how do coaches coach?  
  Personal Development
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The third in a series of three articles originally published on (adapted)

In my first article I explained how the business environment had changed and how that created a world where business success was unteachable. The second article asked the question: "What is coaching?"

Now I want to explain what coaches actually do. What it's like to be coached and what people get out of it.

How do coaches coach?

First let's look at the logistics.

Coaching is typically carried out one-to-one. A series of sessions that may last anywhere between half and hour and half a day: an hour to an hour and a half is typical.

A coach may work partly, or wholly, face-to-face and may offer some additional support by telephone or email. Face-to-face is more common in the business environment; telephone coaching is more prevalent in the personal market.

Coaches often bundle up their offering into monthly packages and may ask for a certain commitment up front. The coaching relationship does work best as a committed, albeit temporary, relationship.

Sessions are scheduled in advance and most coaches will charge for late cancellations. Sessions may be once a week, or once a month, and may continue for a few weeks to a year or more. I know one coach who aims to deliver the benefits to any client in a series of four half-hour sessions. I know others in the corporate sector who charge an annual fee for unlimited access.

All I can say to those that are looking for a coach is that the offering of a particular coach has to suit your needs. Understand why they do it the way they do, and then judge for yourself whether you're happy with that.

So once you've got together with your coach, what happens next? For most coaches there are four main thrusts to what they do: building rapport; revealing core issues; gaining commitment; challenge. In order to do this they will do a number of things.

Rapport and revealing core issues

Active listening is a core skill in coaching. You may not notice it happening - you'll be doing most of the talking after all - but you will probably find you very quickly feel very safe, and that it's OK to express your concerns and thoughts. You may feel that your coach really "gets it". This is one of the effects of listening really well and it means you can progress to the important stuff.

To help you find the issues that it is most important for you to deal with, a coach will ask a lot of questions. They are curious. They may try out ideas to see if it helps put a problem in a more helpful way. You will probably find that you are describing your problems with more clarity than you did previously.

Gaining commitment

In one way or another, most coaches will help you build a picture of where you want to get to. This may be in the form of a series of statements that you produce for yourself. Business and personal targets. You are used to that sort of business planning activity. But it's not really a picture. This is where a lot of coaches will help you to really engage with your vision, in whatever way suits you best. Sometimes working with a coach in this way can be very different from people's previous experience, but it can also be the most powerful part of the process. As an experiment, have a look at the objectives in your business plan. Notice what you feel (really feel, I mean, in your body). Now look at a photograph of a person or a place that has a special meaning for you ... and notice how you feel. Different isn't it? Notice how much more you care about something you can really picture. What could happen in your business if you had that clarity of purpose?


Finally, a coach will consistently challenge you. Challenge you to go further, to make more of your abilities, to take the extra step, to look again at whether you can or cannot do something. Challenge sounds a hard thing, but the experience of it in a successful coaching relationship is very different. I personally experience it as being given permission to perform better.

So:rapport; revealing issues; gaining commitment; challenge. Not necessarily in that order.

The bottom line

And what's the bottom line? It depends entirely on what you've put on your agenda and how committed you've been. Some people may choose to work on specific business problems: they want efficiencies and process improvements; targets and a new strategy. All this is certainly possible. In fact many people want to work specifically on their personal capabilities - more confidence, better communication, improved decision-making - and do so precisely because they know they will have a tangible effect on things with measureable value like staff retention and new business. The impact can be considerable. But what exactly? Well you never really know. Because that wouldn't be an adventure.

I set out with these articles to help people in businesses to make an informed choice about coaching and how it can help them. I argued that coaching was the development intervention for the modern business environment. I have explained what coaching means and what coaching is like. I hope, having read this far, you are informed and forearmed. Good luck with your adventures.

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