What is Coaching?
“Coaching is a collaborative and focused performance-improvement dialogue based on disclosure and feedback, and deepened by curiosity, courage, and commitment.”
Coaching is distinct from disciplining, counseling, and delegating. While it offers a powerful problem-solving platform, it serves best for teaching, developing, and performance improvement. In the course of the ongoing coaching conversations, both parties are working together toward predetermined goals and performance improvement.
The best coaching seems to arise when the relationship is one of equals. It can be challenging for managers and reports to set aside their power differential, but once they decide to work together, coaching becomes easier. Consultants and mentors are subject-matter experts; they are expected to be prescriptive and directive. Coaches, however expert they may be, are partners with the person being coached for the length of the coaching conversation.
Effective coaches use restraint. It is important to focus on collaboratively agreed objectives. If the coaching sessions take on an agenda driven exclusively by the coach, the trust and rapport will be weakened, or even destroyed. Additionally, the coach must fight the acculturated, educated, and rewarded impulse to “rush to closure.” The gift of coaching is developing others; allow time for the person being coached to think, explore, and experiment.
Fulfilling, effective, learning conversations require feedback. Both parties must agree to speak their minds, and not mind read. Assumptions, expectations, and rationalizations are the building blocks of failed relationships. Give and elicit information in order to reach clear goals, uncover blind spots and barriers, and design effective action plans.
Regularly exchanging opinions, beliefs, and feelings immediately lessens threats or fears and increases the probability that the skills and resources of coach and the person being coached could focus on the work at hand. Disclosure affords openness to information, opinions and new ideas about oneself as well as about specific processes. As less energy is tied up in being defended there is greater likelihood of satisfaction with the work, and more involvement with improving performance.
A good coach has experience, ideas, opinions, and processes. A great coach has all these and an open mind; a beginners mind. Curiosity is a mental orientation toward new ideas and creative solutions. Even when the coach knows what to do, intentionally suspending the knowledge in favor of curiosity can produce novel or unique ideas and solutions.
Wherever coaching takes place, so does change. And wherever there is change there is discomfort, anxiety, and fear. A good coach has the courage to instigate change and the compassion to support a change-frightened person.
Commitment is ongoing. Coaching rarely happens in 20 minutes. Time and multiple points of contact make coaching come alive. A single conversation can be insightful, motivating, or educational. But coaching for performance and change takes as long as it takes to learn, and that means repetition, patient instruction, and regular review.
Coaching challenges people to reach beyond their comfort zone, and challenges coaches to be attentive and respect the pace, intelligence, and intuition of others. It produces great results not because it’s easy, but because of the discipline and courage it affords.