About Coaching - A Deeper Dive

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About Coaching - A Deeper Dive

A more in-depth look at some of the concepts presented in Coaching Basics.

Coaching, Counseling and Mentoring

While the functions of coaching, counseling, and mentoring relationships have much in common, they are distinct professional activities and separate developmental approaches to human change. Counseling is typically carried out by a professional with a master's or doctoral-level education in a specific and focused field of human dysfunction, such as ADHD counseling, Addiction Counseling, Nutrition/Diet counseling, or social work. The focus of counseling is typically on helping a client move from a dysfunctional to a functional or improved state of well-being and/or health. Counselors may utilize coaching skills and the field of life coaching often overlaps with counseling, depending upon the goals involved. With mentoring, the relationship between mentor and mentee may be more informal and less of a strict "engagement". The relationship may build over time and involve an individual with expertise or seniority in a particular field supporting the development or growth of a more junior person in an informal manner. Mentoring relationships may fluctuate in terms of the interaction involved from counseling, to coaching, to advising, whereas a coaching engagement is typically set up for a limited period of time, and focuses on four specific areas: 

  • Defining goals 
  • Formulating a plan that will use the client’s skills
  • Holding the client accountable for progress
  • Providing structure, encouragement, and support

For more information on the distinctions between coaching, counseling, and mentoring, we recommend the following Institute of Coaching resources: 

Coaching and Psychotherapy 

A great deal has been written about the differences and similarities between coaching and psychotherapy. Both of these are individually-focused support activities in which a professional works typically one-one with a "client," "patient," or "coachee" for the purpose of improving or enhancing the life experience or performance of the latter. Many clinical psychologists and licensed therapists have begun to incorporate some or even all aspects of a "coaching approach" into their work with patients - and many executive or life coaches, with education in psychology, will at times endeavor to do work with clients in formats one might call therapy or therapeutic. That said, there are key differences between the two helping modalities that most practitioners agree upon, such as the following which specifically describes a coaching approach: 

  • A focus on the future rather than the past
  • Accountability to others as well as the client (third party involvement with HR, Superiors, etc.)
  • Engagement for the enhancement of ‘normal functioning’ vs. the healing of pathology or dysfunction
  • Engagement that is often more "directive" or explicitly goal-oriented
  • Being time limited or open-ended 

Ideally, a practitioner of either psychotherapy, especially a licensed psychotherapist or psychologist, or coaching, will be willing and able to clarify the specific modality and approach/method they employ when working with clients. 

Types of Coaching 

There are a number of different approaches to coaching that have developed over the past few years. The field has its roots in both human resource development, leadership training, and organizational and developmental psychology, and sports psychology. Hence, as the approaches utilized within these varying fields have converged, different methods and approaches to coaching have emerged, such as goal-oriented coaching, vision-based coaching, team-based coaching, peer-coaching and transformational coaching, just to name a few. In most cases, the fundamental difference between types of coaching will depend upon the setting. Organization-based coaching typically involves either an individual with specific leadership or executive development needs, or a group engagement in which team-based coaching models may be applied. Outside of organizational settings, the approach of life, health, and wellness coaches may vary greatly depending upon the needs of the client, the length of the engagement, and the professional skills/expertise of the coach. For more information on individual and team approaches to coaching, we recommend the following Institute of Coaching resources: 

Selecting a Coach 

Studies in coaching effectiveness point to the importance of choosing an appropriate coach and the early establishment of a productive and high quality coach-coachee relationship if the coaching is likely to be successful. Determining the best way to choose a coach is a subjective science, for as the relationship is crucial to success, the individual skills, talents, and personal style of both the coach and the coachee will all be key in determining if there is a good match. That said, research has shown that there are specific criteria with which a potential coach should be assessed. These include the following personal and professional attributes: amount of previous coaching experience, knowledge of the industry or function involved, interpersonal skills, education level, culture, and geographical fit. For more information on coach selection and research on what makes a good "match" between a coach and coachee, we recommend the following resources: 

Internal Versus External Coaching

As more and more organizations have discovered the potential positive impact of coaching in a wider variety of professional roles, the challenges and costs involved in expanding the number of coaching engagements with external coaches has led to the rise of internal coaching as a sometimes more cost-effective and scalable alternative. Internal coaches provide the same potential benefits, and depending upon the skills and training of the coaches involved, may be equal or even superior to external coaches in certain circumstances. The nature of the coaching engagement, however, is directly impacted by the position of the coach as either an external consultant or internal employee. Both can be successful, but organizations that choose to build coaching programs around internal coaches need to be aware of the potential pitfalls and challenges involved when the boundaries between coach and coachee are not as clearly defined as in an external consultant relationship. In particular, issues of confidentiality, sensitive feedback, and/or team boundaries must be addressed when internal coaching is used. 

