Coaching Frequently Asked Questions


What is coaching?

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Coaching is a relationship in which the "coach" and the "client" work together as partners to:

  • Identify a clear set of goals, and success metrics, that the client wishes to achieve

  • Build awareness of obstacles, unstated beliefs, and conditioned tendencies that must be changed to achieve the goals

  • Define a set of tangible steps that will move the client toward those goals

  • Maintain accountability for progress in taking these steps

  • Leave the client with new skills to sustain progress in the future

The International Coach Federation has an informative FAQ on coaching.

Why might I need someone else to help me define my goals?

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My experience with myself, and what I’ve observed with the people I’ve been coaching, is that, no matter how brilliant and successful any of us might think we are, we all live unconsciously within a set of self-imposed constraints, a kind of an invisible "box." This is all fine until living within the box doesn’t provide the benefits that are desired (or, the current state of affairs is becoming unbearable). The challenge then is to imagine what life would be outside the box, to become aware of the outlines of the box itself (assumptions, beliefs, and unrecognized behaviors), and to attempt, practice, and sustain new behaviors and beliefs that create new, desired possibilities. What a coach can do (in contrast to a therapist, a mentor, an advisor, or a consultant) is: to help gain clarity about future goals: to build awareness of current beliefs, behaviors, and "conditioned tendencies;" and, to provide, encourage, and monitor practices that allow for new behaviors, and new, better, outcomes.

If you are happy with the status quo, or if you are engaged in a change and are happy with the progress you are making, then you most likely are not considering a coach.

If you don't like where you are, or you are struggling to reach something that's important to you, then a coach might have value to you.

Why does coaching work?

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Successful coaching has several prerequisites. The client must be committed to change, to be willing to identify and pursue new goals. The coach must have a background, aptitude, and skills that help illuminate the client's circumstances and allow identification of a feasible path forward. The client and coach must be compatible as partners and be able to establish trust and candor in communicating with each other.

Sometimes, just the act of speaking thoughts out loud to an unbiased listener can help bring clarity. Other times, the coach may help build awareness of classic adult patterns or dilemmas that might inform the client about his or her situation. In most cases, the coach will suggest "practices," or specific new behaviors, for the client to take on and practice routinely. And, for some clients, having someone to whom they feel accountable for progress is a useful accelerant to change.

What does a coach bring to this?

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First, a coach brings his or her life experience, whether professionally or personally. The relevance of the coach's body of experience to your personal background and current situation is something you should consider.

Second, consider the coach-specific experience or training of the individual. While I have many years of experience working with, managing, or otherwise advising science and technology professionals, I learned from my certification training that "coaching" involves new knowledge, new skills, and new perspectives. It wasn't just a relabeling or refining of what I already felt I knew how to do.

My training at the Hudson Institute provided a base of knowledge about patterns of adult human behavior and about techniques that encourage new kinds of behavior to take hold (not normally the focus of a technical education). This came from assigned readings (two dozen books, some great, and some not-so-great), lectures, and then supervised practice in application. There are useful models and methods in this material; it matters. Second, (and far more demanding than just completing reading assignments), the exercises and observed coaching sessions were designed to instill in the coach-to-be a disciplined approach to helping a client build self-awareness, clarify goals and purpose, and practice new skills. The acquisition of these coaching skills is far more challenging than the simple description would suggest.

Third, consider the coach's communications style, world view, and innate ability to make sense of complex situations and identify new possibilities. These complement life experience and coaching training

The challenge in this "disciplined skill of coaching," weaving together aptitude, training, and experience, is to ensure that it’s the client who decides what is important and what direction to take, not the coach. The client leads; the coach facilitates. Unlike a boss, a friend, a colleague, or a spouse, an effective coach is invested totally in the client’s success, as the client comes to define it. "Facilitation" is an accurate term, but the leverage that I have seen effective coaching provide is far more powerful than "facilitation" would suggest.

Where do you start with a coach?

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A good first step is either a no-obligation meeting or telephone call to allow us to become acquainted. I'd like hear about the your goals, needs, and challenges. You would want, I imagine, to get a sense of how we might work together. During this meeting, we'd try to create a first-cut of goals for a coaching relationship, and try to define what path progress could take.

How do the coaching sessions work?

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Coaching sessions can either be face-to-face or via telephone. While some coaches work exclusively by telephone, and this has definite advantages in terms of logistics, I prefer to begin with in-person sessions and use scheduled telephone sessions as a back up, or when a coaching relationship is well-established.

The frequency and duration of sessions depend on the needs and circumstances of the client. A typical engagement might have one 60 minute meeting per week. In other situations, the blocks of time might be larger, but less frequent. In scheduling, meetings must be fequent enough to sustain momentum and just long enough to use time effectively.


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