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Business coaching: how it can help you Back  
In this article Evelyn P.Gilmore and Mike O’Halloran outline the client-centered coaching, discuss recent developments within the field in Ireland and give examples of how coaching can help managers and executives achieve their goals.
Until quite recently the term coaching was used solely in a sports performance context. Since the start of the decade however there has been an explosion of interest in the possibilities of using coaching techniques in the business arena and also applying coaching to individuals who want to move forward in other aspects of their lives. As coaching has developed there has seen an increasing emphasis on the psychological basis of its efficacy and a gradual shift from the type of prescriptive process usually associated with sports coaching, to a more facilitative and client centered way of working.

Coaching is therefore quite different from mentoring, where the emphasis is on guidance, for example, to a newly appointed manager. By contrast, what a coach does is help the manager-client to discover what goals he or she wishes to set, explore how the client’s belief systems might aid or hinder the realisation of those goals and facilitate the client in overcoming self-imposed obstacles which might hinder greater achievement and generally help the client to achieve more fulfilment in both work related and personal areas of life.

It follows that in order for coaching to be effective the coach needs to be a skilled communicator. Indeed almost all users of coaching who have found the process useful, if asked to name one quality which the coach demonstrated, will mention the coaches communication skills. We want to add a further essential ability or quality to this and it consists in the coaches ability to ‘stand out of the way.’ In other words the ability to not be over-invested in the client’s goals or outcomes, but rather to allow the client through a process of exploration to discover his or her own goals and values, and set realistic targets on implementing them. Hiring a business coach is therefore different from hiring a consultant who might look at how a business unit works and make recommendations for change.

Coaching remains largely unregulated both in Ireland and abroad. This unfortunate situation has allowed a wide range of organisations and individuals, of varying degrees of ability and knowledge, to offer their services as coaches or coach trainers. More recently however this has begun to change and several moves are underway in Ireland to develop standards for coaches and coach training organisations. For example, the Coach Institute of Ireland recently became the first coach training body to receive endorsement from the prestigious London based Institute of Leadership and Management, and henceforth graduates of Coach Institute of Ireland will be eligible for full or associate membership of ILM as appropriate. Of great significance is that the Irish Coaches Development Network has secured state funding to develop national standards for the emerging profession.

The key benefits of coaching for managers and executives are:
• Greater self-awareness
• Greater self-belief
• Greater ability to set and achieve goals
• Greater leadership skills
• Greater communication skills
• More fulfillment in work & life
• More self-confidence
• Leading a more balanced life

All of the above benefits can be summarised by saying the key overall result of coaching is that the client is more emotionally intelligent. Perhaps the key aspect of a successful coaching process, the one on which all the measured outcomes depends, is the growth of the client’s self-awareness. At its heart coaching must help a client to become more aware of aspects of his or her behaviour and underlying belief systems which support the client, and which limit the client.

Awareness may seem like a woolly term, but it is the rock upon which all progress in coaching is based. For example, a client may not be aware that it is his own behaviour patterns which are limiting him in progressing in his career. Questions such as, ‘How do you feel you contribute towards not getting on?’ or ‘What do you imagine your colleagues might say about why you don’t get on?’, help a client who may not be taking much responsibility for his career progression to start seeing the way in which he maintains his own stuckness.

Such questions will also help the client to see that it is /his /behaviour which contributes to his unhappiness, and allow the coach the leverage to then begin to get the client to focus on how he might start changing.
Now perhaps the client in this instance holds an underlying belief that, ‘You should be nice to everyone.’ This belief will prevent him from being real with colleagues and subordinates who may need some straight talking. So we see the link between the client’s outward behaviour (not being firm or assertive enough/perhaps letting people away with too much) and the underlying limiting belief system. The coaches' task is to help the client to bring the belief into the light of day, relate it to the behaviour, and get the client to challenge the belief, substitute it with a more appropriate one, and start experimenting with new behaviour.

One of the greatest benefits of coaching is that it is measurable. Whilst there is a lot more to it than goal setting, the fact remains that clients who come for coaching will set goals and the success of the coaching will be measured in terms of goal attainment. What may not be so well known is that a considerable amount of work needs to be done on exploration, prior to the setting of goals. Most people never really take time to look at themselves in a structured way with the help of someone who is skilled enough to get them to look at where they want to go, and what they want out of their career. We teach our trainee coaches that it is better to err on the side of taking too much time doing the exploratory work with the client, prior to the client setting goals, than it is to take too little time. A cardinal rule in coaching and goal setting: Provided the goals are set by the client, and are in keeping with whom the client really is and what the client values, then they are attainable. Not only are they attainable, but the client will have the energy to sustain the effort needed to achieve the goal(s) in the face of inevitable obstacles.

A recent beneficiary of coaching is Mairead Carroll from Limerick. She says, ‘I did a life and business coaching course this year with Limerick coach, John Flynn. John’s ability to combine his skills in training and coaching results in a powerful course. Since starting the course I have set up my own company ‘Contract Marketing Solutions’. The impetus to make the changes in my own life can be accredited to the experience I gained studying to become a life and business coach with the Coach Institute of Ireland.’

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