Have you noticed how frequently the word ‘coaching’ is used these days? You don’t read an article, attend a leadership workshop, or even speak with managers without ‘coaching’ being generously referenced. It’s used to describe the act of:
- Helping someone do something
- Chewing others out
- Passing along information
- Delegating a task
- Recognizing what’s gone well
- Giving feedback
- Teaching a skill
It seems that for many, ‘coaching’ has grown to generically refer to any interaction a leader might initiate… much like Kleenex’s relationship to all other tissue. But, not all conversations are coaching; and coaching certainly is not Kleenex!
As leaders, many of us have gotten sloppy with our language. Maybe it’s because we know that coaching is a desirable behavior within most organizations. Or maybe we want to couch tougher conversations in constructive packaging. In any case, the lack of precision around our language translates to a lack of precision around our behavior… and that’s compromising the power of coaching.
Consider just a few coaching definitions:
“Facilitating an individual’s search within themselves for the answers and resources they require to be limitless.”
- Michael Duffy
“Coaching in its truest sense is giving the responsibility to the learner to come up with their own answers.”
- Vince Lombardi
“Coaching is a powerful relationship for people who are making important changes in their lives.”
- Laura Whitworth in Co-Active Coaching
“Coaching is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.”
- Myles Downey
When we think about coaching from the perspective of these sample definitions, it becomes clear that coaching is an intentional and deliberate process designed to systematically help others understand themselves and take responsibility for making choices to support their own growth.
Deploying the Definition
This is easier said than done for many of us. Yet, reflecting back on the best coaches I’ve ever had, I realize they share three key practices:
They ask great questions…. and lots of them. Coaching is about unlocking what the other person knows, feels, wants. Skillful coaches have a seemingly unending array of questions at their disposal. Easy ones. Challenging ones. Interesting ones. Impossible ones. But all designed to help others reflect on and deepen their understanding of themselves and their options.
They listen exquisitely. Since questions are the currency of coaching, the real payoff comes with listening. The best coaches are genuinely curious and interested. They listen beyond the words – to the emotions, hopes, possibilities, and concerns. They keep track of what they’ve heard, tuck it away, and use it to continually build a deeper understanding of the other person…and they reflect that understanding back to the other person.
They hold the space for possibilities. In the presence of good coaches, more is possible. The best coaches inspire and challenge others to grow by fundamentally knowing that it’s possible. They promote optimism and a sense of capability as they make change and help others find new ways forward.
Coaching is a powerful act that drives learning, development, and performance. Let’s use the word more intentionally. It’s not feedback, corrective action, or delegation. And it’s certainly not Kleenex.
What’s your definition of coaching? What did your best coaches do for you?