Coaching? Teaching? Counselling? Who knows?
Traditional definitions describe coaching as the means by which client’s learning and development (L&D) are facilitated. That makes clear sense especially appropriate when that L&D is linked into positive, goal orientated action and results in the client achieving both those goals and personal satisfaction.
However, what is more complex within that definition is in then trying to work out in what ways coaching differs from teaching and counselling. They all have the goal of supporting the clients (or students) L&D. We could perhaps distinguish coaching by stating that it takes a more questioning style and approach, but they all three do that to some extent. We might even go on to say that coaching is about growth and change in perspectives, attitudes and behaviours, but again that seems to be equally true for all three.
As a result it can often be confusing for the client to determine which kind of approach to their L&D they need and that’s even before they begin to decipher which style or approach to teaching, counselling or coaching they need, prefer or (as good coaches should advise) that suits them best.
Before addressing that line of enquiry that is before thinking about styles and approaches it is as well to look at the nature of what it is to be a coach. Karl Jung, the noted psychologist used the term archetype to describe the commonly understood pattern of how we humans expect a role or position to play out by the character. Archetypes are recognisable from the key stories we learn and tell. Two of the keynote writers on archetypes and coaching are Campbell and Pearson, who focus on the way in which the archetype appears in the “Hero’s” life to aid the hero’s success. In the context of a coach, the Hero is the client. So who is the coach in the story?
Perhaps it’s Yoda, the wise one, who provides inspiration, guidance, training (and some useful gifts) to the Skywalker duo, Anakin and Luke, in Star Wars epics. It could be Mr Miyagi, the teacher from the Karate Kid, who provides Daniel with lessons on how to act, what’s important and provide some moral guidance and direction. Or maybe its Mick, the boxing coach to Rocky, who challenges the boxer to become the best he can, but rarely tells him what to do, other than in his boxing technique. Maybe it is all three and simply not capable of being separated out, but it is:
- If you have hurts and pains from the past or interpersonal conflicts to sort out, then counselling is healing.
- If you need to acquire, develop or learn a new skill, then find a teacher (or a mentor if you need on the job training).
- If you want to learn about what motivates you, to be encouraged and the process to be inspired toward your goals, you will need a coach.
What is important is, therefore that coaching is treated as a discipline which is a client-focused approach of working with clients to help them achieve their goals, balance their lives, and attain fulfilment (whatever they decide that is). It is important that Coaching concentrates on clients' lifelong development rather than just the remediation of past wounds (which is the role of counselling). This is because good coaching will use the essence of positive psychology. That is it will focus on what is right in the clients life and the resources they have, or can build and acquire, in order to support the client in achieving their ambitions.
What is true and one of the most important aspects in beginning to work with your coach is to make sure that they (the coach) have completed their own hero’s journey. Working through and towards anything anything is like climbing a high mountain or walking through a dark forest it pays and makes sense to have a Sherpa who has walked the path before. Often, that means your coach will have had significant life experience, perhaps in parenting, running a business or dealing with people; they will certainly know how the process and how the world works, even if they don’t know the specifics of your unique life.
Normally the "life" or “Executive” coach will not only have had those kinds of experiences, but will also have a breadth of training to compliment it. As McDermott argues, ideally choose a guide who is a teacher, counsellor and coach, they will know exactly what you need and when you need it. They will be solid and know the process to encourage others, their clients, on the clients own paths to self discover their own hero's journey, or merely to get the job done.
Who knows? Your coach knows.