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What is Coaching? Description


Coaching can be described as a method and technique which can be used for guiding an individual to new learning in defined time frames. 

There are many definitions for coaching. With so many varying and contradictory definitions, it has been suggested that entering the debate of defining coaching is at this present time an exercise in abstraction (Jackson, 2005). Even prolific academic writers (Clutterbuck and Megginson, 2005) change their viewpoint, indicating that the field is still developing and fluid. As far back as 1994, Garvey (1994) refers to 'one-to-one helping' and thus proposes the concept of redefining the term, with the almost Esperanto-like hope that 'one-to-one helping' might be the rebirth of a muddied term which though effective in descriptor terms is not 'sticky' in branding terms.

Some writers have suggested that mentoring is the model for coaching and that mentoring, as a working title is too formal. They utilize the word coach as it is a more readily palatable (Hudson, 1999). More recently, in a heroic attempt to create some form of cohesion within this confused vista, we see that prominent writers in the field are not happy to accept either activity as a subset of the other. They state categorically that the distinctions between these two terms causes confusion and that the community should start to move to an agreed Coach-Mentor term (Parsloe & Wray, 2005).

Coaching definitions can be as simple and inclusive as, ‘the process of empowering others’ (Whitmore, 1997). Or more definitive: ‘a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve'. To be a successful Coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which the coaching takes place’ (Parsloe, 1999). Perspective also plays a huge part in the interpretation of an individual contributors definition. Mentors view coaching as predominantly skills-related, with specific capabilities linked to outcome (Cranwell et al, 2004). The coach shifts the focus to the results of the job (Megginson and Clutterbuck, 1995) and a primary focus on performance within the current job and emphasizes the development of skills (Clutterbuck, 2004).

Definitions by coaches have developed over the years. From the somewhat quaint, potentially dangerous and insular belief that the ‘most important aspect of coaching is being accepted, respected and taken care of, rather than the exchange of information between the coach and the coachee’ (Olalla, 1998). To the business definition that pronounces that ‘coaching is an enabling process to increase performance, development and fulfillment’ (Alexander & Renshaw, 2005). Interestingly, Megginson (1988) as far back as 1988 proffers the view that coaching is more effective in a person’s development if actioned at specific stages. Thus in the context of the business world coaching is more role, job and project specific (Williams, 2000). If we follow this line of thought that specific interventions at appropriate times in a persons development is the most effective methodology, then a review of the broad range of coaching interventions is required. And we will see that what is new, is that coaching has amalgamated psychology, sports psychology and education (Zeus & Skiffington, 2000), and is now busy building ‘marketability and credibility’.

Origin of Coaching. History

The term ‘coach’ is first seen in the 1500’s referring to a method of carriage, actually a horse drawn vehicle, originating in the small Hungarian town of Kócs (pronounced "koach"). In the mid 1850’s the word coach was utilized in English universities referring to a person who aided students in exam preparation (Zeus and Skiffington, 2005) and appears to have links with "cramming" apparently recalling the multitasking skills associated with controlling the team of a horse-drawn stagecoach (Wikipedia, 2005). Coaching sees it's roots in Humanistic Psychology (Zeus & Skiffington, 2000), focusing on a persons dignity and intrinsic value.

Coaching in the Business World

As the Humanist movement started to emerge we begin to see a parallel emergence of coaching within the business world, which can be seen within peer reviewed journals. Gorby (1937) describes older employees coaching new employees to reduce waste, so as to achieve a performance bonus. Bigelow (1938) recounts Sales Managers coaching sales people. Mold (1951) reported a 'manager as coach' program. Hayden (1955) argued that 'follow up' coaching improved appraisals. Mahler (1964) indicated the difficulties of organizations getting their managers to be effective coaches. Gersham (1967) evaluated the effect of supervisors on 'attitude & job performance'. Tobias (1996) reports on a technically 'excellent' 44 yr old manager, who is coached on 'soft skills'. Though reported in ‘peer reviewed journals’ the referrals are predominantly ‘case studies’ and ‘comment’ as opposed to rigorous analytical works such as the more recent study by the Manchester Consulting Group (Zeus & Skiffington, 2005). This group reports a 5.7 times ROI in regard to a coaching program launched between 1996-2000. Also the research focus was geared towards a manufacturing biased as this was the financial powerbase at the time and the concepts of ‘empowered workforces’ and ‘human capital’ other than an operational resource was yet to emerge.

Ostensibly the ‘life coaching’ concept demonstrated the first, by modern definitions, coaching like activity, in a program aimed at high school dropouts. This work at the forefront of the war on poverty commenced in the 1950’s from a YMCA-sponsored training program in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, N.Y. Its aim was to search for more powerful counseling/learning methods in helping people learn the psychological and social skills for coping with the predictable developmental problems of life (Adkins, 2006). Towards the end of the 60's research became more rigorous (Grant & Cavanagh, 2004). This focus on more academic methodologies was the catalyst for the credibility required by the more progressive commercial bodies. And as such the birth of executive & business coaching emerged from leadership Programs in the 1980's (Zeus & Skiffington, 2005).

