Coaching (in one form or another) has been around for millennia and the broad tenants of coaching haven’t changed a lot in that timeframe; it is essentially supporting someone through change. Looking at the definition of coaching it is “a training or development process via which an individual is supported while achieving a specific personal or professional competence result or goal. The individual receiving coaching may be referred to as coachee.” (Wikipedia). There are many forms of coaching; informal coaching like the help you receive from friends, family and co-workers (supportive but often made up of advice more then anything else), coaching in sport to increase specific skills and abilities (rigorous when applied by professionals). Some workplaces have a program to provide coaching from manager to employee (either formally through a methodology or informally through regular touch points and conversation). Many of us are familiar with these types of coaching, but what about the professional coaching you hear about people investing in to the betterment of their lives and careers? What benefits can it provide?
There are many types of coaching methodologies and practices you can invest in as a way to further your own competencies and goals. You may be familiar with the term “life coaching”, which is available to help with parenting, relationships, or other skills that are found prevalently in most people’s daily life. Coaching with a focus on professional or work related topics is also prevalent where people seek to become more effective in business, their profession or in a current role. It’s important to ensure you know what kind of coaching will be most effective for you and that you find a qualified practitioner, one who has a designation certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Why is certification important? Certified coaches are committed to a standard of morals and ethics that protect you the consumer. Certified coaches are also trained to identify when an individual may be better served by another kind of assistance (i.e. direct skills training, a therapeutic program provided by another professional, etc.). Coaching is a process by which people seek to evolve or change something about their current practices that isn’t working for them – it’s important to ensure the services of a skilled and qualified practitioner are there to support this process, even if that support includes directing you to a more appropriate resource. While many people who coach apply practices, without the rigor, methodology and the ethics of a trained practitioner they may not be of benefit to you (wasting your time and money) or worse, may create a greater concern.
Professional coaching as a service can be broken into two broad categories; transactional coaching and transformational coaching. Note these are my definitions of the two categories of coaching services you typically see in the marketplace (there are many other definitions out there). Transactional coaching is there to assist people with a very specific skill or process; career transition or delegation skills for example. The focus of the coaching is on steps an individual may take to reduce the amount of time needed to achieve their objective and is often a prescriptive program that focuses on delivering specific content to the coachee within a particular time frame; this type of coaching is designed with a singular purpose and intent. Most individuals who have come into contact with this type of coaching have received it from a third party, like an employer, who wished to support them through a difficult period in time and/or with a process that may be unfamiliar to them. In the hands of a skilled practitioner transactional coaching (also sometimes referred to as counseling or advising) can be of great benefit - akin to one-on-one instruction. However, the intent of transactional coaching is to provide a specific, prescribed benefit and while it can reflect the specific transactional needs of the coachee it cannot address more foundational concerns that may be preventing the coachee from moving forward in his or her process. The design here is pre-set, and moving beyond the scope of what is outlined would require a renegotiation of the coach and coachee relationship (and likely the associated services rendered).
Transformational coaching has the ability to go deeper; it is entirely focused on appreciating the needs and concerns of the individual and looks to understand the underlying causes that lead to an individual’s area of concern. Transformational coaching should be undertaken with a coach who is certified through ICF as this type of coaching should only be practiced by someone with the knowledge and skills needed to help achieve desired outcomes in a responsible way for the coachee. This type of coaching is typically undertaken over an identified but flexible period of time and specifically designed to support an individual in making the changes needed to achieve the desired outcomes. It is also a path to evolution (as opposed to revolution), changes experienced by coachees are not across-the-board but incremental changes to be explored, tailored and adopted as part of new practices that are consistently sustained. It is a subtle process that takes place over months, and is collaboratively built between coach and coachee.
Note that transformational coaching is not about directly providing solutions or answers. Coaching is about providing an individual the support, time and resources to determine her/his own solutions, building them into practices that can be implement successfully, addressing the area of concern. This is sound coaching practice as no change is likely to be sustained if it does not come from the individuals’ perspective and become adapted to his/her current practices (remember, evolution not revolution). This process produces transformative, sustained results that (over time) prove to be of great benefit to the coachee, especially as they are undertaken in a measured and positive way. There are several different coaching methodologies available in the market place, no one better then another. In fact, success in this process is often dependent on the coachees’ needs (which the methodology should meet) and the comfort level achieved with the coach.
When looking for a coach you should speak to a few practitioners (as you would with any other service provider) to find the one that has what you are looking for (methodology and approach)…and with whom you feel very comfortable. Ask lots of questions to understand a potential coaching practitioners’ methodology and how it can help you. Certified coaches will speak to their area(s) of practice and help you to understand the range of results possible when working with them; they can also help you to understand the scope of change (depth and breadth) they can support you to undertake (with respect to your area of concern) and an estimated time to address your needs. Look into coaching as a way to support your change or as part of a robust professional development program; the investment will repay itself through your well being and continued success.