When I say to people that I am a leadership coach or an education coach, the most typical response is “yes, but what do you coach in? It has frustrated me for a long time. It used to frustrate me because I thought they should understand. It now frustrates me because I should be able to explain it better!
Coaching definitions – what are we trying to say?
efore being able to come up with our own definition, it can be helpful to understand what our core message is. Are we trying to define coaching to get some business? Or so that we can have an interesting peer to peer discussion? Do we want to engage in debate about all the nuances of coaching? Or do we want to be clear, unequivocal, no-nonsense about it?
Whichever it is, clarity can be helpful. It certainly seems to be the case that many people are confused about what coaching is. So the clearer that we, the coaches can be, the better.
I know what I am trying to say, and I have my definitions cover these key areas
- It’s not sports coaching, mentoring, or teaching
- It’s all about the other person, and their ideas, thoughts and values
- It is often about change, growth and development, not just about a chat
Probably there is more, but that is enough to start with!
Coaching definitions – rebutting the challengers!
Another thing that happens to me when I give a definition of coaching is that people often argue with me! I’m clearly not doing everything right. They question my definition, and start a row! It’s normally good natured, so you don’t have to worry about it.
The things that people argue about tend to be:
- That the type of coaching I define doesn’t work. People need advice, expertise, wisdom, and may not have the answers themselves.
- That they know coaches who do different things – workshops, teaching sales, calling all sorts of other things “coaching”
Both of these may be true. And yet….. I hold on to my definition. It is possible that people need other support as well as coaching. And that other support can be provided….. at another time. In fact, the coaching may get them nearer to the “answer” that they need than not having it.
And just because lots of people call other things “coaching”, doesn’t make it so. You can buy “cheese” in a toothpaste tube, but that doesn’t make it Camembert!
Our coaching definition
This isn’t a quick, abstract definition, but one that has been discussed and debated with many coaches that I work alongside. It may not be perfect, but it’s as near as possible to accuracy, without being too long :
Supporting another individual to make progress on a topic of their choice, that may be a positive topic or an obstacle. Listening, questioning and stretching, to help them come to their own conclusions and next steps. The short term goal is a change of thinking or action, and the long term goal is sustainable change and impact
If you like it and it speaks to you, feel free to use it!
Coaching definitions from coaching industry specialists
We have drawn on the coaching literature and pulled together definitions by those who write about and teach coaching. See which you like.
Coaching is focusing upon empowering people to find their own answers, encouraging and supporting them on the path…. Kimsey-House, H. 2011
‘Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. International Coach Federation, 2015
The art of creating an environment through conversation, that facilitates the process by which a person can move towards desired goals in a fulfilling manner – the coach facilitates learning. Gallwey 2000
The role of coaching is the unlocking of a person’s potential to maximise their performance – it is helping them to learn rather than teaching them. The coach is not the problem solver Whitmore 2009
Coaching is the art of facilitating another person’s learning, development, well-being and performance. Coaching raises self-awareness and identifies choices. Through coaching, people are able to find their own solutions, develop their own skills, and change their own attitudes and behaviours. The whole aim of coaching is to close the gap between people’s potential and their current state. Rogers, 2016
Having a good and clear definition of coaching can help in all sorts of ways. It allows you to explain clearly to those who are interested (and those who aren’t!). It can be helpful for writing about coaching. And really helpful when starting a coaching relationship. The definition, as much as the coaching itself, gives a window into the sort of coach that we are and we want to be.
Happy coaching and happy defining!