What is coaching, anyway?

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What is coaching, anyway?
By Jo Hawkins Donovan, for SBT

When I was first trained in coaching — quite a few years ago — and returned to add a coaching practice to my business in Milwaukee, nearly all of the people I talked to were clueless about what coaching was. And some of my trusted advisors recommended that I not use the word "coaching" to describe my work.
"No one will get it, and it has some negative connotations — especially for guys who’ve had a monster athletic coach in their background," one trusted advisor said.
Since then, the field of coaching, and awareness of the profession of coaching, has grown immensely. In fact, there are times I think that everyone is a coach. A consultant decides that coaching is hot, so he’ll be a coach, too!
Within organizations, the notion of coaching as a style of management is extremely popular — as it should be, because it works. That suits me just fine, as I love to develop coaches within organizations who can cascade the skills throughout the system until coaching is a way of "being" within that company.
A remarkably talented professional coach, Sandye Brown, from Vancouver, Wash., has joined with me to form The Coach Training Partnership. We deliver customized programs within organizations to do just that — imbue the culture with coaching as a way to accomplish extraordinary results.
Recently we both were presenters for a group interested in learning about coaching and how we train coaches. My part of the presentation was the topic, "What Is Coaching." I prepared all the usual definitions of the practice of coaching and coach training.
I think of coaching as an advanced form of relating. It is helping an individual or team produce a desired result through increasing awareness and ability to solve problems. A coach helps to discover blind spots and to carve out bigger goals than the client might have "settled" for — then stays with that client to implement a plan of action for reaching the goal and getting past inevitable obstacles.
Coaching is all of that. And it is so much more.
Of all the things I’ve done professionally, from university teaching, to consulting, to founding and growing small business organizations, the one endeavor that has "hooked" me for life has been coaching and the development of other coaches. So when I think, what is coaching? On the very personal level, it is a profession that I can happily settle into for as long as I am in the world of work.
Then I began to think of clients I’ve coached individually and groups that I’ve trained in the art of coaching. What is coaching? Well, this is coaching to me, these poignant experiences that I have every week if not every day, in this crazy line of work called coaching.
Coaching is sitting around a conference table with a group of senior managers who have become a team in name only, and hearing how they have lost their zeal for the exciting vision they carved out years ago. It is helping them discover what they truly want and why they drifted from their goals, and watching them rekindle their relationships with each other. It is hearing them commit, on a gut level, to rising out of their stupor and leading the organization with truth and spirit toward some pretty big targets. Then observing how their transformation inspires renewed energy throughout the system.
Coaching is working side by side with a pretty special client who left a hefty corporate job and took a stand that she could create a solid business as a Mary Kay Consultant.
She did this primarily because she believed that her Mary Kay career could happen while she spent extraordinary amounts of time caring for her precious son who was born way early. His life was saved but his sight was lost. Coaching is the exultation I felt when she pulled up to my office and honked the horn on the swanky new Mary Kay car she earned as a successful sales director — with her sweet 3-year-old riding in his car seat.
Coaching is training some pretty amazing school principals and being a part of their development and expansion as human beings as they become coaches to other principals in the Milwaukee Public School system.
There are lots of these stories. Every relationship with every client and every group we’ve trained to coach is a story I treasure. Of course there are frustrating times, and it doesn’t always work. I will never stop learning to be better at coaching and developing coaching skills in others. I know I will continue to enjoy my clients immensely and to love them. I know I will never stop seeing coaching as a great privilege.
That’s what coaching is to me.

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay, and can be reached at 414-332-0300, or jo@hawkinsdonovan.com. The firm’s Web site is www.hawkinsdonovan.com. Hawkins Donovan will respond to your questions in this column. Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.

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Oct. 31, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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