This month I am focussing on dispelling some of the myths about what coaching is and isn’t.

When I meet people and they ask the inevitable ‘So what do you?’ question, I always answer with the fact that I am a coach.  The second question I then get is ‘What type of coach’.  And this is a question I have pondered almost constantly since I became one.  Not because I don’t know who I am as a coach, my style, my target market or what value I can bring to my clients.  But because of the need for labels which for some reason does not sit well with me. 

What is the difference between an executive coach, a leadership coach, a confidence or career coach, a life coach, a success coach?

In response to this I would ask you, who are you when you show up to work, in your team meetings, in your friendship group, your family, your neighbourhood?

I think you are you – no matter where you are.

I would use the same process and techniques in a coaching session with the CEO of a global banking business as I would a returning to work mum who has lost her confidence.  I might vary the tools, tone and style or be more comfortable in certain areas but the underpinning philosophy is the same.  You are a whole person and your whole existence within your systems needs to have attention paid to it. 

Sure, your context changes which may affect the pace and structure of the sessions and some coaches specialise in certain structures over others (I won’t go in to those here but do want to acknowledge the range of expertise and styles of all of my coaching colleagues and am keen not to snub any approach in trying to explain my thoughts).  But, you don’t slip on a different background, upbringing, personality, values or drivers as you park up in the office or walk through the door at home.

Where I have got to is the prognosis that stigma is playing a part in this.  Is it more socially acceptable to have a ‘success coach’ than to be working ‘on you’?  And as CEO is it important that your coach is an ‘executive coach’ not just any old coach that might elude to you touching on more personal areas?

This makes me so sad and is feeding the development of my new mission statement for my coaching practice, bright yellow coaching.

Coaching is not an admission of mental illness, only for the ‘weak’ and to be ashamed of or hidden from your loved ones.  There is no classification or diagnosis made by anyone.  It is not bobbing around in the sad things in your past, dwelling on what went wrong for you.

Coaching is an empowered choice made by individuals that want to take responsibility for their future, no matter what the context or vision, in pursuit of what fulfils them.  In the same way you drive your car forwards to your destination with the aid of a sat nav and only fleeting glances in your rear view mirror, coaching enables you to define the destination you want and helps you navigate your way to it.

We would all quite happily hire a PT to help us stay fit physically, so why are we seemingly shy of seeking support to keep our brain fit and train our thinking?  And sticking with the gym analogy, it’s not only large or unfit people that go to the gym; fit and healthy, some slim and ‘ripped’ people go to the gym all the time….and that’s, I wager, why they are so fit and healthy!

A recent survey from the international coaching federation found that 85% of people reported that main role of a coach for them was to be a sounding board, 78% a motivator.  They surveyed 210 coaching clients of which 197 were employed professionals.  Over 80% of the respondents had undergraduate degrees and over a third had Master’s degrees or higher.

The same survey reported that the typical topics taken to their coaching sessions were (and this is across all categories of coaching):

  • 84.5% time management
  • 74.3% career guidance
  • 73.8% business advice
  • 58.6% relationship / family issues
  • 51.9% physical / wellness issues
  • 45.2% personal issues
  • 39.5% goal-setting
  • 38.1% financial guidance
  • 11% creativity

Given the broad range of topics covered here and seemingly the consistency of them I would assume that the majority of topics that would be traditionally associated with one ‘type’ of coaching came up in another.  And given these were mainly professionals with impressive educations I am sure a lot of these people would not see themselves as ‘weak’ or ‘broken’ for having employed a coach.  Quite the opposite I imagine.

The other misconception for me is that your coach has to know something about the environment the coaching client exists in – which could explain some of the labels also.  CEOs perhaps think they need an ex CEO as a coach so they can understand better and help them more.  Our mother who has lost confidence needs a coach who is a mother to know that she is truly getting the empathy she deserves.

This just isn’t true.  If I am coming in to my coaching session with you thinking I am a subject matter expert in your area and ready to advise you and give you ideas, how much am I believing that you are best person to define and create the life you want?  And indeed, who is deciding on what you want?!  That’s not coaching, that’s consultancy, or a little in joke in the industry is that it is ‘coach-sultancy’ – a contradiction in terms. 

