Hardly a day passes without some mention of coaching in a newspaper, magazine or radio programme. Many of these items are testimonials from people who have benefited from their coaching experience. Unfortunately, some arouse an interest in the reader or listener and then leave them with many questions and few answers.
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You will soon realise that coaching is about helping people by providing signposts to actions that will produce beneficial results. ‘Answers!’ is firmly in this category. It is simply a no-nonsense guide to the basics that you need to know.
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WHAT IS COACHING?
Coaching is a professional and personal relationship between two people, the coach and the client.
Some coaches and clients prefer to work face-to-face, some coaching sessions are conducted by telephone. The client speaks with the coach at a pre-arranged time for a discussion in absolute confidentiality. These sessions are generally at weekly intervals and each one typically lasts 45 minutes and will not be longer than one hour.
It is unlikely that the client will achieve significant results in fewer than three sessions (although the benefits begin after the very first session). It is unusual for a coaching process to last longer than three months without a break.
The role of the coach is to help the client. The role of the client is to agree to a total commitment and honesty to dealing with the issues that concern them.
Coaching is an interactive process where the coach guides and facilitates the client's progress towards defined goals. These may concern relationships, career, self-confidence, financial matters, or – and this is common – an uneasy feeling that 'life has drifted off course' or 'there must be something better than this'.
Your coach is a listener who is totally non-critical and non-judgemental. As each goal or desired outcome is defined, the coach will propose specific actions that will move you ever closer to the results that you seek. Whilst these actions are important, it is the outcome from those actions that achieve success.
Each session closes with agreement on the actions that you will take before the next call. The subsequent session will review those actions, their results and your feelings about them. It is this immediacy and need to report back which make life coaching so effective.
"Coaching helps me define where I want to go and it gets me there faster and more easily than if I worked on my own."
Brian Mayne's Goal Mapping
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WHERE DID COACHING ORIGINATE?
The concept of a professionally trained coach running his or her own practice originated in the United States of America.
Many personal development and self-help techniques can be traced back to a few individuals, who took an idea and packaged it to make it accessible to all.
Coaching has no such pedigree and no founding father. It is the result of a gentle evolution, which owes much to these other techniques, and, like all the best ideas, it has grown in response to a need.
Until economical transport was readily available and long before modern communications were developed, there was probably no need for a coach. In those days of large families, who usually lived all their lives in the same neighbourhood, there were plenty of relatives and older siblings to call on for help and advice.
The first popular self-help books were published in the 1930s. The post war years saw a boom not only in these, but also in the growth of various forms of analysis and therapies. Some of these worked well, but were usually limited to addressing a single medical or mental condition. A few were less effective because they created a dependence on the analyst.
That was more or less the situation until the 1980s when therapists realised there were many life situations that embraced more than one issue and needed a wider view. The smaller and fragmented family, the rise in divorce rates, and an awareness of the importance of a holistic approach to matters that were often presented as 'stress related symptoms' led some of these therapists to review their way of working.
The therapists became coaches, their patients became clients and the coaching profession was born. Its growth has come almost totally from 'word of mouth' recommendation. In other words, the results have created the phenomenal worldwide demand that now exists.
"Coaching may not be magic, but the results are certainly magical"
HOW DOES LIFE COACHING DIFFER FROM THERAPY OR COUNSELLING?
There are three major and significant differences that set coaching apart.
In many situations, a therapist or counsellor will look to the immediate or distant past to prescribe an appropriate solution to a patient's problem. Although your coach will have a good understanding of how your past has created your present, the focus of every coaching session will be on where you are now and where you want to be in the future. Your coach has no prescriptions because every situation, every session and every client is unique.
The next major difference is that therapy or counselling may address a single and specific physical or mental condition. Your coach is interested in you as a whole being from an awareness of the interactions between all areas of your life. Instead of delving into causes, your coach will focus in a holistic manner on your mind, body and spirit to help you achieve your objectives.
The remaining difference is that your coach has time to work with you. During your session, your coach will be totally committed to you and your needs. You work together but it is you who defines what you want from life and how you will get it. Your coach is a 'catalyst' who will do whatever it takes to help you.
The main purpose of coaching is to empower you to take control of every aspect of your life along with acceptance of your personal responsibility that is an integral part of such control. Your coach can show you how to do this and will guide you every step of the way.
"My coach said he would be like a control tower talking me down to a safe landing. He did this but, unexpectedly, he showed me how to take off in exciting new directions too."
HOW DOES COACHING DIFFER FROM MENTORING OR CONSULTANCY?
Coaching in a business environment differs from mentoring or consultancy, with which it is sometimes confused.
A mentor will generally guide and teach someone in a specific task or job. The mentor will draw significantly on their own experience, will pass on short cuts and tricks of the trade and will teach the acolyte how to gain a specified result. The mentor will be expected to know the answers to a task related situation.
Like a sports or physical fitness coach, the mentor has often 'been there and done that'. Effective coaching does not require that the coach have the personal hands-on experience of the client's job, profession or occupation. Some would even claim that it is the very absence of this experience that adds to the effectiveness of the coach, who, by standing apart, can still see the wood from the trees.
A mentor knows the answers. Your coach works with you so that you discover the questions and their answers for yourself, not just for a particular task, but also for all your life situations.
Consultants are invited to investigate a particular work related situation. They gather facts to support their qualified and quantified proposals. Then they may be involved in the implementation of their proposals.
As with the mentor, their focus is on resolving one particular issue. The life coach will adopt a people and personality behavioural approach where the task or job is a by-product of the process. With their breadth and depth of understanding about attitude and results, your life coach will often achieve benefits that are realised faster and will last longer than those resulting from a mentoring or consultancy approach.
"I was worried that I didn't know the answers. My coach showed me that I did know them all along, it was just that I hadn't seen the problem from every point of view."
HOW DO I KNOW IF COACHING WILL HELP ME?
You are invited to be painfully honest with yourself as you answer these questions. Do you wake up every morning, without exception, excited and eager to start each new day? Do you have a clear plan for your life for the next week, month, year? Are you as successful as you could be with your relationships, lifestyle, career, finances and happiness?
If you could answer a genuine and enthusiastic 'Yes' to each of these questions, then the chances are that coaching will be of little benefit to you. You know what you want from life and have the determination, commitment and means to get it.
But if you lack any one of those qualities, if you answered 'no' to any of the questions, or if you even hesitated about your answer – then assuredly, coaching can and will help you.
At the very least, a few coaching sessions will make you question your life and its current direction. They will introduce you to ways of simply overcoming the obstacles which we all encounter as we go through life. They will demonstrate how, if you change nothing, then five years from now you will be doing what you have always done and with the same results.
Coaches know that every human, including you, has the potential to be, do or have whatever they want in life. They can show you how to tap into and enjoy developing that potential.
If you ever feel that 'there is too little time', that 'my life should be better than this' or even, 'I want to control my own destiny and future' – then coaching can help you.
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