Coaching is a customized form of adult education in which the coach supports the client’s own unique learning journey. The client is encouraged to explore new questions, open new doors and try new experiments. The coach is trained in specific modes of communication and to open a path of the client’s choosing.
People ask me if coaching is merely the practice of asking someone questions to help them think their way out of a box? My conclusion is no.
The Adler school in Toronto defines coaching as ‘appreciative inquiry.’ The coach asks the client questions, but, importantly, asks with a respectful and positive mindset in which the client is treated as ‘creative, resourceful and whole.’ These statements bring power to the coaching relationship and emphasize that coaching is not a healing discipline (like therapy) – it is an empowering form of problem-solving and personal development.
We have many roles in our lives. In mine, I was a student of chemistry, a research scientist, a laboratory manager, a quality assurance professional; I directed pharmaceutical manufacturing operations; I led a factory engineering department; I founded international communities of practice; I led the introduction of new data management systems for a multinational company as well as product and process improvement projects; I am a volunteer and chorister; I am a parent, a spouse and a daughter, mentor, consultant and coach.
We tend to focus on the job titles and the technical content of the positions that people occupy, while ignoring the spaces in between, the transitions from one position to another. Yet it is at these transition points that we often find our greatest challenges. And even within a specific role, which may seem well-defined, there may be significant and dramatic changes as we lead initiatives to radically improve the way a job is done.
At key moments of transition and transformation in my career, I sought the aid of a professional coach to help me navigate these uncharted waters. There were also occasions when I went recklessly forward without guidance. I learned from these times as well but the lessons were more painfully achieved.
My resume lists manager of this and director of that.... We readily conjure up images of these roles but we don't easily see the complex mixture of people and systems that goes into two very different positions. It is as if we are transformed magically from one role to another. As adventurers, our difficulties are not in the technical details – we have been well trained to tackle these – but in the personal dilemmas and psychology of the new situations.
Our challenges are at the interfaces, in the transitions, in adapting not only to a new role but also to new and sometimes stressful relationships and responsibilities.
And beyond the workplace, there is the larger balance of our lives. We have partners and families, interests and enthusiasms; we need to devote time to our health and fitness, to personal celebrations and, sadly, to tragedies and disappointments.
Professional coaches have been invaluable in helping me to better understand myself, and to support me to identify and select my best way forward.