As the coach I am the expert on the process of coaching.  You are the expert on you, your life, your business, your family and your career. In the words of Nancy Klein ‘The mind that holds the problem holds the solution”.  We all know that when our partner or friend goes in to ‘trouble shooting’ mode when all you want to do is talk about it or mull it over, we ignore every suggestion anyway and only commit to the decisions we make for ourselves.  That is because only you can have the best and most insightful perspective on your environment and self.

So how does coaching work?

I like to think of coaching as a collaborative approach to thinking.  As a coach, I create the structure and space for you to think and ask insightful, curious questions in pursuit of the agenda you lay out.

Generally, this is done in 1.5 hour, 121 sessions across a period of six to nine months, around every 4 – 6 weeks.  During this time, we will transcend through the following stages either in each session or gradually over the course of the sessions :

Raising awareness
Through listening and insightful questioning, I help you to understand your habits, your belief systems, your values and your behaviours in the here and now.  This is to help you connect ‘what is now’ with ‘what may come’ and facilitate empowerment, responsibility but most importantly autonomous choice for you the client.  The unique approach of a coach is as the mirror and empathetic provocateur, raising your awareness to what is unseen and offering the support and challenge necessary to interrogate and understand what you find.

Goal setting
For goal setting to be robust and truly inspiring, we must ensure that goals align with our core values and beliefs and satisfy our humanistic and socialistic needs.  Goals inherited by societal pressures, family demands, peer pressure and senses of duty are rarely truly achieved and we would argue, enjoyed.

I create a structure and format that allows all options to be considered, rationalised, tested and quantified to help my clients ensure that what they really want is indeed what they want and what they need.  This creates ‘stickier’ and more bought in to goals from which to create an achievable and realistic action plan from.

Action born out of truly understood goals routed in self-awareness somehow becomes a little easier.  Plans made with the support of professionals are more realistic and achievable and therefore naturally more likely to be achieved

Sometimes homework is taken away from the sessions and it is definitely true that the real work happens between sessions as you action what you have planned.  The longer time in-between sessions allows time for you to start to make changes, experience them, perhaps build on them and then bring these experiences back to the next session for reflection.

Whether a linear programme where you work in one area and build on it through each session, or work on a series of micro explorations and mini goals, the process generally flows through action taken → micro goal met → self-reflection (and goal/action plan adjustment) → Action taken and so forth.

What is the output?

Again, I have pondered how to articulate this in the development of my own practice’s vision and mission statements.  Everyone’s output is different.  Sometimes people bring one specific goal to a session and we work on it until its done.  Some do the same but what they show up with is completely different to where we end up.  For some it is not about tangible goals at all and more about insight and understanding or improvements.

The recent ICF survey showed people reporting the following outcomes that they have attributed to coaching:

  • 67.6% higher level of self-awareness
  • 62.4% smarter goal-setting
  • 60.5% more balanced life
  • 57.1% lower stress levels
  • 52.9% self-discovery
  • 52.4% more self-confidence
  • 43.3% improvement in quality of life
  • 39.5% enhanced communication skills
  • 35.7% project completion
  • 33.8% health or fitness improvement
  • 33.3% better relationship with staff
  • 33.3% better family relationships
  • 31.9% increased energy
  • 31.9% more fun
  • 25.7% more income
  • 25.7% stopped a bad habit
  • 24.3% change in career
  • 22.9% more free time

Again, all of these could be transferable across everything from executive to crisis coaching so I wager several outputs were experienced in multiple areas by all respondents, regardless of the context they were working within.

So why the stigma?  You are you, coaching is coaching no matter what the label and everyone, yes everyone, can benefit from it.  Not everyone is ready for coaching (it’s not a pill you can buy to make things happen for you quickly with little input) and not every coach will be for you.  But please, don’t choose your coach on the labels put on them or because you can dress it up as consultancy. 

Choose a coach with whom you have chemistry, who can nurture you and challenge you at the same time, who you know truly believes in you and wants you to succeed.  Do your research, ask around and try it! 

What have you got to gain?

I offer a free trial of 30 minutes where if you are not feeling it, you can end the session with no hard feelings and no cost.  If you would like to get in contact you can email me on tracyjames@brightyellowcoaching.com, call me on 07738 686694, catch me on Facebook or visit my website www.brightyellowcoaching.com

Thanks for reading.

Sources: The survey was conducted by Amy Watson, Principal, PROfusion Public Relations, with survey design assistance by Jackie Rieves Watson, Ph.D., professor of Management and Statistics, Amber University on behalf of the International coaching federation.