What Is Not Coaching? Let’s Dispel Some Myths

January 21, 2022
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If you are an executive coach or a personal coach, newly-certified or veteran, you have probably come across enough material on what coaching is all about and the many nuances of coaching; there is nothing new I could write that would be so brilliantly path-breaking that it will shake the industry.

So, to make things a little interesting, I thought of writing something a little different this week. Case in point the headline of this article: What is not coaching?

For someone on the brink of deciding to become a coach, understanding what coaching is and more importantly, what coaching is not, is crucial to know what they’re getting into and setting their expectations right from the get-go.

And if you are interested in learning about coaching simply because you are curious and wondering if hiring a personal coach for yourself is the right step for you, this will hopefully help clarify some doubts you may have. 

So, with that, let’s begin.

Coaching does not provide all the answers

Coaching doesn’t answer every question raised by the coachee/client. The coach is not the coachee’s own personal Siri or Alexa to give answers to all the questions they bring forth. If anything, I believe the coach is more like an impertinent child who answers a question with more questions!  

On a serious note, though, coaching is a collaborative effort between a client and a coach, where a coach is not present to hand over solutions to the client’s problems; instead, they show the client the mirror and act as a sounding board to assist them to dig deeper and come up with their answers that fit their individual and unique context.

Coaching is not an instant fix

Let’s say you’re running a marathon. When you are in the midst of a run you may stop for a glass of glucose water to get an instant sugar fix that will give you a strong burst of energy to help you reach the finish line. Coaching is not that instant sugar fix – it is not a quick fix or solution to one’s problems.  

If I were to continue on the same food analogy, I’d say coaching is perhaps more like a well-balanced meal plan that one has to be mindful about, and consistent & disciplined with over a long period of time to see results. Coaching is reflective in nature.

Learnings tend to come in the longer run, and the ‘aha!’ moments aren’t necessarily quite as dramatic as one may expect. It is more subtle and the client has to put in substantial work to get there.

Coaching is not the solution to each problem of the client

There may be issues that are beyond the purview of a coach. For instance, a client may be struggling with their mental health and may come to their executive coach expecting them to address the same. In such cases, the client must understand that while the coach is there to guide them in a multitude of ways, the client needs to seek the right kind of support for these issues – a counsellor or therapist, in this case.

So, unless the coach is also a practicing therapist, they are not going to be able to help their client in such circumstances and should convey it so. 

And this is not true only for things as big as mental health – it stands true even for the more mundane, everyday things. If you, for instance, are a relationship coach, and your client comes to you with a health dilemma, you can politely remind the client about the scope of your partnership and recommend them to seek an expert’s opinion on the particular matter.

A coach is not a friend

In KBC (the Indian version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), contestants have a lifeline option to ‘Phone a Friend’.   The contestant could seek the help of a friend to provide the correct answer. Certain movies portray a character dialling their personal coach/therapist and the coach/therapist is available, ready to give them the perfect solution. 

While a coach-coachee relationship is an equal partnership, the coach is not a friend, even if they are friendly.  There are certain boundaries and limitations in the relationship between a coach and coachee that should be respected.

The coach will not have all the answers the moment a question is formulated; instead, the process of coaching can be compared to the act of peeling an onion. It begins with scratching the surface and in the process of gradual discovery (peeling) over subsequent sessions, the depth of the subject is addressed.  

Coaching is not formulaic

There is no set process for coaching. There is no formula wherein you do a sequence of things and you can expect to get a certain result. Coaching is a process of gradual discovery where a coach would have an understanding of where the client is and a general sense of where they would like to go.

But the path to that destination is not a linear one; there may be pauses along the journey, even a bit of meandering – sometimes even some backtracking. 

In the process of coaching, a skilful coach will be able to get the client from their point A (current reality) to their point B (desired reality), but it may take some twists and turns (and even U-turns!) to get there.

Coaching is not hierarchical in nature

Anybody can coach anybody. What I mean is that while many coaches have years of corporate experience that they bring to the table to add to their coaching credentials, these days many younger individuals are choosing to become coaches. Age or experience, while important, is not necessarily a requirement or pre-requisite to becoming a coach.

A young 25-year-old coach with experience in successfully launching their own start-up can very easily coach a 50-something year-old who has only worked as part of bigger, long-standing organisations and now needs guidance to start a new company of their own.

Speaking of non-hierarchical, have you heard about the concept of Reverse Mentoring? We think you’ll find it super interesting. Check it out here. 

Coaching is non-transferrable across businesses & individuals 

If a coach were to go into a public sector organisation and speak about non-hierarchical structures in an organisation, it is going to be a futile effort, as the basic structure of a public sector organisation is hierarchical in nature. This implies that coaching that works in a private sector organisation cannot be replicated and expected to work in a public sector organisation, as the contexts of those two companies are completely different. 

Coaching is specific to the context in which the coaching happens – the same nuances and strategies cannot work for two individuals or organisations. What works here will not work there. Of course, if you have a particular methodology that works for a specific kind of business or individual, you don’t need to change the entire framework. Yet still, the process cannot and should not be replicated exactly as is for everyone. 

 Well, that was my attempt at trying something a little different this time! If you are thinking of getting certified to become a coach, I hope this article was able to provide some insights to you as to what a coach does and does not do! If you are in a position where you are contemplating hiring a personal coach for yourself or your organisation and are wondering if it’s the right time to do so, I believe this article will provide a lot of useful insights.

About Simply.Coach

Simply.Coach is an enterprise-grade coaching software designed to be used by individual coaches and coaching businesses. Trusted by ICF-accredited and EMCC-credentialed coaches worldwide, Simply.Coach is on a mission to elevate the experience and process of coaching with technology-led tools and solutions.  

About the author
Executive Coach & Co-founder of Simply.Coach

As an Executive Coach, certified by Marshall Goldsmith for leaders and teams, Venkat believes that a mix of ideal leadership behaviours and a well-executed strategy determines business outcomes, and he works with industry leaders in achieving specific results with the right changes in behaviour and processes.  Earlier, he was a Partner & Vice President at IBM, with a track record of successful engagements leveraging technology and Change Management. Venkat has lived in Europe and Singapore and consulted with clients across industries worldwide and in India.

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