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What Coaching 'Really' Is

Let’s begin with an example from one of Ian’s coaching experiences

A few months into a coaching engagement, I was having a rather uncomfortable conversation about the range of challenges my client was experiencing as a leader who was new to their senior role and in an extremely complex working environment. This bright productive person just kept getting in their own way. HR was recommending a variety of courses they should take to help ‘fill in the gaps and address their limitations’, but nothing seemed to be a reasonable fit. They were frustrated, their team was frustrated, HR was frustrated... you get the picture.

Rather than throwing yet another potentially expensive, overly academic or process-driven solution on the table, I decided on a different approach. Silence. Several minutes of uncomfortable silence. And as the silence continued, the thoughts got deeper- which is exactly why silence can be a coach’s secret weapon. At this point, I flipped out of coach mode and into advisor mode, simply because I knew it was the right thing to do at the time. Leaning forward, as quietly and calmly as I could, I said “Well, why don’t you just stop doing the dumb stuff?”

This may have not been my most eloquent or nuanced coaching question, but what happened next was fantastic! That simple question brought a moment of clarity to my client that broke through the daunting challenges they were facing. And that clarity soon became a short-list of all the things that were getting in their way that they could address one-by-one. Each item was connected to crystal clear interactions in the workplace and the less than desirable outcomes. That one question allowed us to develop our coaching agenda for months to come and ultimately led to clear, understandable ways in which our client (and their team) was able to become more effective and successful.

What our coaching looks like

Over the past decade, the term ‘coaching’ has become quite common outside of the sports world. In fact, some days it feels like every other person out there is a coach of one kind or another. And when you hear the term ‘coach’, most people tend to think ‘life coach’. Even the term ‘executive coach’ is a bit misleading. Especially in our case because we coach people in many roles other than the executive.

Our coaching clients are generally focused on some blend of advisement and problem-solving. It’s a deliberate process of conversations that helps them think about their work and challenges from different perspectives. We love people and we’re great listeners and that helps us guide them in such a way that they can design the solutions they need to attain their goals. It’s about helping them achieve positive and lasting changes in behaviour- for themselves and their teams.

That being said, there is an element of coaching involved in most of the work we do, even if the client isn’t a dedicated coaching client. Whether we’re facilitating groups or working one-on-one to implement strategy, supporting and providing outside perspectives are all forms of helping people move from A to B.

Ian’s story

My path to becoming a coach was organic. As a senior manager, I found myself frequently being asked by my colleagues and boss(s) to take on special assignments related to performance management, problem- solving sticky business issues, and supporting high performing and high potential staff within the company. These requests eventually evolved into my job, which was fine with me, since I loved the work and it came naturally.

I was fortunate to be working with an excellent executive coach myself during this time and part of our agenda was to figure out what my next career would look like and how to make that happen. With the support of my boss who said, “You know, you’re pretty good at this stuff Ian. Why don’t you look for some formal education on the subject?”, I decided that adding some rigour to my natural skills was a great idea. And I enrolled in the Royal Roads Graduate Program in Executive Coaching.

Fast forward and ten years later here we are with coaching now a significant part of our business.

Marla’s story

My coaching expertise also grew organically, primarily from all the projects I’d been involved in over the years. Like Ian, I was fortunate enough to work with an executive coach of my own for several years, so I have an appreciation for how valuable this kind of support can be. But I didn’t pursue any formal coaching education. It’s simply something I enjoy and that comes naturally to me. Working with project stakeholders at all levels to make sure they’re functioning as a team can be a challenge. So, helping them understand how their behaviour impacts everyone’s success is both fascinating and critical to keep projects moving forward.

Our style

We always share with our coaching clients that we bring our decades of experience to each and every conversation. That’s earned wisdom and added value! And we follow a basic coaching process to keep the work reasonably structured, but our style is one of being trusted advisors and guides. We really become partners to our clients. Partners that can be relied on to weigh in whenever needed, or act as sounding boards for some added perspective and insight.

This work aligns with the other services we provide to our clients and more often than not, results in long-term relationships with both them and their organizations. Building trustful relationships that are grounded in ‘who we are’ vs. ‘what we do’ is a priority for us. And so coaching can lead to strategic planning, which then can morph into facilitation, implementation, etc. We get to know one another very well and besides trust, the relationship adds a degree of continuity and effectiveness to all these different activities.

Who we coach

Our coaching clients are business owners and partnership groups, CEOs, and senior leaders of both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. They are also managers that are facing a serious challenge at some point in their career, and newly minted CEOs that the Board retains us to support during the transition. And they are individuals who are moving into new and exciting challenges early in their careers, or into completely new careers. The common thread is that they are ‘serious’ people, not interested in drama or self-celebration. But instead, they’re committed to serving their people and benefactors to the best of their abilities. And lucky for us, they’re pretty down-to-earth practical, and fun people to be around.

Hopefully, you now understand a bit more about what coaching really is. Not just for executives. 😊 A thinking partner to help you figure out what the best path forward might look like and support you in taking it.

If you think you might be our kinda people, reach out. We’d be happy to hear your story!

Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.

It’s helping them to learn rather than teaching them.

-Tim Gallwey


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