutivecoachingforum.com/docs/default-document-library/echb5thedition2_25.pdf?sfvrsn=0

[2] Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2013.837499#.VLPjLSvF-_t

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