Are you thinking about embarking on coaching and want to decide if coaching is right for you?

This coaching guide has been designed to help you understand what coaching is and is not, determine your readiness and needs and choose the right coach to suit you.

1. Understanding coaching

What is coaching?

The leading accreditation body, the International Coach Federation, defines professional coaching as an ongoing partnership that helps people produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Coaching can be described in various ways:

  • …a purposeful relationship
  • …a future focussed dialogue
  • …a change generator
  • …a learning accelerator

In essence coaching is a collaborative, dynamic relationship built on purpose, trust, accountability and hope. It happens in a safe, confidential space designed to allow the person being coached to reflect, learn, plan and grow. In this guided discovery, the skill of the coach is in listening deeply, shaping questions, giving feedback and focusing attention on the next step of the journey. She may draw on tools such as personal profiling, reflective exercises and activities to light the way and strengthen pathways.

In each conversation the coachee sets the agenda. The coach facilitates clarity and choice to help the coachee move toward valued goals and authentic action. The coachee acts on insights, commits to and creates change. In so doing  he learns to appreciate the complex forces in his world and his own path and agency within it. This enables him to make better decisions, gain more meaningful and satisfying outcomes and become a better navigator of his life.

What is coaching not?

Coaching is not consulting or therapy, although it borrows from both and uses similar skills. Coaching does not seek to treat mental health problems or work deeply with personal issues, the realm of psychotherapy and counselling. Nor does it aim to provide business analysis or solutions, the role of consulting. Coaching does aim to facilitate effective solutions while dealing with the impact of patterns of behaviours, thinking and emotion on performance and satisfaction. A 2009 Harvard Business Review survey of organisational coaches draws lines where these disciplines intersect.

Coaching v consulting and therapy

Coaching shares personal and professional performance and development goals with mentoring. A mentor, more than a coach, acts as a role-model in the mentee’s domain or path, passing on advice and experience and opening doorways to networks and opportunities ahead.

Each coach contributes unique expertise and might wear different hats. Where appropriate, she may step out of coaching mode to share ideas or a personal story or support a coachee experiencing emotional distress. Coaches with psychological training may work effectively with executives experiencing significant stress. Understanding ethical obligations and when to refer to specialists is essential.

Who coaches?

Professional coaching services are provided by people with varied backgrounds, training and experiences. Most have senior management or entrepreneurial experience and/or backgrounds in consulting, human resources, psychology/counselling, training or performance/sports.

A growing number of professions apply a coaching approach or skills to work more effectively with others. Leaders, educators, HR practitioners, business strategists, marketing consultants and salespeople all facilitate better outcomes through coaching. This allows them to engage people, make them feel heard and elicit goals and solutions that best fit the other person’s situation, development and needs.

People acting as dedicated coaches require more knowledge, experience and artistry to master the craft and effectively support their clients. As coaching evolves from a growth industry to an evidence-based practice, robust accreditation pathways and ongoing development are increasingly seen as important. The Standards Australia Coaching in Organisations handbook has been drafted after extensive industry and academic consultation to guide coaching professionals, buyers and educators.

What types of coaching are there?

Standards Australia outlines eight domains of coaching. Some of these terms are used interchangeably and overlap. Coaches may work for organisations as external or internal coaches or engage individuals or small business owners directly.

  • Workplace coaching. Provides formal coaching within workplace settings.
  • Executive coaching. Provides executives and line managers with targeted work-related personal and professional development.
  • Leadership coaching. Develops skills, abilities and capacities to enhance leadership.
  • Career coaching. Assists people to make career decisions and find employment. Specialist career coaches bring extensive experience in recruitment and career planning and may use specific assessment tools.
  • Business coaching. Focusses on business performance and designing business systems, strategies or directions. Sometimes this term is used to describe all coaching in a business or organisational context.
  • Health coaching. Guides people toward health goals by facilitating behavioural changes and building personal support systems.
  • Life coaching. Adopts a “whole of life approach” to individual development that impacts life both inside and outside work.
  • Relationship coaching. Helps people communicate, understand each other and build sustaining personal relationships.

2. Determining your needs

What do you want from coaching?

Identifying a clear purpose or desired outcomes for coaching will help you decide what coaching approach and coach will suit you now. Coaching generally falls into one of four focus areas.

