In the last 3 years since I’ve been a certified coach, whenever I would mention to someone what I do for a living, people would look with a confused face, for few seconds and say,“So … you are some kind of a consultant?”, “I see! You are a cook. ”, or ask with honesty, “What is a coach?”
The coaching profession has been around since 1990’s. In 1995, professional coach Thomas Leonard founded the International Coach Federation (ICF) in the United States with the aim of supporting coaches and helping one another to grow the profession.
A brief history
One year later, in 1996, ICF had 400 subscribers, an appointed president and a board of directors. In 2000, ICF grew at a rate of 130 new members per month, from Europe, Australia and Asia. By 2016, the structure and activities provided by ICF have diversified to support a growing community of professional coaches specialized in fields, such as: leadership and executive coaching, internal and organizational coaching, positive psychology, health and wellness coaching, life coaching, etc.
Thus, professional coaching has a roughly 2 decades history and its development shows how the profession has evolved to match the needs of the clients. So, what is coaching and who needs it?
What coaching is
The ICF definition of professional coaching is that of a “ … partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment…”
At the heart of coaching is the relationship between the client (interchangeably used with the term “coachee” from now on) and the coach, which involves a deeper level of trust and intimacy so that the coach can understand the beliefs, values, habits, and expertise of the coachee. Only at this deeper level of understanding, the coach is able to ask questions that provoke the thinking and creativity of the client who is working towards a specific goal at work or in personal life.
The ICF definition continues: “… Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole…“
The responsibility of the coach is not to assume or judge anything about the client’s life. The only assumption of the coach is to believe that the client possesses the inner resources for reaching his/her goals. This belief is reflected in the questions that the professional coach asks with the aim of encouraging the client to grow awareness in their thinking and emotional landscape.
The ICF definition ends with, “…Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:
- Discover, clarify, and align with that the client wants to achieve
- Encourage client self-discovery
- Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
- Hold the client responsible and accountable.
This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.”
We can see now that the professional coach is not a consultant, who is a professional who has knowledge in a specific field and helps the client by making use of that knowledge and providing a recommended set of actions. The professional coach is not a cook either, preparing a meal for the client to fill in the emotional holes.
The coach is not your friend either. Let’s say you are telling to your friend, “I’ve been thinking to change job.”
Your friend might answer, “What’s wrong with your current job?”
Your friend may have the best interest at heart and want to help you, without realising that she just asked a problem-focused question. This is what the brain is normally doing, it focuses too much on the problem, which makes us feel frustrated and anxious.
Instead, the coach may ask, “How long have you been thinking about this?“. This way, your proactive thinking gets activated and slowly the conversation moves on to empowering you find solutions to your dilemma.
The professional coach respects the client’s view on the world, and through powerful questions, supports and challenges the coachee to update their own view on the world by changing the perspective on it.
Who needs coaching
We go to eat at a restaurant because we feel hungry or want to socialize with friends. We hire an architect because we want to build the house of our dreams. We go see a doctor because we can’t take the physical pain anymore. These needs for food, warmth, water, safety are primary needs, at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs .
The need for coaching is a personal growth need, at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Life circumstances and our conditioning dictate how much attention we give to these needs. What’s certain is that many of us experience life changes – such as loss of someone beloved, divorce, being fired, moving to another town/country, company mergers, etc. One of the best ways to manage and enjoy life is to learn how to grow with life. How to fulfil our full potential in line with everything that happens around us.
In the last 3 months, how many times did you feel that you are standing alone in face of uncertainty? At least I feel this way once in a while.
The professional coach is the person who is there for you, creating the safe space for you to think about what is it that you can do best, in certain circumstances and take practical steps. The coach is a human being who walks with you the path of life, for a period of three to six months.
I have experienced how it is to be coached about some personal dilemmas. I’ve been fascinated how good it feels to sit down with another person, the coach, who actually listens to me. In addition, feeling the supportive energy inspired me to look for some answers of my own. At the end of the coaching session, I may not have seen the solution but I felt energised to have some insight into my inner world.
How would the world be if, at certain stages in life, we walked the coaching journey to realise our vision as a parent, partner, co-worker, and kinder human being?