“A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step” is a saying attributed to Lao Tzu, a renowned Chinese philosopher. Let coaching be the catalyst for your first step.

In the last couple of years, I have become immersed in the world of coaching, and specifically team and individual professional business coaching. There is a lot to learn! Here are my top 5 learnings on the journey so far …

1. Coaching Defined

Coaching is described as a practice waiting for a theory and has many definitions. The definition which most resonates for me is:

Coaching is the art of facilitating another person’s learning, development and performance. It raises self-awareness and identifies choices. Through coaching, people are able to find their own solutions, develop their own skills, and change their own attitudes and behaviours. The whole aim of coaching is to close the gap between potential and performance.

Manager as Coach by Jenny Rogers, Karen Whittleworth and Andrew Gilbert

While professional business coaching is, in my opinion, best defined as:

Business coaching is defined as occurring within an organisational context with the goal of promoting success at all levels of the organisation by affecting the actions of those being coached. Its success is based in the quality of the coaching relationship and the degree to which it successfully aligns with the organisation from which it takes direction and sanction.

Coaching on the Axis: An integrative and systemic approach to business coaching Marc Simon Kahn

2. Coaching is:

  • Future focused and positive outcome or solution oriented.
  • Coaching is done without an assumption of the coach having greater knowledge or experience. The playing field is level between them.
  • A facilitated process of self-discovery and learning in which coachee can construct their own solutions.

Coaching is NOT:

  • Counselling or therapy which tend to be problem centred and focused on past experience.
  • Training which is typically concerned with the transfer of knowledge from trainer to trainee.
  • Consulting which normally requires a consultant to provide an answer to a particular problem, or the framework from which to determine the answer.
  • Mentoring which often involves a more experienced person (mentor) providing advice, guidance or introductions to a less experienced person (mentee) in the same line of work.
  • Managing which typically involves the division of work and tasks, and co-ordination and prioritisation of activities.

3. Group Coaching

Group coaching is where the coaching principles are applied to a group of individuals or a team. The coaching focuses on the individual relationships to the team (as a whole) and the team’s relationship to the individual.

This has the ability to create powerful transformations of team capability. In my experience, it has been the tweaking of a few small things which has translated into some big changes. In a tough economic climate, it was a contributing factor in allowing our business to grow more than 25% at the net profit level as an example of one tangible outcome.

Our team benefited from one of our strategic partners (Human Interest) delivery of group coaching in the form of ‘Elite Team’ training. They have defined an elite team as:

… an interdependent group of stable, role-defined individuals who share mutual trust, values, responsibility and a clear focus on a common goal, who outperform in anticipated productivity.

© Human Interest Consulting (Pty) Ltd. All rights reserved

4. Being Coached
Finding the right coach for you is critical to the process. This should ideally be someone who is independent from your personal and work-life environment, in as much as may be possible. This allows a maximum of objectivity. The connection between coach and coachee is important, more so from a coachee point of view. This is a relationship in which powerful change is possible, not merely at a transactional level, but rather at a transformational level (where for example your beliefs and values are the driving motivations for your change). When change happens at a transformational level it is more often than not lasting and sustainable.

I have experienced both transactional and transformational change, and both are very rewarding particularly if they are linked.

Consider the example of wanting to run your first half-marathon. The coaching we are referring to here is not that of a running coach giving instruction on how to run, and when to run and what to do differently. This coaching is about the coach asking questions of what this will mean for the individual; questioning them on how they might achieve this change; challenging any assumptions or barriers that the individual identifies in their environment to being able to achieve this, and then importantly asking how they will hold themselves to account in following the plan to achieve this transformation. Without the meaning of the change, it becomes a checklist. With the meaning, it becomes a self-actualising goal (top of the Maslow hierarchy of human needs).

5. Providing Coaching
Having been recently trained at GIBS, and putting into practice the technical skills, process and methods, it has been an absolute privilege to be able to coach various individuals, both in terms of business and individual coaching. The process is rewarding in that there is so much learning through the coaching process for both coach and coachee. Coaching requires:

… the coach to keep a clear view of the long-term bigger goal and the smaller steps on the way to the big goal at the same time. This dual perspective, or dynamic way of looking is a helpful tool in the coaching process.

Leadership Without Easy Answers' by Ronald Heifetz

This dual role is often described as the need to move from the balcony to the dance floor and back again. This is adapted from Ron Heifetz, professor at Harvard University and author of ‘Leadership Without Easy Answers’ where he made the point that leaders periodically need to get off the dance floor and get up on the balcony.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend the process of coaching to anyone who wants to become a better version of themselves. In order to unlock your own potential, you need to want to make the change and make the first step forward on this journey.

Author: Nick Van der Merwe