What is a Coach?

Written by Dr. John Townsend

March 7, 2017

What is a coach? While there are many definitions, it is essentially a person trained to help people improve their lives in specific ways. A coach knows how to help you improve your business, become a better leader, or meet personal goals. In its purest form, coaching is a means of receiving truth to help you grow wiser, or more skilled in living.

I personally have received coaching for a long time, and have benefited greatly, both professionally and personally. I can’t imagine not having some sort of structured relationship which intentionally focuses on my growth and success. Below are some of the major aspects of coaching that benefit leaders:

Advocacy | A coach is for you. His role is to help you get where you want to go. He functions as an advocate – someone who is on your side. Leaders often find themselves surrounded by people who are seeking personal gain, or have some other agenda behind their advice. The objective nature of the coaching position protects the leader from these hidden agendas. The coach wants your best, and your best alone. I recently told an executive I was working with, “I know you are concerned about the other members of your team. We’ll find ways to help them. But I am primarily focused on your improvement. And we can help them get their own coach.” He needed to know that rain or shine, in success or struggle, he had someone who was focused on him and his own best practices.

A Structure | The coach has an orientation and structure she has studied and is competent in. She has a philosophy of improvement. She knows what leaders need to do, and how to provide the resources they need to be successful. This structure is what distinguishes coaching from friendship, support and encouragement. It may include these elements, but the structure takes you much further. Friends won’t usually ask you to report back to them on a homework assignment, but a coach will. She operates much like a football coach; designing the plays that will help you to win the game. She knows what to anticipate, and what the outcome likely will be.

Individual Understanding |The best coaches are very good listeners. They know that real success doesn’t come from a cookie-cutter approach, but from an individualized understanding. While the overall coaching structure may apply to all clients, a good coach actively listens to you and understands your individual situation and context. There is a great deal of room within the framework of the structure. He then tailors the approach to you, rather than tailoring you to the approach. He also digs beneath the surface, beyond the symptoms and behaviors that are going on. He gets to the underlying themes that are either holding you back, or needing to be developed.

To illustrate, let’s say that you have a difficult time completing tasks and projects. You are a great starter, but somehow you find that things never get finished. You know you could be achieving at a higher level, but those unfinished things are holding you back, and you want your coach to help you resolve this.

There are several possible causes of your problem, such as: allowing others to dictate your schedule, living a chaotic life, having a tendency to rescue others, being attracted to the urgent over the important, becoming bored in being diligent, experiencing a personal crisis, fearing failure, or fearing success. A good coach will listen and get to know you. He will uncover with you the real theme that is holding you back, and then set up the steps to help you get past it.

A process orientation | Achieving lasting change and improvement takes time, so don’t expect instant results. In his book Outliers, cultural and business expert Malcolm Gladwell says that truly exceptional people who make a difference have had around 10,000 hours of experience in their field of expertise (pp. 35-68). Real success involves real time. A coach understands the process, and uses it for your betterment. Together you develop the path, set the incremental goals, deal with the obstacles, and keep things accountable.

Coaching can help you make the changes you want to see; it can also help you make the changes you haven’t yet recognized, but need to. Best wishes on the process.

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