What is Coaching?

There are numerous definitions of coaching. Here are just a few:

  • Coaching is the art of creating an environment, through conversation and a way of being, that facilitates the process by which a person can move towards desired goals in a fulfilling manner. (Timothy Gallwey)
  • “You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself.” (Galileo)
  • “Coaching is the art of facilitating the development, learning and performance of another.” (Myles Downey)
  • “Coaching is a conversation where someone feels heard and knows something at the end they did not know at the beginning.” (Claire Pedrick)

There are a number of specific beliefs and propositions which underpin all successful coaching relationships. These ensure the coach truly focusses on the conversation/agenda that a coachee or ‘thinker’ wants to have. It helps a coach to ensure that they use their own self awareness to notice their own beliefs/attitudes/prejudices etc, and not impose these upon an individual or group.

Everyone can be coached. A coach cannot coach everyone! The development of a rapport and trust between a coach and a coachee/thinker is critical to the success of the coaching relationship. If this does not happen it is likely a coach will recommend a coachee/thinker sees another coach.

Coaching is a time limited process. This ensures that the conversation has a purpose and doesn’t just settle into a nice to have, comfortable experience. Often six sessions will be offered and if other goals are later identified as the sessions draw to a close, re contracting between the coach and thinker can take place to again offer a time limited number of further sessions.

The contract between a coach and coachee/thinker is the most important phase of any coaching relationship. As well as the trust and rapport needing to develop, the boundaries are explored. This includes confidentiality, and relationship/feedback expectations ‘of and to’ the sponsor of the coaching.

There are numerous coaching approaches and often coaches will use a range of them.

The key approach for all who offer coaching is the ability to remain silent and truly listen to the thinker. Nancy Kline devotes a whole book to the complexities, challenges and opportunities that really listening to someone within coaching or otherwise can bring. (Nancy Kline_ Time to Think_ Listening to Ignite the Human Mind (2009.)

The other key coaching approach is to ensure that a coaching session is a conversation with a purpose, not just a chat or reflective space with no actions/outcomes.

A critical belief that any coach has about a coachee/thinker is in their innate potential, that the coachee is hugely resourceful and has immense potential. Enabling others to have their own insights is the most useful approach for a coahee/thinker.

The final key approach is that the coach must offer the thinker challenge. Out of challenge comes possible lightbulb or learning opportunities from which the thinker can develop the actions that are key for them.

The structure of a coaching session should though always follow a set process in order that it can be useful for a coachee/thinker.

I use the TGROW process though there are a number of similar ones in the literature available.

T      Topic          What do you want to talk about?

G      Goal           What do you want from this conversation?

R      Reality        What is really happening now?

O     Options      What could you do?

W     Will             What will you do?


Coaching is very different to a therapeutic or mentoring relationship. There are many styles and theories of coaching and any coach will use a variety.

There is no right or wrong question. If a question is not right for a coachee/thinker it will be passed by.

Questions to elicit a deeper understanding for a coachee are the most useful to them. A coach is not an expert in the field of the coachee; they do not need to know much about what the coachee does for example. They only need to be able to truly listen and guide the coachee through the TGROW process, in whatever way may suit the coachee/thinker.

Coaching is a ‘we’ experience, a coachee/thinker and a coach thinking together about what we need to do, how we are going to do it, where shall we start, is this useful, where are we now, what do we need to do between now and the end to get where we need to be.