Episode 1: What is Coaching?

Welcome to the first official episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast! We’re starting with a little Coaching 101 in this episode: what coaching is, how it compares to other helping modalities, and when it’s appropriate to combine some of those modalities.

1: What is Coaching?

Welcome to the first official episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast! This is the start of our journey together, our journey into the world of transformational coaching. I know that for many of you, coaching is a brand-new concept. You're still learning, and I want to be a part of that.

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Show Notes

Welcome to the first official episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast! This is the start of our journey together, our journey into the world of transformational coaching.

I know that for many of you, coaching is a brand-new concept. You’re still learning, and I want to be a part of that.

That’s why we’re starting with a little Coaching 101 in this episode. We’re going to talk about what coaching is, we’re going to compare it to some other helping modalities, and we’re to explore when it’s appropriate to combine some of those modalities.

Topics covered

  • What is coaching?
  • The role that partnership plays in coaching
  • Why coaching should be a thought-provoking and creative process
  • The four things coaches do
  • Why we need to help our clients shift out of the mode of constantly doing and into the mode of being
  • What is a consultant and how does consulting differ from coaching?
  • What is a mentor and how does mentorship differ from coaching?
  • How does therapy differ from coaching?


Resources mentioned

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Well, hello friend, and welcome to the very first full episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough and I cannot tell you how excited and grateful I am that you are here with me today. This is the start of our journey together our journey into the profession into the world of transformational coaching. 

Now, some of you may be very familiar with coaching, many of you probably already are coaches, but I know that there are also people out there for whom coaching is a brand new concept, and you're still learning and so I want to be a part of that. So in today's episode, we are going to start with a little Coaching 101. We are going to talk about what coaching is, we're going to compare it with some other helping modalities out there, and we're going to explore when it's appropriate to come bind some of those modalities. 

So we're going to be covering a lot today, this may become one of those episodes that you save in your feed. I hope so. And of course, if this resonates with you, if you have questions about it, be sure to continue the conversation at the Coach with Clarity Facebook group. So if you head to Facebook, and you search for Coach with Clarity, you're going to find it you can also go to https://www.coachwithclarity.com/facebookgroup and it will take you right to the group where you can sign up and become a part of the community of coaches over there. 

With that, let's start at the very beginning. Let's start with defining what coaching is. And I'll be honest with you, as I was researching for this episode, I came across countless definitions of coaching. So I thought I would start with what I think is probably the gold standard. It comes from the International Coach Federation, and they define coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought provoking and creative process that inspires clients to maximize their personal and professional potential.” 

There are a few aspects of this definition that I really want to highlight. And the first is the choice of the word partner. I think the idea of a partnership is extraordinarily important when it comes to the practice of coaching, because it truly is a partnership. We are talking about a coach and a client who are on equal footing, the power dynamic is even. So the coach is not coming in and telling the client what to do or ordering the client around, nor is the client coming in and treating the coach like a paid employee. This is a partnership of equals. And so that means there needs to be open dialogue, open communication, there needs to be trust, honesty and integrity in the process from both the coach and the client. So I think the concept of partnership is something that is very important to remember. 

As we are talking about what coaching is, the second piece of the definition that I want to highlight is the idea that this is a thought provoking and creative process. A masterful coach understands how to guide the client through a process where they are coming up with all sorts of ideas and options that can be explored, and then helps the client narrow their focus in order to choose the right option or options for them. 

So thought-provoking is important, as it means we're asking powerful questions, it means we're digging a little deeper, we're going below the surface, and it means always asking “What else?” so that we are constantly exploring all of the options available for our clients. We're not necessarily asking the question why and I'm going to get to that in a little bit. But I do think the question “What else?” is a very important one for coaches to remember, because when we're asking what else we are opening the floodgates for our clients to fully explore, to use their imagination, and to tap into their creativity so that they're able to explore all of the potential options in front of them. 

I heard once that a lot of times, the best idea lies just beyond the most outlandish or craziest idea. And that's what we see when we engage in a brainstorming process. That's why when we're brainstorming, we say there are no bad ideas, get them all out there. Even if they seem completely out of the box and completely unattainable. Sometimes we need to get through those in order to get to the best solution. And coaches understand how to work with their clients, to tap into that wisdom that the client already has to develop the best solutions moving forward. So that idea of being thought provoking of asking deep questions and encouraging creativity is really at the core of powerful and transformational coaching. 

