It seems whenever I log on, my social media feeds are awash with individuals branding themselves as coaches. Some are making bold claims about how they’ll help clients regain work/life balance or feel excited about their jobs. Others, meanwhile, go one step further and market themselves as inspiring their clients to build dream lives whilst simultaneously shedding excess pounds and training for a marathon.

With all manner of coaches setting up shop (executive, life, maternity, careers, retirement etc) it can cause confusion for would-be punters. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that when I speak to potential clients about what they’d like to achieve through a career coaching programme most draw a blank. What’s more, many of the individuals I speak to haven’t a clue as to how coaching works and whether it’s even appropriate for them.

As a career coach, prospective clients often turn to me in search of a quick fix for their career-related dilemmas or a magic formula to fast-track a potential re-invention. Sadly, I didn’t complete my coaching training at Hogwarts and though I do have a black cat there is no wand in my toolkit. And for the record, a well-drafted CV and one friendly/helpful recruiter usually does NOT go far enough to conduct an effective job search – particularly in the current economic climate.

What is coaching and how does it work?

In a nutshell, coaching involves working in a confidential partnership of equals with individuals in a way that enables them to identify and attain goals of their own choosing. The agenda starts with the clients, whose assumed state is emotionally stable, and they come to coaching for support when navigating a change or transition.

And though coaching can be hugely impactful it’s definitely worth noting that results are unlikely to be instant meaning clients should potentially budget for 4-6 one-to-one sessions over a period of 3-4 months.

Drivers for change

As I’ve written in so many of my previous blogs change is all around us – some are caused by external sources such as a new boss, a promotion at work, redundancy, a health crisis or a change in family circumstance. Others can be internal pressures including re-setting of our values and/or life goals, a change of perspective as a direct result of simply growing older.

We all react to change differently with some of us unhelpfully denying it’s happening and burying our heads in the sand. Many of us also keep internal change at an unconscious level and consequently end up losing sight of what’s currently most important to us. This is where working with a coach can be hugely beneficial as they can help you pinpoint more precisely the ‘change pressures’ and then guide you towards making active choices, enabling you to move forward positively.

In the context of switching careers, for example, change can happen at two different levels. Most clients I speak to naturally jump straight to the ‘doing’ or ‘transactional’ level, and without much thought start putting together a CV or even go as far as uploading it onto portals. This is partly because, on the face of it, the process of looking for a new job is easier to visualise than exploring the complex backstories that triggered the need / desire for change.

At first glance values, beliefs and motivators for change are often invisible to us but gaining clarity in these areas are essential if we are to make active, well-informed decisions and set goals we’re more likely to stick with.

Coaching is NOT advice

Most significantly, when used in its purest form coaching is ‘non-directive’ meaning coaches offer advice or suggestions extremely sparingly. Confused? I know I was for a while. Well, let me explain why offering advice in coaching can be counter-productive for clients.

As a coach, I genuinely believe you’re the expert on yourself. Given as your coach I’ll only get to know you over a few sessions I won’t get close enough to a given situation to offer advice that doesn’t undermine or trivialise it. That’s especially, because some of you will invariably withhold key information albeit not always consciously. What’s more, advice giving is likely to generate a defensive response. How often when someone says “why don’t you just….” do you feel like punching them in the face? 

Offering advice also undermines the fundamental principle of choice and implies the coach is a superior being. For example, would it be appropriate for me to advise my clients to change careers after just six hours of contact? It is the client who has to act and live with whatever action is agreed. Not me – I can simply walk away.

Instead, like other reputable coaches, I will work with my clients to help them to tap into their own resources because I strongly believe that by digging a little bit deeper, they’ll soon find their own answers/solutions. They’ll also leave my sessions feeling more confident and inspired.

Situations when coaching is not suitable

Many potential clients confuse coaching with counselling and/or therapy. Though there are some similarities they a several differences and, in some situations, coaching is not appropriate for a client and if left unchecked will dilute the usefulness of sessions. The main one is the client being in sound mental health (ie not depressed or suffering from anxiety) and not being resistant to change.

A blended approach

Though pure coaching can produce amazing long-lasting transformative results I also fully appreciate that in some instances direction may be a more appropriate intervention. For example, if a client has a clear goal to look for a new job and they come to me for CV or interview tips then I believe a blended one-off session combining advice with some coaching questions is likely to be more suitable.

But ultimately, anyone who is considering purchasing a coaching programme should at the very least ask their coach about what’s on offer and how they approach their work.

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