To Coach or Not to Coach, That is the Question

Over the past two decades, coaching has become more popular as an option to achieve professional success. The power of coaching has been written about in books, hailed on talk shows, promoted on podcasts, and recommended by top-tier executives. But what is professional coaching?

When asking a rank-and-file manager to “coach” an employee, that activity better falls under the performance management genre rather than professional coaching. This is particularly true if the manager is not a trained professional coach.

Professional coaching goes far beyond performance improvement. It involves partnering with a business executive, leader, manager, or employee in a thought-provoking, creative process that inspires them to maximize their professional potential. Working with a coach is an investment in, and with an expected return on, one’s career. Given the interwoven nature of work and personal life and the difficulty separating them, people sometimes refer to professional coaching as life coaching.

A coach is a nonjudgmental, results-oriented professional who helps people discover and tap into their inner passion, use it to define their outer goals, and leverage it to extraordinary results. The coaching process challenges people to take the time to focus on what they want, and it helps them recognize and break through what is holding them back from achieving their definition of success.

Coaching helps clients shift from doing what they “should” do to experiencing a fuller life and career by doing what they “choose” to do. Coaching brings out a person’s potential and propels them to do more than they would have done on their own, producing results more quickly and reshaping their way of being, thinking, and acting.

While coaching is one of several “helping modalities,” it differs from the others by focusing solely on the client’s agenda. Coaches partner with their clients to help them discover their goals and dreams, find solutions, and set timeframes fitting each client’s unique parameters.

Unlike a consultant who examines a problem using their expertise, recommends a solution, and then leaves the execution to the client, a coach facilitates the process for the client to find their own solution and stays with them on each step of the journey from definition to achievement.

A coach is not a mentor. A mentor provides advice and guidance to the mentee having made the journey themselves. They chart a path for the mentee to follow with the hope that they will achieve what they seek. Conversely, a coach does not provide advice or direction; instead, they empower and support the client in finding answers, charting their paths, and capturing their goals.

Even if a coach has had business experiences similar to their client, they do not let their past cloud their objectivity, instead electing to stay emotionally detached to ensure the focus remains squarely on the client and their career objectives.

Sports coaches train athletes to perfect specific skills to improve athletic performance. Professional coaches differ from sports coaches as they do not advocate a known set of actions to improve performance outcomes. Instead, a professional coach is an expert in the coaching process, and the client is the expert in their life. Together they collaborate to find a unique set of actions to improve all aspects of that person’s life.

In most circumstances, a businessperson’s personal life has a material impact on their professional life. Due to this, a coach will often address the client’s personal and professional life during the coaching process.

Finally, coaching is not therapy. Therapy examines a client’s past. A therapist is an authority in psychological counseling who uses their expertise to help clients heal and add more functionality to their lives. It focuses on why things have occurred or how the client’s current problem manifested itself to foster understanding and behavioral change. Coaching focuses on the future to transform a client from functional to optimal. The key is not who they are today but who they want to be.

Professional Coaching is about seeing opportunities (not problems), finding solutions to capture these opportunities (the “how,” not the “why”), and executing them with commitment and passion to achieve a future state. The table below summarizes the differences between the helping modalities.

Individuals and organizations interested in taking advantage of the benefits of coaching should take caution to select only certified professional coaches (CPCs). A CPC has training in a credentialed program comprised of over 150 hours of formal instruction and whose mastery has been tested by written and verbal examination. The learned theories and techniques are then transformed into a working discipline through more than 50 hours of observed, critiqued one-on-one application with multiple real-world clients. Once the candidate demonstrates consistent adherence to standards and has achieved the requisite practical application hours, they will receive a formal certificate declaring them a professional coach.

While there are talented coaches who do not have formal certification, it is prudent to mitigate the risk of value erosion by selecting only CPCs to work with an organization, especially if executives or high-potential employees are to be the recipient of coaching services from an external party. CPCs, particularly those with ample business experience, are better equipped to guide their clients to their goals, are skilled at detecting those not committed to the endeavor and are adept at addressing current and future challenges across the work-life spectrum. It is highly recommended that firms select their coaches with care.

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