Conducting a coaching process may seem very simple. However, by supervising different coaching processes, it can be concluded that most coaches do not follow all the coaching principles – instead they sometimes end up doing mentoring, therapy, consulting or training.
Since coaching is still very recent as an autonomous discipline and little known by the general public, customer expectations help the coach forget to follow the principles of coaching. Indeed, in many companies, clients often have the expectation that coaching is synonymous to mentoring, consulting or training. People who ask for life coaching also expect it to be similar to psychotherapy many times.
In fact, in all these activities, there are at least two points in common with coaching:
- There is a supportive relationship from the professional to the individual or the team in development.
- The goal is to improve performance.
Although coaching techniques are already integrated in all of these activities, coaching has particular principles that set it appart from them.
Let us then analyze the differences between coaching and other personal or organizational support activities, in order to better understand what isn’t coaching.
Therapy: Therapy deals with dysfunctions and conflicts within an individual, or his relationships and with healing of suffering. The focus is on how to deal in a healthier way with the current emotional difficulties arising from the past and improve overall psychological functioning. In coaching, on the other hand, the focus is on personal or professional success and, to this end, supports personal and professional growth based on the change initiated by the individual himself. Instead of focusing on the past, it works with the present, projecting the future (Lages et al., 2007). Instead of focusing on suffering, it focuses on creating strategies to achieve specific goals. The emphasis in coaching is on action, responsibility, and moving forward.
Consulting: Consultants are hired due to their expertise. The assumption here is that the consultant will diagnose the problems, prescribe and sometimes implement solutions. With coaching, the main assumption is that individuals are capable of generating their own solutions, and that the coach’s role is to support and facilitate that discovery. Consulting is also more focused in the organization as a whole and not only on individuals, whereas coaching focus mainly on the individual or the team, even if the final goal is to solve organizational problems.
Mentoring: A mentor is a specialist who provides wisdom and guidance based on his own experience. Mentoring may include counseling’s methodology and coaching’s methodology. Coaching, by contrast, does not include counseling and focuses on how the individual or team can define and achieve their own goals. The effect of coaching is, thus, not dependent on a more experienced professional who conveys their knowledge. Coaching requires expertise in coaching, but not in the subject being addressed. This is one of its greatest strengths, as it strengthens the coachee’s confidence in himself.
Training: Training programs are based on objectives defined by the trainer, achieved through a linear and pre-established learning path. On the contrary, the goals in coaching are defined by the coachee, and the way to get there is less linear, being also established by the coachee. According to several authors (Krausz, 2007; O’Connor and Lages, 2007; Rego et al., 2007), training is based on a process of learning and acquiring knowledge, whereas coaching aims to develop emotional intelligence skills and it’s a process of individual change.
Sports coaching: Although the word coach is used to refer to a sports coach, and coaching has started in this field, in sports, teaching is the most common practice, not coaching. Generally, the sports coach is seen as a specialist who guides and directs the behavior of the individual or the team based on his greater experience and knowledge. Sports coaches also tend to focus on behaviors that are poorly performed, unlike coaches, who focus on identifying development opportunities based on the individual’s strengths.
Coaching concepts emerged in environments where knowledge reached its peak: in the philosophers of ancient Greece, at Oxford University and at Harvard.
Currently, coaching is increasingly democratized, being used mainly in high performance companies, both by professional coaches and by the leaders themselves who use coaching’s leadership style. Throughout these almost fifteen years in which I have been practicing coaching, I am constantly dazzled by its expansion in Portugal and in the world. Coaching is increasingly a way of relating to others, of thinking and being. There are already teachers, parents, doctors and sales professionals using coaching skills and coaching ways when needed.
As John Whitmore states: “Coaching as a business practice is here to stay, although the word may disappear when its values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors become the norm for everyone.” We are curious to see this happening!
Adaptation and English translation of the 1st chapter of the book “Coaching: Going Further Inside”, ICF Portugal (International Coach Federation), co-author and Executive Coach Isabel Freire de Andrade