What is Coaching?

How to be an Effective Coach

How to Coach

Coaching is great for developing people's skills and abilities.

© iStockphoto/peepo

You've probably heard people talking about coaching in the workplace.

You might have even received some coaching in the past, or you might have used coaching to improve a person's performance, even if you didn't actually describe it as "coaching" at the time.

But what actually is coaching, and how do you use it? And what skills do you need to be an effective coach?

In this article, we'll look at the basics of coaching in the workplace. We'll clarify what it involves, and review the key approaches that you can use to be a successful coach. We'll also review some situations where coaching can be useful, and look at some examples of coaching questions.

About Coaching

Coaching is a useful way of developing people's skills and abilities, and of boosting performance. It can also help deal with issues and challenges before they become major problems.

A coaching session will typically take place as a conversation between the coach and the coachee (person being coached), and it focuses on helping the coachee discover answers for themselves. After all, people are much more likely to engage with solutions that they have come up with themselves, rather than those that are forced upon them!

In some organizations, coaching is still seen as a corrective tool, used only when things have gone wrong. But in many companies, coaching is considered to be a positive and proven approach for helping others explore their goals and ambitions, and then achieve them.

Coaches in the workplace are not counselors, psychotherapists, gurus, teachers, trainers, or consultants – although they may use some of the same skills and tools.

Most formal, professional coaching is carried out by qualified people who work with clients to improve their effectiveness and performance, and help them achieve their full potential. Coaches can be hired by coachees, or by their organizations. Coaching on this basis works best when everyone clearly understands the reason for hiring a coach, and when they jointly set the expectations for what they want to achieve through coaching.

However, managers and leaders in the organization can be just as effective as externally hired coaches. Managers don't have to be trained formally as coaches. As long as they stay within the scope of their skill set, and maintain a structured approach, they can add value, and help develop their people's skills and abilities.

Note 1:

The key challenge for managers is to separate their management role from their coaching role. Our article Informal Coaching for Managers   includes ideas and best practices on how best to do this.

Note 2:

Although coaching in the workplace is just as important as coaching in sport, the approach is different. Sports coaches mentor their athletes, using technical skills, experience, and a "telling" style of direction. By contrast, questioning and reflection are often more important in workplace coaching.

Where Coaching Can Help

Here are a few examples of questions that you can answer with the benefit of coaching:

  • How can I manage my time better to achieve all I want in life?
  • What should I do next in my career within the organization?
  • How can I reduce the stress in my job or my life?
  • How can I achieve a better balance between work life and home life?
  • What skills do I need to grow and develop further?
  • How can I improve my relationship with a specific colleague?

Tip:

Our articles on Coaching for Team Performance  , Coaching with Feedback  , Coaching for Talent Development  , and Coaching Through Change   look in more detail at specific situations where coaching is useful.

Golden Rules of Coaching

These are the fundamental "rules" of coaching:

Coaching is Founded on Confidentiality and Trust

Coaching can be successful only if coachees are able to discuss every aspect of an issue or challenge with their coach. The coach may need to listen to personal problems or private information that must be kept confidential. (Unless, of course, it involves criminal activity or activities harmful to the team, its clients or the organization; or affects the safety and welfare of other people.)

The Solution to the Coachee's Issue Lies Within the Coachee

This may sound unusual, but it means that the background of an issue and the options available are generally known to the coachee. The coach's job is to ask the right questions to help coachees arrive at their own conclusions. As we've said before, this is a very powerful way of helping people to change.

Of course, the coach can provide helpful input or suggestions, but the best answers usually come from the coachee.

Tip:

There's a difference here between the type of coaching conducted by a professional coach (who doesn't know about the day-to-day functioning of the organization) and coaching conducted by a manager (who does). As a manager, you probably have useful knowledge and experience, and you're responsible for helping people find the right answers to questions they're asking. However, be sensitive and humble in the way you help people – situations may be more complex than you initially think!

There's no Judgment or Fixed Agenda, but Have an Agreed Goal for Each Session

For a coaching session to work well, there should be a lot of relaxed conversation, and the session should be free from...

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