And finally, the third part of the definition emphasizes the idea that we are maximizing or fulfilling a personal and professional potential. This is really the magic of coaching. We as coaches help our clients bear witness to what they are truly capable of. Many of our clients are doing really well. They're having success in their business and their relationships and their life in general. But they feel like something's lacking. And it's because even though they're doing well, and maybe on paper everything looks like they're achieving it all, they know deep down that they're capable of more and they are being held back. 

And our clients may not understand what's holding them back, but as coaches, we know that there's usually some limiting beliefs or some fear that is keeping our client from really truly embracing what they're capable of. And believe me, these are topics we are going to go into in much greater depth in future episodes. We cannot talk about coaching without talking about fear. So stay around for that one. 

But I want you to remember that as a coach, our job is to help our clients see their true potential, and then help them create a plan so that they can work towards it and maximize their ability to reach their dreams. It's the best part of coaching. It's why I love my work. And that's why I am so passionate about bringing other professionals into the coaching profession. 

Now, I realize that coaching has gained tremendous popularity within the last few years, probably the last decade or so. But it's been around for quite a while. And when it first emerged into the public arena, it was really focused on goal setting and achievement. And one of the forefathers of the coaching movement, Thomas Leonard was able to succinctly describe four things that coaches do, and I want to share those four things with you now, and then I'll kind of tell you my take on it. 

Thomas Leonard says that coaches first and foremost, help people set better goals, and then reach them. Secondly, coaches ask clients to do more than they would have done on their own. The third thing is that coaches help the client to focus better, so as to produce results more quickly. And then finally, coaches provide clients with the tools, support, and structure to accomplish more. 

So I agree with all four of those elements that Thomas Leonard introduced, but what I find is that it's very much focused on productivity, efficiency, and what we are able to do. And what I would suggest is that as coaches, part of our responsibility when working with a client is to help the client shift out of the mode of constantly doing and into the mode of being. It's so easy to define ourselves by what we do or by what we produce, and I find that these early definitions of coaching really reinforce that idea that we are what we do. 

As coaching has developed as a profession, and as we've incorporated elements of positive psychology and organizational design, and so forth, I see a movement away from goal setting and productivity as the be-all end-all and really more a movement towards personal development, and understanding that when we take action in our lives, it is an extension of who we truly are. 

And so first and foremost, we need to spend some time clarifying what matters most to us what our values are, and how those values connect with our vision for our future, and the goals that we want to set in order to come closer to that vision. So I don't want to say that goal setting is not a part of coaching. It absolutely is, and a masterful coach understands the balance between helping the client take action in their life, but also bringing in some reflection and some introspection and deep personal development work, because the two really go hand in hand. 

As we continue this journey of coaching on this podcast, I want you to know that that's the perspective that I take: that we need both, we need the internal work, and we need to connect with our inner wisdom. And then we marry that with external data and with outward productivity. When we're able to find the balance between those two, then we are powerfully serving our clients, and we are creating a sustainable coaching practice. 

So to sum up as coaches, again, we believe that the relationship is a true partnership between coach and client, that our responsibility is to help the client discover and get clear on what it is they want to achieve, and to connect that external achievement with an internal process of self discovery. Our role is to help the client identify solutions for themselves and to develop a strategy to move forward and then of course, as coaches, we're also able to provide some accountability to our clients so that they are responsible for following through on the things they agree to within the coaching process. The end result is that we empower our clients to improve their outlook, and how they engage with their work, in their relationships, and in their life. 

I want to spend a few minutes now comparing coaching to some other helping modalities out there. The three that I want to talk about today are consulting, mentoring, and therapy, because I think what confuses a lot of new coaches is where these approaches overlap with each other, how to differentiate between them, and if we even need to. So I'm going to start by providing a brief definition of each of those other helping modalities. We'll talk a little bit about what they share in common with coaching and where they differ, and then when it's appropriate for a coach to pull in some of these other approaches when they're working with a coaching client. 

Let's start with consulting. In general, consultants are experts in their field, and their role is to come in, assess a current situation, figure out what's working and what's not working, and then provide solutions that will fix whatever problems they've uncovered, whether it's within an organization or even within an individual. Sometimes consultants will even be responsible for implementing those solutions, but typically, they provide a plan of action, and then leave it for the individual or the organization to put into place themselves. 

