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What is Coaching?

Coaching is a brilliant way to develop people’s skills and abilities and optimise their performance. It is a very different type of conversation to those you might hold in your day-to-day life. A coaching relationship is unique because it is based on trust and unconditional positive regard, meaning that the coach acts as a thinking partner, walking beside their client, listening intently with an open mind. This is intentional because at the core of any coaching relationship is the belief that the client (the person being coached) is creative, resourceful and whole, i.e. able to make their own decisions and choose their actions. 

All of us will be familiar with the concept of feeling stuck, being indecisive, procrastinating, worrying, ruminating, feeling angry or sad about a situation or lacking confidence and self-belief. Whilst we might be able to read books, take courses or speak to friends about these challenges, working with a coach will help us dig a little deeper to develop our self-awareness, understand why we think and feel this way and find new strategies to approach them differently.  

One of the important aspects of coaching is contracting between the coach and client, and this usually involves a conversation about the challenge level and support the client needs. As Daloz (1986) highlights in his model below, the ideal scenario for coaching is high support AND high challenge so that the client is encouraged to reflect on their learnings and consider what they are going to do differently as a result.  

This is one way coaching differs from therapy and mentoring. As a mentor, I position myself as an expert, able to draw on my personal experience and offer guidance and direction. As a therapist, I may be less focused on the ‘so what’ and ‘what next’ and more focused on the meaning of what has been explored and the processing of events and experiences in the past. 

Is Coaching Remedial? 

The term ‘coach’ can mean different things in different contexts. For example, in a sports environment, a coach is likely to be more directive, guiding the athletes to improve their performance through their expert advice on nutrition, training or technique. This has led to coaching sometimes being perceived as remedial or corrective and that is not the case for Executive Coaching.

There may well be scenarios in an organisation in which some negative feedback has been received or an aspect of an individual’s performance can be improved, but coaching is not the solution if it is advice, training or guidance that is required. Executive Coaching in these kinds of situations would support the individual to reflect on the feedback received or the performance they want to improve and invite them to use this as a learning opportunity, considering it from different perspectives.

A coach might ask questions such as what does this mean? How do you respond? What does this bring up for you? What does this remind you of? How familiar is this? All of which is intended to encourage the individual to deepen their understanding of their impact and enhance their performance. Not to tell them what to do differently. 


What about Specialist Forms of Coaching? 

There are many different forms of specialised coaching where coaches may bring a particular focus such as career coaching, coaching for the menopause, coaching for resilience and wellbeing or coaching neurodiversity. The advantage is the coach may offer a methodology or approach tailored to their specialist area. 

We are specialists in Parental Transition Coaching. This is a specialised form of coaching for new parents as they return to work following family or maternity leave. Given the complex nature of this transition, coaching is a valuable way of facilitating a smooth return to the workplace. Coaching provides a safe and confidential space for new parents to work through any challenges they face as they adjust to life as a working parent, and the implications of this on their sense of identity both at home and at work.  

The coaching operates in a very similar way to Executive Coaching; we don’t position ourselves as ‘Parent Experts’ and we don’t provide advice and guidance. However, an important differentiator is that we are parents ourselves. This means we have a lived experience of the unique nature of the maternity transition and therefore we bring empathy and a shared understanding. We have also developed a bespoke approach to our coaching in this space because there isn’t one way to manage this transition, each parent’s experience is particular to them. The magnitude of the change they experience can be overwhelming, and coaching offers the opportunity to be vulnerable and honest within a trusting and compassionate coaching relationship. 

Ultimately, coaching is a deeply personal journey. Embarking on coaching is like stepping into the unknown and the quality of the relationship between the coach and client is crucial to the success of the coaching. If you’d like to find out more about the coaching programmes that we offer, please get in touch for an introductory conversation. 

My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work. If you or your organisation would like to understand more about how to support your employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch.  

This blog post is a collaboration between Maternity Coaches Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you.


Reference: Laurent Daloz, (1986) ‘Effective Teaching and Mentoring.’ Quoted in Blakey, J and Day, I. (2012). ‘Challenging Coaching.’ London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing p19. 

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