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Archive for June, 2010

What exactly is coaching anyway?

There are a lot of different ideas about what coaching is.

Of course, most people think first of the sports coach; inspiring, motivational, helping you to hone your skills, pushing you to do better, and holding the team together. A true executive coach does some of this but not all of this, and that’s what makes executive coaching different.

I’m thinking of this today as one of our coaches just described to me the slightly miffed reaction of a new client who said she didn’t expect to be challenged by a coach…based on her past experience of having a coach, she thought she would receive skills coaching, and advice.

At the Institute we teach that a true coach rarely if ever gives advice; they ask and don’t tell.  They challenge to bring out potential but are not there to prop you up and inspire you.  A good coach helps you to inspire yourself.

What this coaching client was experiencing from our coach was true executive coaching.  What she had received before was what we would call skills coaching; how to do a certain something, better.  Happily, what the client took away was an understanding that in his management role, sometimes he needs to do true coaching, and sometimes his reports need skills coaching from him.  And of course sometimes they just need to be managed, complete with advice.

Understanding the difference, and knowing what management style to use when, can make a good manager great.

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But is it really coaching?

An IEC coach told me an interesting story today.  Her client, who had come for career coaching, was stuck in their second session, unable to work out his goal and uninspired by the process of coaching.   Both the client and the coach were getting frustrated as the session was not moving forward.  Then the client said, “Tell me your story – how did you become a coach?”

The coach – being a well-trained IEC coach – said, “Well, that’s not really what coaching is about” and quite right too.  However, in the interests of shifting something in the dynamics, she decided to take a punt…she took a deep breath and launched in.

Mindful of a recent training in mentoring skills for the workplace, the coach told her story with a mentoring flavour; that is as a teaching story, rather than just a nice chat.  At the end of the story the client was happy, energised and ready to go back to his coaching session.  By the end of the session he had identified his goal and had started to explore the various options for achieving it.  And the coach was happy.  Despite the fact that she had gone against her initial instinct (not to tell the story) she had decided to go with the flow and “break the rules” of coaching and in doing so had obtained a great outcome.

The moral to the story?   Sometimes breaking the rules is the only way forward.

And (at risk of creating a mangled metaphor) if a picture can tell “a thousand words”, then perhaps so too can a great thousand words paint a picture.

Get more information about Mentoring Skills in the Workplace.

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One of our coaches finished up a coaching assignment this morning, and as you do, reviewed with his client what was different at the end of the six sessions.

At the outset of the coaching assignment this coachee’s biggest fear – in her newly acquired and more senior role – was that she would be forced to compromise her strong personal values in some politically sensitive or ambiguous situations.

As the engagement drew to a close, the coachee reflected on the fact that she had developed the awareness that it was in fact her core values that had got her where she was; realising that they were the foundation of her success in her career so far.  As luck would have it, shortly after starting out in the new role, life had delivered some very real situations for her to work her way through.  In the process of problem solving, planning and reflection, she realised that her values were actually a core strength that allowed her to navigate through some very complex situations and reach highly successful outcomes.  This in turn bolstered her confidence, which was another key area that she had identified to work on.

Her final reflections were that she in fact has far greater confidence in her ability than she had previously perceived, and it is that confidence that enables her to achieve what she does in her role.

Can it be too simple to say that getting clear on our values and then ensuring that everything that we do is aligned with those values can actually deliver the sense of confidence in our ability that we perceive ourselves to be lacking?  I don’t think so.

Postscript: sadly, it is often women who express the feelings that they lack confidence in new/senior roles.  For this reason the Institute has developed our IEC Women’s Program.  Learn more

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