Knowing what is (and isn’t) coaching matters

According to performance coach and author of Effective Coaching, Myles Downey, ‘Coaching is the art of facilitating the learning, development and performance of another’.

Coaching has so often been used in a remedial way, as part of a strategy to ‘fix’ a business problem. But for me, coaching is so much more than this. It’s about performance and opportunity. The aim of coaching in a business environment is to empower people to find solutions to the challenges they face and in doing so, improve their performance and ability to lead. It is a tool for building resilience and getting the best out of people. The outcome is that people work more confidently, more productively, they make good decisions, they ultimately perform better.

We call this ‘coaching for a better tomorrow’.

Being coached is not a passive exercise
An effective coaching strategy develops those who coach and those who are being coached (the coachee). The coachee in the relationship doesn’t simply ‘receive’ coaching. They play an active role in the process, and they need to be fully invested. We shift the power to the coachee so they become willing and able to make their own decisions, to become accountable and responsible for solving their own challenges.

Coaching is a tool for structuring conversations – helping the coachee to understand their goals, raise awareness of the wider issues, generate responsibility, focus their attention on finding solutions and gain their commitment to act on this.

Active listening
Coaching is as much about listening as it is about talking – you need to be present. Listening should go beyond simply hearing, it’s an active not a passive practice. A coach must listen intently, giving the coachee their full attention.

Embracing the silence within a coaching moment is often when real clarity comes to the surface. The skill of the coach is recognising their coachee’s body language and ‘thinking face’ and knowing when (and when not) to move the conversation on.

Uncomfortable truths
Chemistry between coach and coachee is crucial – there needs to be a ‘good dance’. In order for someone to disclose and vocalise what’s on their mind, they need to have trust in their coach. But we need to acknowledge that this isn’t just about empathy. It is important to build rapport, but an effective coach needs to be useful not helpful. People are so often used to being directed in the workplace, being told what to do. Coaching should change this dynamic.

It can sometimes feel challenging or even uncomfortable to be coached. The coach’s role is to ask questions which will uncover the very heart of an issue. This can be something that the coachee may not have fully acknowledged before, even to themselves. By challenging the status quo, the coach provides a framework to see the situation through a different lens, take a new perspective. The coachee becomes unstuck. In doing so, they can begin to formulate options for what to do next.

Directive or non-directive
Another misconception about coaching is that the coach is there to give advice, to tell the coachee what to do. We call this being directive. My view is that a coach should prioritise being non-directive – listening actively, using models of questioning to ignite thinking in the coachee. Asking questions which help them to discover the challenge that sits at the heart of their woes or frustration and see it in a new light. They can then begin to find their own way. This is how we build resilience.

That’s not to say a coach shouldn’t offer any advice. A shared experience or a practical tip can be hugely valuable. But ultimately, accountability must fall with the coachee.

Coaching in practice
In our clients’ businesses, in sectors from retail and utilities to manufacturing and financial services, we are seeing first-hand how an understanding and effective application of coaching is empowering leaders and driving performance. By democratising coaching in the workplace – giving everyone the skills to coach and be coached – I believe we can do better business, and truly unlock the potential of people.


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