This post is aimed at people unfamiliar with coaching, especially individuals who will shortly be getting coaching, but are unsure what to expect.
Coaching was first used in sport. We are used to hearing about elite teams and players having coaches.
Nowadays, coaching is increasingly used in areas beyond sport, especially for senior leaders in organisations. And it is starting to be used more widely throughout organisations. Also, many people hire a coach to help them to resolve a challenge they are facing.
What types of things do people discuss in a coaching session?
Some examples of challenges people bring to coaching are task-related, such as:
- There is a person I work with who is driving me crazy and I don’t know what to do.
- I’m struggling to chair meetings well – they always overrun and people get frustrated.
- I hate speaking in front of people but it’s a key part of my new role.
- I feel like a ‘deer in the headlights’ when someone attacks me in a meeting.
Other challenges where people may benefit from coaching are more related to how a person chooses to live their life, for example:
- I’m not sure whether to stay in this job or apply for my dream job at the other end of the country – there will be impacts on my family.
- I’m going to be made redundant – I feel completely lost and very upset.
- I feel I’m in a dead-end job and am thinking of a complete change – but this scares me.
- I’m approaching retirement and want to consider what my purpose might be after I’ve left self employment – and how I might spend my time.
What does coaching involve?
Most coaching involves a 1-2-1 conversation with a qualified coach. (Group coaching is also used but I’ll discuss group coaching in a future post.)
The confidential nature of coaching is taken extremely seriously by coaches and their professional organisations.
Coaching involves a number of sessions, each typically lasting an hour. Sometimes one session is enough. Sometimes you might want, say 6 session at monthly intervals. Sessions may take place in a physical location, such as an office, or by phone or virtually, using e.g. Skype or Facetime.
The coach will explain how they work and may ask you to sign a contract setting out how you agree to work together, including the fees involved. You can expect the coach to ask you various questions about yourself initially so the coach can get to know you.
What is discussed in each coaching session is decided by you, the client (often referred to as the coachee). You decide the agenda for each session. The job of the coach is to manage the session so that it is helpful for you and finishes on time.
You, the client do most of the talking while the coach listens carefully. This ‘listening’ involves not only the words spoken but also your tone of voice, body language and any inconsistencies in what you say.
The coach may pick up on consistencies. For example, if you insist you are ‘happy’ but look miserable, the coach may point this out to you and explore your true feelings.
The coach is likely to ask you several open-ended questions to help you to see the situation differently and increase your understanding of the situation.
Coaching often leads to you being able to see for yourself what you need to do. The coach will not tell you what to do or provide a ‘magic solution’. Coaching is powerful because it helps you to see things from different perspectives and understand the range of alternatives open to you, while you decide what course of action you will take.
In some cases, you may benefit from practicing doing something in a different way. The coach may help you to rehearse (for example, a difficult conversation with a colleague).
Towards the end of each session, the coach may ask you what you plan to do next. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘actions’. This might include, for example, talking to individuals in another sector or organisation (if you are considering a major career move).
A final word
Coaching can lead to break-throughs in terms of addressing a challenge. Coaching is something to be welcomed, not feared.
During a 35 year career in higher education, Jenny Ames led a productive research group, worked with people from a wide range of subject areas and collaborated with organisations from various sectors. She held the title of Professor at 6 universities, graduated ~25 PhD students and mentored ~25 contract researchers. Jenny was also a senior manager for 8 years. Along the way she benefited from coaching on several occasions.
Since 2017, Jenny has been Director of Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd. Her coaching practice focuses on people in career transition. These may be people wondering what to do next or they may have recently moved sector, organisation or job role. Jenny is particularly interested in coaching academic researchers at all career levels. She holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Practice from Oxford Brookes University and is a Member of the Association for Coaching. Jenny was also a facilitator on ‘Entrepreneurial Leaders’, a programme for senior university leaders run by the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE).