What Is Coaching?
Coaching IS a professional relationship between a client and a coach designed to help the client increase self-awareness, generate learning, as well as identify and accomplish meaningful goals. It helps clients recognize and identify their capabilities and available resources and apply these to their life.
Coaching IS NOT consulting, therapy, or mentoring. It is not consulting because coaches do not advise or offer solutions for the client. It is not therapy because we do not focus on the past or offer diagnosis. And it is not mentoring because the coach is not attempting to link someone learning a craft with someone who is already skilled in it.
Instead, the client and the coach work together to focus on the future and create a deeper sense of self-awareness for the client. We partner thoughtfully to design actions for the client using a proactive, forward-thinking approach.
Coaching is best applied when the focus is on setting and achieving goals for personal and professional development. This approach includes:
- Empowering skill development,
- Stimulating critical thinking,
- Facilitating action plans,
- Exploring behavior patterns,
- Providing feedback,
- Promoting results, and
- Sustaining accountability.
Coaching is effective for a number of reasons. Primarily, a coaching relationship is an intentionally designed relationship where the coach and the client are considered equal partners. The coach is not seen as the expert with all the answers. Instead, we believe that the client is the best expert within their own lives. I always compare this concept to a diet plan: I could certainly offer my clients a pre-determined extrinsic methodology (or, "diet") and they may achieve a modicum of success, but they will best succeed if they are intrinsically empowered to create their own methodologies that tailor fit their lives.
Other reasons include:
- It addresses executive function by providing a set time to use higher level thinking. This puts intentional focus on the client so that we can determine what is most important, what to do next, what perspective to take, how to break up the action steps, what is in the way, and what resources are needed.
- When working with a coach, clients have twice the brain power focused on their agenda and their life. Sometimes it is a challenge to see our own blind spots and a trained coach can help clients see themselves with more clarity and focus.
- It facilitates effective action by helping clients design actions steps in a way that reduces stress. Coaches help clients become more aware of their values and core motivations so that they can establish action steps with more clarity, fulfillment, and meaning.
- Accountability is a huge part of what makes a coaching relationship powerful and helps clients follow through with actions that then turn into new habits and systems.
- It encourages clients to acknowledge internal thoughts, habits, beliefs, perspectives, mindsets, and values out loud. Oftentimes a client may have been thinking something for a long time but never had the opportunity to say it out loud to somebody else. This helps the client open new possibilities of action by identifying any limitation that is stopping them from being successful.
- Because the solutions are created by the client, they are more empowered to follow through on her actions and to sustain motivation.
Since coaching is client-focused, it's an optimal way to facilitate self-directed neuroplasticity. Being client-centered takes on a deeper meaning when there is the potential to connect clients’ neurons in new ways, leading to novel thoughts, beliefs, or feelings. All existing perspectives, mindsets, beliefs, habits, and values are neural pathways embedded in your brain. When encouraged to identify and evaluate them out loud with a coach, clients then have the option to intentionally choose and embed new neural pathways (i.e. neuroplasticity). The coach can thus keep the brain and mind of the client omnipresent by integrating relevant neuroscientific findings in order to facilitate, augment, and optimize coaching programs.
For leadership in particular, coaching is effective in helping leaders gain the capacity to regulate their own mental physiology and enhance their performance and that of those around them. As discussed in my previous blog posts about Self-Regulation and Collaborating with Others, leaders can learn how to choose and hold an optimal brain state for themselves as well as influence and encourage an approach response in others. This way, they are able to maintain high levels of engagement (a state of being willing to do difficult things, to take risks, to think deeply about issues, and develop new solutions).
Credentialed professional coaches of the International Coach Federation (ICF) demonstrate 11 Core Competencies at a high level in order to make sure that all coaching sessions are client-focused. Our duty as coaches is to create a positive, mindful environment within which we use mindsight to expand the client’s peripheral vision and generate greater insight. Mindsight is the reflective capacity to become aware of our minds as well as our empathic ability to recognize the intentions and emotional states of others and truly understand where they are coming from (Siegel McCalt 2010). This ensures that our minds and emotions connect with clients but do become entrained. Only then can we authentically reflect the client's perspectives, mindsets, beliefs, habits, assumptions, and values in a way that helps them identify any limitation that is stopping them from being successful.