What is coaching? (Moving you to action, based on your self-responsibility?)


I ran a research project in 2012-2013 asking project managers what coaching they'd experienced. The answer was a range of management, formal and informal mentoring and informal coaching, (often a kind of peer discussion,) but very little 'formal coaching', as I personally understand it.

The challenge is that the word coaching has been used in many circumstances without clearly defining the term, which allows it to be used widely and contradictorily. Today the context or approach is often expected to define the term: sports coaching, managerial coaching, executive coaching, person-centred coaching, NLP coaching to name but a few. (See Cox et al 2014 for a complete review.)

I see it as a simple concept of supporting learning; it was adopted by those who experienced and appreciated it, who then spread its usefulness, before the more academic experts had a chance to catch up with an 'objective' or 'scientific' definition. I suspect this must often be the case with new words, especially perhaps with people-oriented concepts, because 1 person is complex enough, 2 (or more) add many more variables, and we're social animals so good things (and bad like diseases) spread quickly.

Coaching may have emerged as a social need; John Whitmore, a celebrated leader in coaching says 'coaching represents and symbolises the collective societal shift from hierarchy towards self-responsibility and it is vitally important that at this time of environmental, economic and social instability that coaching plays a major role in promoting better forms of leadership and the evolutionary self development in us all upon which our very survival may depend'. (Whitmore 2015)

Neuroscience is making us think that we may be able to understand how the brain works ever more objectively; personally I hope we somehow maintain our chaos-creating complexity; how else will we maintain interest in ourselves in an ever-lengthening lifespan?

Formally I use the International Coaching Federation's definition of coaching (ICF 2015)'Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential’ (I prefer the phrase partnering with coachees – the persons being coached –too, so that clients can be reserved for the person/business who pays the bill.)

Personally, I also like Timothy Gallwey's 'Inner Game' philosophy, shortly described by Whitmore (2002) 'Coaching is unlocking a person's potential'. Because I enjoy tennis – definitely a 'mind game' – I may be biased!

What is your definition – or understanding – of coaching? i.e. when is coaching, coaching?

Cox, E., Bachkirova, T., & Clutterbuck, D. A. (Eds.) (2014) 2nd Ed. The complete handbook of coaching. London: Sage.

Whitmore (2015) online document http://www.performanceconsultants.com/images/pdfs/Future_of_Coaching.pdf

Whitmore, J. (2002) 2nd Ed. Coaching for performance London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.



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