Consultants are viewed as experts and they are wonderful strategists. They can really diagnose what's working and what's not working, and come up with solutions. The difference I find between consulting and coaching is that the consultant is considered the expert and so the solutions are generated by them, versus in coaching, we truly take the position that the client is the expert. We are there to support and guide. But we are not there to dictate policy or strategy or tell clients what to do. 

So that is one significant difference between coaching and consulting. So with coaching, the locus of power, the locus of expertise stays with the client, versus in consulting, the consultant is really viewed as the expert. Also, in terms of where decisions are generated, in coaching, it is the client who is coming up with options and ultimately deciding on the path forward, whereas with consulting, it's typically the consultant who's coming up with solutions and providing next steps. 

Now, I will share with you that within my coaching practice, there are times where I will switch into more of a consulting stance, and that makes sense, right? I mean, in my role as a coach for coaches, I help coaches build really powerful coaching businesses, and I help them develop their skill set to be a more powerful coach. And so people come to me because they want to know what I think, they want my opinion, they want my guidance. And so there are times where it is appropriate for me to provide some suggestions or feedback or to take more of a consultative role. 

The difference is that this is the exception, not the rule, in my practice. And when I make that switch, I do so with the consent of the client and with full transparency. I will say to a client, “You know what, I'd like to put my consultant hat on for a second. Do I have your permission to do that?” And then once the client is bought in, then I can provide some guidance, some suggestions and feedback, but I don't leave it there. Then I’ll say “All right, consultant hat off, coach hat back on. So tell me how that resonates with you. What about my suggestions might work for you? What wouldn't be appropriate? Let's really dive into this.” 

I'm always giving the client the opportunity to provide feedback, to reject some of my solutions, to accept ones that will work for them, or to modify anything. Again, the locus of power and decision making in this case stays with the client, even though I have stepped into that consultant role and provided some more direct guidance. So that's one way that coaches can pull in a consulting approach to their work. But again, we want to do so in a way that always honors the clients expertise, and leaves them in the driver's seat. 

All right, that's a little bit about consulting. Let's spend a minute or two talking about mentoring. A mentor is a different kind of expert. This is someone whose guidance is really anchored in their own wisdom and personal experience. The relationship that someone has with a mentor is typically very close, very trusting, there is an exchange of experiences and ideas, but the mentor is still considered the expert. 

There's certainly a role for mentorship within a coaching relationship, and I like to think that I have that relationship with some of my private coaching clients, that I'm able to share my personal experiences with them, so that it provides some additional feedback, guidance or support as my clients move forward. But again, I am a coach first, and so I always make it clear that when I'm sharing my own experiences, it's not to put myself up on a pedestal or to suggest that the way I've done something is the right way or the only way to do something. 

Instead, I'm presenting myself more as a case study for my client to observe and to pull out what might work for them, or to leave behind what might not. Again, just like with consulting, within a mentorship relationship, when an experience is shared, it's done so in service of the client, but the client retains the power to decide what's applicable and what's not. 

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about therapy and the differences between therapy and coaching. This is something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about and writing about. I, myself, am trained as a therapist, as a licensed clinical social worker, so I have graduate training in providing therapy and I was a therapist for about 10 years before I transitioned fully into coaching. So this is a world that I'm very familiar with. I also run a free Facebook group called From Therapy to Coaching, where I work with therapists who are interested in bringing a coaching approach into their work, or who are interested in transitioning into coaching either partially or 100%. This question comes up all the time: What is the difference between therapy and coaching? 

So the temptation here is to provide a really simple answer. And something that I've heard a lot, and I am tired of hearing, is therapy focuses on the past and coaching focuses on the future. I think that's incredibly simplistic, and I don't think it's accurate. I know a lot of therapists who are very future-oriented and who use a solution-focused approach with their clients. So to say that therapy is only about the past does a disservice to therapy. 

Likewise, as part of coaching, we are interested in our client’s history. We are uncovering habits that are ingrained or thought processes that have built up over time and we are looking at how those cognitive processes and habits are inhibiting our clients from making progress in the present. So to say that coaching doesn't look at the past, I think, is also reductive. So let's take this therapy as past, coaching as future thing and just like get rid of it. Okay. Okay. 

