What is coaching?

Jenny Rogers, in her book Coaching Skills, offers this definition: "Coaching is a partnership of equals whose aim is to achieve speedy increased and sustainable effectiveness through focused learning in every aspect of the client's life. Coaching raises self-awareness and identifies choices. Working to the client's agenda, the coach and the client have the sole aim of closing the gap between performance and potential." She outlines six key principles:

  1. the client is resourceful;
  2. the coach's role is to develop the client's resourcefulness through skilful questioning, challenge and support;
  3. coaching addresses the whole person - past, present and future and private life;
  4. the client sets the agenda;
  5. the coach and the client are equals;
  6. coaching is about change and action.

In their book, Co-Active Coaching, Henry Kemsey-House et al say that coaching is "chiefly about discovery, awareness and choice. It is a way of empowering people to find their own answers, encouraging and supporting them as they make life-changing choices."

In Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore writes "Timothy Gallwey [author of The Inner Game of Tennis] put his finger on the essence of coaching: coaching is unlocking people's potential to maximise their own performance."

Anne Scoular, in Business Coaching provides a useful contrast "...traditional mentoring (or training or advising or consulting) puts in advice, content, information. Coaching by contrast pulls out the capacity people have within."

I have tried to synthesise all of the above, and lots of other reading, combined with my own interpretation and experience as a coach, a client (or "coachee") and as a buyer of coaching to come up with this definition:

To coach is to create the conditions (of trust, confidentiality, respect, active listening, supportive enquiry, and sustained interest) for the client to improve his or her performance (through setting goals, addressing constraints, weighing up options and taking sustained action).

 The coach creates the conditions.  It's the client who improves his or her performance. 

Creating the conditions is where the coach makes the difference. It takes training, experience and predisposition. It requires a set of mind in which the coach holds his client in unconditional positive regard. It needs listening, but also knowing when and how to probe. It involves empathy, sympathy, and support, but it also involves rigour, holding the client to account, and the courage to challenge. There are technical skills, tools and techniques to practice and master. And there is that undefinable presence that says to the client that they are safe, valuable, and able to to grow.