October 28, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed
“The only journey is the one within.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
Professional coaching is a relatively recent profession so some of the misconceptions surrounding what coaching is and is not, shouldn’t be surprising. It seems that everyone these days is a coach of one form or another.
What Coaching is and is not…
Historically, coaching has often been used remedially, as companies attempted to correct employees’ unwelcome behavior or perceived lack of competencies. Many conventional programs still use this approach. Obviously, this is a misappropriation of coaching since it yields few positive or lasting results. It is also entirely antithetical to the paradigm of coaching.
The best and most effective programs support the whole person and not isolated issues or problems. They take into account things like habitual patterns of thoughts, emotional states, and underlying mental models that may keep someone stuck.
In the 1990s, the first established accreditation groups for professional coaches were formed and coaching went from being used remedially to how we mostly recognize it today – as a developmental tool initiated by the client who is seeking self-improvement and lasting results.
In a study of the professional coaching industry by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), coaching was found to be used by 90% of organizations surveyed. Even in the global economic recession of 2008, when companies were cutting corners left and right, 70% reported increasing or maintaining their commitment to coaching.
As coaching has grown in value and evolved in design, so too has its potential for mainstream application. Today, Harvard Business Review reports that coaching is a $1 billion a year industry.
Coaching, it appears, is a growth industry.
So, what is coaching and what do coaches really do?
The International Coach Federation (ICF) — the leading global coaching organization and professional association for coaches — defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
Despite this guidance, one of the challenges of defining coaching and its effectiveness remains the relative lack of adequate research with significant enough control groups and clear parameters and measurement tools applied to a coaching framework that fully supports the complete range of ways in which personal and professional development efforts can influence behavior change.
But there are enough evidence-based insights that validate the value of coaching when applied in a systematic framework by a trained professional.
While many people attach the title of coach next to their name, it does not mean they are practicing true coaching or know how to get lasting results. The key to personal and professional transformation is the coachee’s belief in the benefits of coaching and their own ability to make lasting behavioral changes, couple with an evidence based methodology applied by a trained professional.
In a 2013 study published in Research in Organizational Change and Development, researchers adapted traditional clinical psychological practices into the context of executive coaching into a highly-customizable process of program design and found the approach was highly effective in enabling executives to develop behaviors and competencies aligned with their ideal future state and in improving adaptability in both actions and thoughts.
The International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, conducted a study in 2016 and examined the emerging approach to workplace coaching, which increasingly emphasizes “enhancing both the performance and the well-being of individuals and organizations in ways that are sustainable and personally meaningful.” They found that simplicity and personalization lie at the heart of this methodology and the effectiveness of coaching as a framework.
Another large-scale study of executive coaching conducted in 2016 found that a strong working alliance from the perspective of the coach and coachee predicted coaching effectiveness.
All of these research studies simply validate what the professional coaching industry has known for decades. Clear, practical models make coaching methodologies accessible and more likely to create lasting individual and organizational change. Deep personalization, in which the coach seeks to understand the coachee’s personal values and goals in a holistic way, is equally critical to success.
From an evidence-based perspective, this kind of coaching has been demonstrated as being highly effective in many peer-reviewed studies with randomized control groups.
Trained coaches who excel in relationship management competencies, understand the importance of building a foundation of trust and a strong working alliance with their clients, and establish clear tasks and goals to reach desired outcomes, were rated most highly for successful coaching results.
Coaching has exploded as an industry. Today, I hear many execs say they have not one but two or three coaches who help them with everything from leadership presence to public speaking to shifting to a growth mindset. But I also hear just as many people self proclaiming to be a leadership coach, an executive coach, a motivational coach and a life coach. Cue eye rolls.
As good coaching is fundamentally a quality conversation based in trust, it follows that authentic, individualized coaching is vital to cultivating genuine organizational change and personal development.
Coaching is about being in service to the growth and development of the person being coached. As a leader, if that excites you and drives your leadership engine, then coaching skills are an appropriate and successful addition to your leadership toolbox.
But to be of true service to clients, you can’t just print up some business cards and call yourself a coach.
To be accredited by the International Coach Federation, a training program must meet a number of criteria. Among them, it must offer a minimum of 125 hours of contact between students and faculty, six hours of observed coaching sessions, 10 hours of mentor coaching and a performance evaluation. There are more than 446 programs (132 in the United States) accredited by the federation.
I, myself, am about to complete a year-long program at the Coaches Training Institute, the world’s largest in-person coach training organization, a Harvard Medical School affiliate and widely considered to be a pioneer and the “Gold Standard” in the coaching industry, to become a certified coach. I can tell you from my own experience, that while the course has been rigorous and sometimes taxing, there is no substitute for professional training. It is the best decision I have made for my own career as a professional coach.
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