What is coaching?

Read this straightforward guide to learn what coaching is and how performance coaching began

– 10 mins read –

Coaching explained in simple terms

The essence of coaching is raising awareness and responsibility to unlock potential and maximize performance. Awareness is created through broadening perspectives and improving the focus of attention, which increases interest, insight and learning. Responsibility is generated by offering choice and setting up accountability, which increases confidence, self-motivation and commitment. Awareness and responsibility are both states of mind, and the mind is key to high performance.

Knowledge and experience are important for performance but neither is as important as mindset, which is the level at which performance coaching works. Coaching lifts the focus of attention on to strengths, successes and future possibilities. It leaves behind mistakes and failures and removes judgement, blame and limiting beliefs.

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

Sir John Whitmore, coaching pioneer and Co-founder of Performance Consultants

The Inner Game

In 1974, Harvard educationalist and tennis expert Timothy Gallwey first published his simple Inner Game equation which effectively summarizes the objective of performance coaching:

This shows that we can improve performance (P) by growing potential (p) and decreasing interference (i). Coaches and transformational leaders practise a coaching mindset. They believe everyone is capable, resourceful and full of potential. Belief in others raises their self-belief which in turn reduces their internal obstacles (which are often more daunting than external obstacles) and leads to powerful choices, enjoyment and success.

Offering choice not only values the individual but capitalizes on the unique qualities and contribution of each individual. No two people are the same in mind or body – we each think differently and we act differently.

This short video asks “What is coaching?” and explains how it works and how it might have started:

Copyright © 2015 Performance Consultants (International) Ltd. Produced by Dillon Productions

Who invented performance coaching?

Performance Consultants pioneered coaching in business over 30 years ago and continues to lead the field globally. Our Co-founder Sir John Whitmore and his colleagues were the first to take coaching into the workplace and coined the term “performance coaching” in the early 1980s. Executive coaching, business, career, personal and other types of coaching are all built on the principles of performance coaching.

So, where did the term coaching come from? The English word coach derives from the Hungarian word kocsi, meaning “of Kocs”, the name of a small Hungarian town where horse-drawn carts and carriages were once built. The word became associated with a tutor or trainer because they were seen to guide or carry their student along a path of study. This fits a traditional sports coach who instructs a player to go further based on the coach’s own knowledge and experience.

A different theory suggests that a wealthy family would take their tutor with them as they travelled in their carriage or coach and were thus “coached” in their studies. This is a better reflection of the way a good coach or leader–coach behaves. We sit beside the coachee, not pushing or pulling them towards our own goals but supporting them along their personal journey of purposeful exploration and facilitating the fulfilment of their vision, passions and potential.

“Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”

International Coaching Federation (ICF)

Labels aside, coaching in its pure sense has always existed and been unconsciously practised by emotionally and spiritually intelligent individuals – those who naturally trust, respect and believe in the potential of others, and who take time to listen to, challenge and support them to choose to be the best they can.

Almost 2,500 years ago, Greek philosopher Socrates voiced the concept that we all have a built-in, natural learning capability that is disrupted by instruction. Far from being empty vessels into which knowledge must be poured, Socrates and today’s transformational coaches believe that we are more like seeds, each of which contains all the potential within us to grow into a magnificent tree. We just need nourishment, encouragement and the light to reach towards.

What is the history of coaching in the workplace?

Coaching as a discipline and profession is relatively new. Before 2000 no one in the academic community had studied it to PhD level. The first application of a coaching in a business context was pioneered in the 1980s by Sir John Whitmore, Co-founder of Performance Consultants, and his colleagues. Sir John had worked closely with Harvard educationalist and tennis expert Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis and The Inner Game of Work, Gallwey challenged traditional sports instruction by claiming that a coach’s role was to help a player remove or reduce the internal obstacles to their performance in order to release an unexpected natural ability without the need for much technical input from the coach.

Gallwey, Sir John and many others now working in the business arena started out in sport. Yet sports coaching remains rooted in old behavioural models and is, for the most part, still instruction based. After training with Gallwey in the USA, Sir John founded the Inner Game in the UK and formed a team of Inner Game coaches who all agreed that the key to successful coaching is to eliminate the internal obstacles to performance, learning and enjoyment. They went on to become the leading exponents of business coaching.

“To get the best out of people, we have to believe the best is in there”

Sir John Whitmore, pioneer of coaching in business

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The benefits of coaching

In the past few years, senior executives around the globe have recognized the benefits and opportunities created through developing authentic coaching behaviours. Many choose to partner with a professional coach and some learn coaching principles and skills to help maximize their and their team’s personal and professional potential.

Visionary business leaders have understood the truly transformational impact of developing self-leadership and coaching principles and behaviours across the board, in all interactions and all areas of their organization. They have replaced the traditional hierarchical management structures with a coaching management style and coaching culture. This has the effect of integrating meaning and purpose and facilitating high awareness and responsibility, belief, passion and joy in all staff. It increases engagement and mobilizes collaboration and the collective intelligence of employees at all levels.

Organizations will begin to unleash the potential of their people and allow them to see the world through more holistic eyes so that, simultaneously, the organization discovers an integrity and purpose that is the holy grail for organizations of the future, and the blueprint for high-performance and a better world!

For the leader, the clear and measurable benefits of individual coaching can include:

  • better decision-making and strategic planning skills
  • leading through change and times of crisis
  • the ability to motivate teams and communicate more effectively
  • ways of managing stress and conflict
  • increased confidence

For the organization, the results of providing executive coaching to a population of leaders or developing their coaching are likely to include:

  • increased motivation and commitment from recipients of the coaching and their teams
  • more creativity, empowerment and ownership unleashed in the business
  • high employee engagement and retention of key people
  • underpinning effective implementation of organizational change through supporting teams and individuals
  • greater efficiency from teams acting with more agility and collaboration

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How can you bring executive coaching into your organization?

Sir John and his colleagues at Performance Consultants were the first to take coaching into the workplace and coined the term “performance coaching” in the early 1980s. We continue to lead the field in performance improvement through coaching leadership training.

Select one of the options shown. Or get in touch and one of our world-class leadership development consultants will work with you to create a tailored programme that meets your specific needs.

  • Attend a Coaching Course – experience the benefits of coaching first hand. See our Global Training Calendar to find the right course for you
  • Transformational Leader Pathway – learn how to be a leader–coach with a coaching leadership style that creates a culture of high performance for you, your team and entire organization
  • Performance Coach Certification – become a coach or take your coaching skills to the next level so that you can practise transformational leadership coaching
  • Individual Coaching (1:1) – take your leadership to the next level with a tailored, fast-track professional development coaching programme
  • Team Development – unlock the next level of potential in your team with team coaching