The real breakthrough of Coaching came with the mix of sports and the business world, virtually re-inventing itself. Tim Gallwey (1974) with his Inner Game of Tennis, was a primary catalyst for coaching in a business context with the quick succession of other notable sports-coaches, such as: John Whitmore (champion racing driver), David Hemery (Olympic Hurdles Medalist), and David Witaker (Olympic Hockey Coach).

Coaching in it's modern guise was born out of the Constructionist Learning Theory (Williams & Irving, 2001), with a core belief that there is no single, true interpreter or interpretation of reality (Zeus & Skiffington 2005). One can see the birth of coaching from principles that state: we ‘all construct our own understanding of the world we live in, through reflection on our experiences’. And interestingly with the 1990's seeing what some believe to be an upsurge in ‘quasi-philosophical’ groups, finding particular favor with those involved in management and communications development (Parsloe & Wray, 2005), it is possible to see how phenomenon's such as NLP (Grinder & Bandler, 1989) have ‘cherry picked’ from such areas such as Constructionist theory, Bateson’s (2000) Cybernetics, Chomsky’s (1972) Language Theory and Landamatics (Landa, 1974). It is this ‘cherry pick’ approach and the demands of a commercial corporate world that has generated the call for a ‘scientist-practitioner model of coaching’, where a more academic and rigorous methodology will act as a benchmark and validation of the field. For many coaching is a long way from being a profession, despite the existence of those that coach professionally (Grant, 2003b). The current concerns of definition and validity can be explained by a profession that has ‘converged’ rather than ‘emerged’ onto its current position.

Usage of Coaching. Applications

  • Business Coach.
  • Executive Coach.
  • Life Coach.
  • Performance Coach.
  • Sports Coach.
  • Workplace Coach.

Steps in Coaching. Process

Not universally agreed.

Strengths of Coaching. Benefits

  • The predominant benefit of coaching to the individual and business is the facilitation of self-directed learning. Though learning is enabled via a coach, the true underlying benefit of coaching is in the ability of the individual to 'move on' from the experience as a more able contributor.
  • In terms of retaining and developing talent studies indicate considerable advantages to companies that actively encourage coaching during transition/change phases.
  • ROI for coaching is considerably higher than standard classroom training, especially in the executive community, where studies show they disconnect up to 30 quicker than middle tier staff.

Limitations of Coaching. Disadvantages

  • Coaching is not therapy. If it is then the coachee can become dependent.
  • Can be seen as a prestige position in a business and thus can create a cliché of coaches and political influencers.
  • Try telling your boss he's a crap coach!

Assumptions of Coaching. Conditions

  • Coaching really pulls on the idea of Malcolm Knowles and 'Adult Learning', which in essence says that the individual has responsibility for their own learning and all engagements, should be 'guided, rather than led'.
  • This is an incredibly complicated topic, for such a simple thing. The reason being that coaching itself is not by definition a model, models such as GROW, are the tools of coaching.
  • Currently there are no central models that offer a universally accepted definition.

Book: Zeus & Skiffington - The Coaching at Work Toolkit

Book: Mary Beth O'Neill - Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart

Book: Bruce Peltier - The Psychology of Executive Coaching

Special Interest Group

Coaching Special Interest Group.

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Forum discussions about Coaching. Below you can ask a question about this topic, share your experiences, report a new development, or explain something.

topic The GROW Model / Coaching Framework
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topic Has Coaching Become Too Technical?
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topic Qualities of a Good Coach. Checklist
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topic Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
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topic Assumptions of Coaching: You Can Change and Develop Yourself
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topic Effective Coaching
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topic The Impact of Personal Coaching
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topic Teacher Professional Development (TPD) Models
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topic How to Get Help from Someone Else?
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topic Coaching as Social Capital
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topic Does Business Coaching Really Work?
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topic The Need for Relational Coaching
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topic Coaching and Pedagogy
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topic Qualitative and Quantitative Benefits of Coaching
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topic Use of the Body in Coaching
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topic Being a 'Good-Enough' Coach is the Best that we can Be...
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topic How to Raise Productivity by Coaching?
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topic The Wheel of Life: Balance your Life
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topic Psychodynamics, Coaching and the Validity of All Emotions
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🔥 ACT Hexaflex Therapy and Business Coaching
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topic The Empowerment Corner: Unleashing your Full Potential Through Personal Guidance
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Best Practices

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🥉 Preconditions for Successful Coaching
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topic Coach People's Strengths or Weaknesses?
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topic Coaching is Expert-aided Goal-oriented Learning
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topic Why Leaders Need Coaching
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topic Using Incentives and Rewards in Coaching
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Expert Tips

Advanced insights about Coaching. Here you will find professional advices by experts.


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Information Sources

Various sources of information regarding Coaching. Here you will find powerpoints, videos, news, etc. to use in your own lectures and workshops.


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This presentation is about the management of Conflicts, other challenging situations and about managing challenging peop...

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Research Links

Jump to further research sources regarding Coaching.













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