Coaching – A basic introduction

At its simplest, coaching is a one-to-one learning conversation. In the conversation, if one person asks more than he tells, and builds upon previous questions, we can call it an elementary form of coaching.

Asking questions is what coaching boils down to. We can trace this art to Socrates- perhaps, the world’s first coach. Going by this historic legacy, coaching has been around for a long time. Coaching as a practice with coaching models and frameworks is only a few decades old. This development was spurred on in 1974 by the publication of a book, called ‘The Inner game of Tennis’ by Timothy Gallwey, a tennis coach.

The word ‘’inner’’ was used to refer to a player’s internal state or, in Gallwey’s words, “the opponent within one’s own head who is more formidable than the one the other side of the net”. Gallwey challenged the tennis coach to do away with instruction – telling the player what to do or not to do. Instead, if the coach can help the player remove the internal obstacles (self-limiting beliefs, negative assumptions) to his performance, the player can leverage a ‘natural’ ability to perform, with little technical input from the coach. The inner game won, the player then plays at his or her personal best.

The world of work grasped the significance of this approach. Performers in every field, especially those at the top, were technically competent. The inner game had to be played to surpass their own self-perceived limitations.

Enter coaching. These proven achievers saw more in themselves than they had ever seen before. They identified the hitherto unknown barriers subtly holding them back. They systematically broke through them and achieved greater success in their fields.

John Whitmore, pioneer coach, defines coaching as unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.

The International Coaching Federation, the largest coaching body, has a definition worth sharing here.

“Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment.

Coaches honour the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:

  • Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
  • Encourage client self-discovery
  • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
  • Hold the client responsible and accountable

This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential”

To sum up in professional terms,

In coaching, the client and coach engage in a purposeful dialogue. The agenda is client-driven. The coach asks questions and the client answers. The question-answer spiral unfolds in such a way that the coach guides the client to find answers from within. A coaching session begins with a coaching goal, pivots around a moment of insight or a shift of perspective, and finishes strong with a verifiable action-plan.


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