Something About Coaching

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There are many definitions of coaching. A very useful one comes from Wikipedia:

“Coaching is a form of development in which a person called a coach supports a learner or client in
achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.”

John Whitmore’s definition might be more appropriate for business purposes:
“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

The first mention of the word coach to mean what we take it to mean in business was around 1830 at Oxford University. It was about a tutor who “carried” a student through an exam. In this context, coaching meant a process used to transport a person from where they were to where they wanted to be. The first recorded use of this word in sport was in 1861. After that, coaching was influenced by many areas of activity, including adult education, personal development and leadership. Finally, a story about coaching would be incomplete without mentioning Timothy Gallwey and his insight into the ‘inner game’. His book, The Inner Game of Tennis made a breakthrough in coaching, and established coaching as we know it now. In tennis as in coaching, a person struggles against his or her own ‘demons’, growing and becoming a better person as a result.

Coaching is a process where, first of all, a coach needs to know himself or herself. While becoming a coach, a person must pay attention to their own strengths and weaknesses. The better you understand yourself, the better coach you will be. Only a coach who is aligned with his or her inner being can help others.

A very useful tool for learning and developing competencies is a four-stage model called The Competence Cycle. These four stages can be used to notice stages in any skill development process. The most difficult stage is the conscious incompetence. At this stage many people find it difficult to move past their imperfections when developing a new skill.

  1. Unconscious Incompetence
    You don’t know that you don’t know something.
    For example, when you don’t need a car, you don’t know how to drive, and you are totally unaware of the benefits of driving.
  2. Conscious Incompetence
    You have become aware that you lack a particular skill.
    When you start to understand the benefits of using a car, you realize that you don’t know how to drive and start learning.
  3. Conscious Competence
    You have learned how to do something, but you still need to think about it in order to do it.
    You know how to drive, but you still think about the commands and actions while you are driving.
  4. Unconscious Competence
    You have learned how to do something so well that it has become hard-wired into your brain.
    You drive without paying any attention at all to driving. At this stage, your skill is automatic, and your conscious mind can focus on other things.

At the beginning of this article, we explained what coaching was. Now it’s time to say what coaching is not.

Coaching isn’t training. In training, a trainer shows you how to do something properly. In coaching, the coach helps you to realize the best way to do something properly.

Coaching isn’t counselling. Counselling is far closer to therapy, where you focus on the past trying to overcome barriers and issues so you can move on. In coaching, we focus on the future, on where we want to be, and on how we can get there, turning to the past only to draw on useful experiences.

Coaching isn’t mentoring, but it is closest to it. A mentor is a guide who helps you to learn and develop faster than you might do alone. A mentor shares with you his or her knowledge and best practices, and gives you useful advice. A coach, on the other hand, helps you to gain your own knowledge, prompting you to think differently and to find your own learning path. Coaching is advice-free.

In the following issues, we will write about important coaching topics such as the coach-coachee relationship.
We will also write about self-coaching and distance coaching, and present lots of helpful tools. Till our next issue, have fun getting to know yourself and others.

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