In this chapter we’ll look at what we mean by coaching, some definitions from the major coaching bodies, and some of the underpinning ideas or theories that inform coaching that distinguish this type of conversation from others, including differences between ‘mentoring’ and ‘coaching’. This theory is applied through the practical skills covered in the next chapter.
What Is Coaching?
Here are some definitions from the major international coaching bodies that underpin their definitions with competency frameworks and Codes of Ethics:
…partnering with clients in a thought‐provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
(International Coaching Federation 2020)
Coaching is a facilitated, dialogic and reflective learning process that aims to grow the individuals (or teams) awareness, responsibility and choice (thinking and behavioural).
(Association for Coaching 2020)
Coaching and Mentoring: It is a professionally guided process that inspires clients to maximise their personal and professional potential. It is a structured, purposeful and transformational process, helping clients to see and test alternative ways for improvement of competence, decision making and enhancement of quality of life. Coach and Mentor and client work together in a partnering relationship on strictly confidential terms. In this relationship, clients are experts on the content and decision making level; the coach and mentor is an expert in professionally guiding the process.
(European Mentoring and Coaching Council 2015)
Notice that the last definition conflates ‘coaching and mentoring’ into a single process, which we see as aligning with our equation, Teacher + Coach = Mentor where the coach/mentor guides the process, the mentor teaches from their own experience and the client focuses on what they want or need to learn and make their own decisions as a result of the conversation.
In this book we use the terms ‘mentee’ and ‘coachee’ to describe the learners in receipt of the mentoring or coaching processes and the ‘mentor’ or ‘coach’ as the ‘givers’ of those processes.
As well as thinking about the process, we can look at coaching from the viewpoint of the coachee; so, while the process may be consistent, there are many different approaches to coaching.
A review of the ICF website identifies the following approaches offered by accredited training programmes:
- Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
- Health and Fitness
- Life vision and enhancement
- Small Business
The Forton model and approach (Hughes and Caton‐Hughes 2019), (itself an accredited ICF programme: The Professional Leadership Coach training programme) is based on an approach to better leadership and management, summed up as:
Supporting people to lead, succeed and achieve their goals, without telling them what to do, or doing it for them.
(The Forton Group 2020)
This approach focuses on the autonomy and empowerment of people, indicating a shift away from a directive style of management (external locus of control) to an internal locus of control. Since coaching can be about an individual, a group or team, and about organisations or systems, the underlying assumption is that those groups can also exercise a greater level of self‐sufficiency, as exemplified in agile working and ‘scrum’ approaches to operational delivery.
At a management or leadership level, coaching supports an individual to see what autonomy they have within their organisation, and where opportunities lie to make improvements, create and embed change and support their direct reports and teams to be successful.
The Forton model was created with a leadership and management focus, taking the whole system into account. In recognition of this increased autonomy, the definition of leader is also shifting: the Forton approach being one of abundant leadership ‘being personally successful and enabling success in others’, where leadership is about the individual, the team they lead, the wider organization, and leadership in society.
Abundant leadership also recognises the multi‐generational workforce, the increasing gender, cultural, and ethnic diversity in the workplace; it’s an approach based on tapping into the diversity of styles, approaches, and specialisms that are needed in today’s world of work.
As well as diverse approaches to coaching, there are also a range of coaching models, tools, and approaches. These are addressed in the next chapter, along with the skills and competences needed by those who wish to coach others.
Purpose of Coaching
The coaching profession has grown in response to an unmet need: that of personalising and internalising learning away from a traditional ‘telling’ or directive style of teaching, towards learners accepting greater responsibility for their role in the learning process.
This, in turn, is both a pragmatic and a necessary response to the shift away from standard and traditional methods of production, based on hierarchical localised structures, towards a globalised, interconnected economy, where products and services are less tangible, less physical, and the creation of which is not suited to a directed economy.
When production or service methods are standardised, then education and learning can also be standardised. Where individual, or local group decisions and actions are needed for non‐standard products and processes, then the education and learning needs to flex to those diverse needs. Indeed, the very nature changes, away from a facts‐based approach to one where the key skills are about creativity. A shift from left brain to right brain thinking.
For example: the steam sterilisation process in dental practices. The learning process is structured, and the practise of sterilisation needs to be carried out, in the same way, consistently, day after day. There are a number of key factors; with different approaches for wrapped and unwrapped instruments; there are mechanical checks for the efficiency and safety of the equipment and so on. Once the operator has shown understanding and learned the processes, along with any variations (e.g. for different types of instruments), nothing much will change, unless or until the equipment changes, or new requirements are brought in, for example.
But think about other elements of the dental profession: helping patients make life‐enhancing choices; recruiting and retaining staff; investing in and introducing new innovations and technologies; identifying career options and making choices about which direction to pursue. Learning these skills doesn’t just require understanding of the laws, rules, policies, and processes; they then need applying to different people in different situations.
We’re living in an age of sudden change; shocks and uncertainty, which require complex decisions and the ability to move forward without all the information, or with ambiguous and conflicting information. This requires a more flexible approach to thinking, communicating, and acting; it requires the ability to inspire and motivate oneself and others, to get beyond challenges and still deliver high quality services.
The following quote is often attributed to Charles Darwin; whoever actually said it sums up the adaptability and flexible thinking that coaching offers the coachee:
It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
Where mentoring can support people to make decisions by learning from the experience of others and from the past, coaching supports people to tap deeply into their own inner resources, to make sense of the world as it is today, and to make decisions in this volatile environment.
To support people, coaching helps to develop inner resources such as personal and professional reflection, resourcefulness, accountability, and personal responsibility; creating awareness, learning, and identifying options; and in external effectiveness such as making better plans, awareness of options, enabling better choices; considering how to – and when to – forward actions.
Another key purpose of coaching is the ‘double‐loop learning’ (Argyris 1977) process: whether at individual, group, team or organisational levels, learning is not just a one‐time experience, it’s also a process of feeding that learning back into the system for wider, and longer term, benefits.
At individual level, learning ‘how I learn best’ increases my ability to learn more effectively; in fact, even the knowledge that there is not just one way I learn best is helpful. Learning how to do a process and then identify areas for improvement can speed up a process without ‘cutting corners’. It can cut costs, reduce waste, time, and effort. When that ‘double‐loop’ learning is fed back into an organisation, and becomes part of the sharing culture with colleagues, the return on investment in coaching is remarkable.
To summarise, coaching – in the Forton model – is a process that supports decision making based on current conditions and future objectives, forwards action and embeds learning in individuals, groups, teams and organisations.