Let's talk about what therapists are trained to do. Therapists have years of education and supervision for licensure, in order to treat people that are suffering some form of dysfunction. So whether that is depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, or other psychotic disorders, therapists understand how to diagnose and treat those issues. 

And I want to be clear that that is exclusively the role of therapists. Coaches should not be providing treatment for people with mental illness. That is way beyond the scope of coaching and that is not something that coaches should be doing. That is 100% in the domain of therapy. 

Now, where there's some overlap, and where it's a bit of a gray zone, is that therapists are also particularly effective at helping people navigate their thoughts and their emotions and coming up with healthier ways to deal with things in the present. This is something that both therapists and coaches do. But the difference is our starting point. So when someone is seeing a therapist, they typically, not always, but typically meet criteria for a mental health disorder. When someone is working with a coach, they may have some thought processes or limiting beliefs that are holding them back, but they're typically not exhibiting signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder – or if they are, they are receiving treatment for that from a therapist, and they are pursuing coaching for other matters. 

It is possible for a client to work with both the therapist and a coach at the same time. I have coaching clients who are also seeing a therapist, and in my practice, I make sure that my client has informed their therapist that we are working together, so that they know that I'm in the picture. We also set really clear boundaries on what we discuss in a coaching session, and if we start getting into territory that's best addressed by therapy, we handle it in the moment. And I will say, “You know what, we're getting kind of close to that therapy line, this might be something to bring up with your therapist at your next appointment. So let's make sure we put that on your action plan.” So again, as coaches, it's very important that we stay in our lane and that we know where the boundaries are. 

It may also be helpful to think about therapy as a process that helps our clients get to baseline or normal functioning, maybe a little better than normal. And coaching is really about optimal functioning. Here's an example. Let's say that you want to run a marathon and you are starting from square one, so you haven't exercised before. Perhaps you have some back issues or some other health problems. So you're going to start by going to your physician, having a full physical, a full workup, and following your physician’s guidance to get you to a point where it's appropriate for you to start training. Once it's appropriate for you to start working towards that marathon, then perhaps you're going to work with a personal trainer or with a running coach who's going to help you set goals and get your body and your mind ready for that marathon. 

I think maybe we can make a similar argument for therapy versus coaching, where therapists are there to help get you to the point where you're mentally healthy and functioning well. And then when you're ready to work with a coach, it's to help get you to that next level where you're really maximizing your personal and professional potential. Therapy and coaching can go hand in hand, and there is a lot of overlap. That's why it's so important that as coaches we understand the boundaries here, and that we honor them with our clients. 

Well, my friend, we have covered a lot so far. We have defined what coaching is, we have looked at the progression of coaching over the years, and we've also compared it with some other helping modalities, namely, consulting, mentoring and therapy. So all of this information is super helpful. But if we don't actually take what we learn and apply it, then what's the point? Right? 

So that's why at the end of every podcast episode, I am going to leave you with a Clarity in Action moment. This is where I'm going to ask a question, or give you a suggestion to apply what we've talked about today to your coaching practice, so that you are taking all of this valuable information and allowing it to inform the work you do as a coach. With that, let's move into the Clarity in Action moment. 

So for this week's Clarity in Action moment, I want you to get a piece of paper and a pen, or get your journal out, and I want you to make a list of the qualities you possess that will make you a great coach. Now that you know what coaching is, I want you to get really clear on what it is about you that makes you a powerful and natural coach. Perhaps you are a fantastic listener. Maybe you are someone who knows how to ask just the right question at just the right time. Maybe you have an innate gift for making people feel comfortable with you so that they feel safe to express what they truly think or feel. 

Whatever it is, I want you to jot down a list of all of the qualities that make you a great coach. And if you need some help with that, then you may want to head over to https://coachingquiz.com, and take my free quiz that will help you uncover exactly what your coaching superpower is. So again, you can head over to https://coachingquiz.com, take that free quiz, and you'll learn more about the innate strengths and qualities you have that make you a powerful coach. Because once you know what makes you special as a coach, then we'll really be able to lean into creating a strong coaching approach and a strong coaching business for you. 

And this Clarity in Action moment is also going to set us up beautifully for the next episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast, where we're going to explore what it takes to be a powerful coach and whether or not you should become one. So I hope you will join me next time for the Coach with Clarity podcast. Again, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough. I just want to say thank you for spending the last 25 minutes with me today. I look forward to welcoming you back for the next episode. And until then, get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity. 

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