When to Use Internal Coaches 

There are a number of situations, however, in which internal coaching might be preferred, including: 

1. Need for greater reliability and consistency in approach. The title executive coach is not regulated, and as a result, training, credentials, and approach can vary widely. If an organization has a need for consistency and a need to ensure that the corporate mission, vision, and values are routinely incorporated into executive coaching programs, carefully selected internal coaches may be the preferred and certainly more cost effective option. 

Challenges Associated with Internal Coaching 

While internal coaching can certainly offer some potential benefits to organizations, there are unique challenges that should also be considered. These challenges include: 

1. Role clarity and differentiation. In the midst of the HR as business partner trend, HR professionals have increasing interest in playing a more active role in advising and coaching their internal clients. They want a seat at the table in business discussions and they as well as the organization often find it difficult to differentiate between their role and the role of an internal coach. Similarly, an internal coach may unwittingly provide counsel that normally should come from the HR business partner. 

The Coaching Relationship 

Key to the success of a coaching engagement, the relationship that develops between a coach and coachee is the crucible in which change or development or improvement - of a behavior, attitude, or skill - occurs. The coach typically initiates and consciously drives the process of relationship building that must be founded on reciprocity, trust, and confidentiality. The coach has several roles to perform that may change over time, including creating safety, high-quality listening, focused inquiry and, at times, advising or recommending specific actions, practices, or exercises. Depending upon the goals of a coaching engagement, the activities of the coach and the role played may vary, but typically a coach does not tell the coachee what to do or how to do something. The role is one of inquiry, exploration, and supporting the coachee to discover, or uncover, or expand their own ability to navigate the desired change. Coaches need to be patient, detached, supportive and self-aware. There are key core skills that foster an effective coaching relationship: rapport building, listening, focused attention, paraphrasing and content interpretation, and delivering feedback. For more information on the coaching relationship, we recommend the following Institute resources: 

Coaching Models for Leadership and Optimal Performance 

There are many different models employed by coaches worldwide to reap positive results with clients. However, with most coaching engagements there are at least five distinct stages that are followed, including: 

Ethics in Coaching 

As the coaching profession has grown exponentially in the past 30 years, issues of ethical conduct on the part of coaches have emerged much as they did (and continue to) in the practice of psychotherapy and psychology during the mid-twentieth century. Early in the field of coaching, there were few resources or guidelines available to coaches, and issues of confidentiality, boundaries, definitions of practice, financial considerations, contracting, and diversity have all arisen and at times become problematic within the field. At this stage in the evolution of the profession, circa 2015, there are still no requirements for licensure of coaches in the United States, although certifications and accreditation bodies have grown to include strict and evolving ethical guidelines, which many professional coaches consider important. the ethical guidelines developed by the International Coach Federation are widely accepted and followed by many coaches of all types. For the latest research on ethics in coaching, we recommend the following resources. 

Diversity within Coaching 

As coaching continues to expand beyond the boundaries of Western countries and into global organizations, the need for greater awareness, knowledge and sensitive around issues of diversity is also growing within the field. More coaches are working across geographic and cultural boundaries, as well as working with clients with diverse racial, gender, and age profiles. A number of research studies have been conducted regarding the impact of coaching in diverse populations - and there is currently more growth of coaching within the second and third world -  China, Southeast Asia, Russia, Africa, etc--than in Western Europe or the United States. Hence, it is important for coaches to engage in self-development and organizational training that increases their awareness of diversity issues/concerns, makes them aware of potential unconscious bias and knowledgeable with regard to current diversity issues such as gender and cultural identity and norms. For more information on diversity and coaching, we recommend the following Institute of Coaching resources: 

Boundaries and Barriers in Coaching:

Not all coaching engagements are successful, and not all individual's change, development, or transformation situations are best suited to be addressed by coaching. As coaching becomes more common - and potentially a mainstream method - for supporting change and growth in human performance, coaches need to be aware of the boundaries, limitations, and potential pitfalls that can befall coaching engagements. Some research has been conducted around why coaching fails. Typical reasons why coaching is not successful include:

  • Coach provides simplistic solutions to complex health or organization situations.
  • Coach fails to recognize the more severe dysfunction - depression, eating disorder, addiction, etc.- that may underlie a client’s failure to change.
  • Client's situation is better suited for a therapeutic intervention instead of coaching; e.g. counseling/therapy for addiction or depression instead of coaching.
  • Coach does too much advising and directing and not enough listening.
  • Coach fails to establish and monitor guidelines for follow-up, homework, and follow through on commitments made by the coachee.
  • Individual coaching is chosen as the intervention when the issues that need to be addressed actually encompass an entire team or organization.
  • Expectations of the focus or goals of coaching are not in alignment between the coach and the coachee.
  • Coaching engagement is too time limited or the coachee fails to provide adequate commitment in time and energy to the coaching.
  • Coaching engagement is too short for long term benefits of consistent change to accrue.

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