At its basic level, coaching is like any of the other therapeutic practices — it is a series of helpful conversations. But of course it is much more than that. Our coaching approach is termed ‘integrated’ and ‘relational’. The term integrated means that we don’t align solely with one specific therapeutic approach — we use whatever approach is most effective given the nature of the client and situation. When we say relational we refer to the client/coach relationship. We firmly believe this is the most important element of the coaching experience. Without a strong working alliance between the client and the coach, particularly in the eyes of the client, no therapeutic approach will be of any use.
But what is the difference between coaching and mentoring?
Good question. In mentoring, the client asks the questions and the mentor returns an answer in the form of advice, usually based upon personal experience. In coaching, it is the coach who asks most of the questions because the types of answers needed to move forward, must come from the client. In our work, there is a delicate choreography between mentoring and coaching. Sometimes we need a directive approach to shift thinking. Other times we need to simply reflect and facilitate self discovery — to leverage our working alliance to both support and challenge the client.
It might also be helpful to think of what a coach or manager does when running a sports team. They have to observe and explore the nature of each and every player — finding weaknesses to shore up, and strengths to exploit. Then the coach must help each player to understand the nature of each other player they work with so that their strengths and weaknesses dovetail into an overall strength. Finally, the coach must then direct the players into a unified entity where the total effectiveness is more than a simple sum of the individuals.