Coaching Demystified

According to Ibis World, over $1 Billion was spent in the US alone on business, personal and relationship-coaching, up by about 20% from five years earlier. According to the study, the demand for Business Coaches has zoomed by 60% since 2007. A quick search in LinkedIn bears testimony to this fact– literally hundreds of certified and credentialed executive coaches are spread across the globe. With a dozen or more styles of Coaching and still evolving, there appears to be a gap in the understanding of what Coaching is or is not. Consequently, it is common to experience these terms being used interchangeably, especially in organizations.

Coaching is not Mentoring, Consulting or Counselling.

It is best described as ‘facilitating positive change through improved thinking’. And this improvement in thinking is brought about by focusing on the future solution rather than the past problem (as in Counselling or Consulting). One critical element that differentiates Coaching from the other interventions is that it is self-directed learning, i.e., the coach comes up with the answers! These self-insights are brought about by ‘asking’ carefully placed questions, rather than ‘telling’ possible solutions that may have worked earlier (as in Mentoring).

There is, however, a thin line between ‘Counselling’ and ‘Coaching’. Both ‘psychotherapy’ and ‘Counselling’ are terms that are used to describe the same process. Both terms relate to overcoming personal difficulties and working toward positive changes.

Counselling is a helping approach that highlights the emotional and intellectual experience of a client, how a client is feeling and what they think about the problem they have sought help for. Psychotherapy, however, is based in the psychodynamic approach to Counselling – it encourages the client to go back to their earlier experiences and explore how these experiences affect their current ‘problem’.

Counselling techniques go deeper into the problem whereas Coaching takes the coachee towards a future vision and solution thinking mode. If problems or challenges are deeply psychological or social in nature, that may be causing grievous stress in the person, then such issues are best dealt by a professionally trained counsellor. This typically does not fall under the Coaching domain and trained coaches know where to draw the line.

Consulting and Mentoring are equally important interventions that have their right place. If you are challenged with technical, procedural or linear issues, i.e., redefining a business strategy, Management Consulting (telling about how to solve the problem) is the best approach. On the other hand, if there is a time-bound knowledge transfer challenge or a crisis at hand, Mentoring (telling about possible solutions) would be in the right direction.