Six Tips for Making Coaching Work For You

So what is Coaching?

Professional leadership or executive coaches help you to grow your self-knowledge, your strengths, your capacity to take on responsibility and your ability to manage change. And through those, you become stronger, more effective, more fulfilled, more aware of others, and more successful as leader. Come rain or shine, through good and bad, your coach is there to support, stretch and encourage you. It is a partnership of equals, helping you to think - in confidence - about what motivates you, how you can get in your own way sometimes, how to be a leader that others positively want to work with and follow, and how to overcome any obstacles to growth. 

How is it different from Mentoring?

There are many similarities and the terms are often used interchangeably; both are based on a relationship with one person supporting another to develop and grow. There are some mentors and coaches who don't draw any distinction at all. So the following is based on my observations and experience, as someone who runs a large executive coaching pool that works alongside a large pool of mentors:

  • Mentors are more likely to have been in your shoes, coaches are more likely to help you to think about what shoes you want to wear and how you can wear them with style!

  • Coaches are generally trained in psychology, change management and relationships, whilst mentors are generally trained and/or experienced in a particular business sector, industry or profession.

  • In coaching the emphasis is often on developing you from the inside out whilst mentoring might be from the outside in.

  • Coaches help you to draw a lot on your own resources, mentors generally will suggest them. Coaches listen, encourage, question, and help you to tap into your innate strengths; mentors will do that too although they may also direct, guide or advise based on their own experiences. 

  • Coaches help you to explore, experiment, reflect and learn – often within the coaching relationship itself; mentors are more likely help you to do that in relation to something more tangible - your career or your business.

If you think that coaching sounds fluffy and easy – think again! Your coach will make you work really hard – they know that if you are to grow as a leader you must know how to think for yourself.

So how can you make the best possible use of your coaching?

  1. Set some overarching goals. What do you want to bring to your coaching, both for the programme and for each session? Goals don’t have to be set in stone (in fact it's best if they're not) but at least have some areas for development in mind. Even if you bring something else to the sessions, these will be in the back of your mind and can be worked on when needed. Having an overarching goal or vision can help you to maintain momentum in the coaching; how will you know, at the end of the programme, that the coaching has been worthwhile? What will you be thinking, feeling, seeing or doing differently?
  2. Be honest. If you aren’t honest with your coach it won’t work. Naturally trust between you may not be instant but instead will develop over time, however you don’t need to “perform” to your coach – just be yourself, whether you think you are perfect or not – it doesn’t matter. Just be real. They will be real with you.
  3. Seek, use and give feedback. Feedback from and to your coach is probably one of the greatest opportunities you have in coaching to grow. Think of the coaching relationship as honing your skills in receiving and giving feedback – a superb chance to rehearse what you will have to do “out there” as you become the best leader you can be.
  4. Prepare yourself before each session. Give yourself time beforehand to re-focus and think about how you want to use this precious time. Dashing from one meeting to another has become a way of life for many, but it’s not sustainable. Arriving on time offers the coach respect, builds trust and means you get your full time, not a partial session.
  5. Be prepared to work hard. You will be doing most of the talking – it’s your coaching session. Your coach will help you to think clearly for yourself, to consider your own goals, options, resources and actions. They may offer ideas or make suggestions but not before ensuring you’ve generated and explored your own ideas as far as you possibly can. This is an adult to adult relationship, not a parent to child!
  6. Reflect and follow through. Good intentions can quickly dissipate when you’re back into the busyness of life. Take a bit of time to reflect and make notes about your learning or decisions, and then ideally share it with someone else. The very act of sharing will also make a significant impact on what you achieve outside of the coaching session.

© Linda Aspey 2015