  • Skills coaching. Do you need to learn new skills?
  • Performance coaching. Do you need to develop existing skills or perform better?
  • Developmental coaching. Do you need to develop a new mindset or perspective?
  • Remedial coaching. Do you need to change behaviours that are unproductive or get in the way of your impact or effectiveness?

Other questions that will help you and your potential coach clarify what you need include:

  • How would you like to act, think or feel differently after coaching?
  • What would people who know and work with you notice was different about you?
  • What thing, if changed, do you think might make the most difference to your personal or professional life?
  • What are you willing to do to start making that happen?

Take my pre-coaching reflection if you would like me to help assess your coaching needs.

Are you ready for coaching?

Coaching requires commitment and work from you. People who get the most from coaching have a fierce desire to learn and grow. It requires an open mindset and willingness to share and engage in honest, open conversations.

If you feel you need help making changes in your life and have been experiencing stress, low motivation, worry or unhappiness for some time, coaching might not be right for you now. Take the K-10 test to see if you should speak to a mental health professional.

Alternately take these positive psychology tests to find out your current satisfaction with life, work-life alignment and mood to think through how a coach might help make your life more satisfying.

3. Choosing a coach

How do you assess your coach?

Good chemistry with your coach, along with your willingness and readiness to be coached, is the strongest factor in a successful coaching relationship. Meet one-on-one before you decide, ask about experience, credentials, methodology and satisfied clients.

The following guidelines may be helpful in framing questions, assessing marketing material or a coach’s communication with you. These are based on what experienced coaching buyers say and Standards Australia recommends.

Relevant experience
  • Do they have expertise in the relevant coaching domain?
  • Do they have experience working or leading in similar contexts, industries or roles?
  • How much experience do they have as a coach?
  • How much experience do they have in business?
Clear methodology
  • What theoretical models underpin their approach?
  • Do they work flexibly and eclectically with your emerging needs?
  • Do they understand and apply theories of human behaviour, adult development, action learning or change?
  • Do they understand and apply business or organisational development models?
  • Do they base their practice on proprietary or franchise coaching models?
  • Do they understand and apply evidence-based practice?
  • What coach-specific qualifications do they hold?
  • How extensive and rigourous was their training?
  • Do they have relevant tertiary qualifications in psychology, behavioural science, adult education or business?
  • What other professional development activities or certifications have they completed?
Ongoing development
  • Do they undertake regular supervision, mentoring or monitoring?
  • How do they improve and develop their practice?
  • Do they engage in research or development within the coaching industry?
Professional practice
  • Do they abide by a code of ethics?
  • Are they a member of a professional or industry body?
  • Do they hold appropriate Professional Indemnity and Public Liability insurance?
  • Do they demonstrate commercial accumen in dealing with you?
  • Do they demonstrate an ability to listen to and respect you?
  • Do they articulate honestly what outcomes you can expect from working together?

Contact me if you would like to start coaching or have any questions about finding a coach.

Sophie Francis is a coach, learning and communication consultant who helps professionals, business owners and change makers shift into new directions, engage and lead others. Pursuing a Masters in Business Coaching at the University of Wollongong’s Sydney Business School, she contributes to the development of coaching professionals.

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Coaching definitions

Purposeful relationship

A collaborative relationship formed between coach and coachee for the purpose of attaining professional or personal development outcomes…valued by the coachee (Grant et al, 2010:3).

Future focussed dialogue.

A future focused dialogue between a facilitator and a participant…aimed at stimulating the self awareness and personal responsibility of the participant (Passmore and Fillery-Travis, 2011:74).

Change generator.

A collaborative process that facilitates…self-directed learning and growth…evidenced by sustained changes in self-understanding, self-concept and behaviour (Stober, 2006).

Learning accelerator.

The coach works with clients to achieve speedy, increased and sustainable effectiveness in their lives and careers through focused learning (Rogers, 2004:7).

More definitions

Evidence-based practice.

Informed by knowledge that has been subject to systematic and rigourous tested in order to understand the limits of the claims that may be made about that practice (Standards Australia, 2010).

Coaching mastery.

Coaching [is] an applied science and an applied art… Mastery = Artistry + Knowledge + Evidence (Drake, 2011).