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Coaching: A Beginners Guide

by Sara Doherty | Oct 5, 2022 | People & Culture


Coaching is as old as the hills, but young as an academic and research-led discipline and as an accredited profession. Many people have a general sense of what coaching is, but could they confidently explain to someone else and how it can help people in their working lives? Consulting Fellow and qualified coach Sara Doherty outlines her key things to consider when it comes to finding a coach.


First, how do you define coaching?


There may be as many definitions of coaching as there are coaches, but here is mine:

Coaching is a relationship in which a dialogue takes place in a safe, confidential space that allows people to explore and gain new insight into issues and dilemmas. The aim of coaching conversations is to find positive ways forward that will benefit a person’s future, with that person having learned from the exploration and reflection on experiences.

The coachee is the expert of their own story. The coach’s role is to create a space that facilitates the development of a collaborative relationship through which elements of the coachee’s story or experience can be explored and reframed. A new future-focused set of goals, story or narrative is the co-creation of the coach and coachee.

There are some similarities between coaching and other disciplines, but also key differences:

  • Coaching is not counselling. While feelings and emotions are important to coaching, the aim is not to explore and try to resolve the root causes of emotional issues.
  • Coaching is not mentoring. The position and experience of the coach in passing on advice and guidance is not the focus of coaching interactions.
  • Coaching is not lived experience. Whilst the life experiences, choices, options and how those factors influence a person’s perception and knowledge are important to explore and be aware of, this does not make them a coach. Coaching is an important activity and requires professional training, supervision and awareness of research and scholarship.


Where do you find the coach for you

There are many kinds of coaching, and anyone can call themselves a coach, so for someone looking for a coach or starting out as a coach, navigating the field can be a challenge.

The briefest internet search or scroll through social media will bring up claims to change your life, become unstuck, find your ideal body, find love as well as progress in your career, become a better leader – there is too much choice.

Should you want to know more, my colleague at Mirador Coaching has written a helpful guide which may help cut through some of the noise. And of course, if you are working in Higher Education and seeking an experienced coach, searching the directory of Halpin’s Consulting Fellows and Senior Advisors is a good place to start.

Who governs the coach?


Other talking professionals such as counsellors have established professional bodies. Counselling has a professional body (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy: BACP) and it is easy to find their practitioner directory so that when looking for a counsellor, you can plug in a postcode and search biographies and qualifications of counsellors and therapists in your area, safe in the knowledge that they are accredited.

Whilst there are now a number of professional coaching bodies (e.g. Association for Coaching, International Coaching Federation, Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision) that provide different kinds of accreditation, these are not harmonised or within a standard framework to provide coherence of coaching credentials for those looking for professional help.

There are also some universities that have developed robust postgraduate and doctoral coaching programmes to build coaching’s knowledge base, credibility and profile.


Finding the right coach for you


Many people considering coaching follow recommendations from colleagues or take advantage of workplace schemes if they have employers with an embedded development approach. Halpin Fellows have many skills and some have invested in qualifications to develop themselves as coaches.

Their professional experience in education and other areas may be advantageous in coaching, as they will be familiar with the working context of a potential coaching client and the issues that they might bring to coaching; but they will need to work hard to keep their coaching ‘hat’ on and not allow their knowledge to overshadow that of their coaching clients. Essentially, however, coaching is a relationship and a respectful, supportive conversation that has the potential to drive personal and professional transformation.

A crucial element when considering coaching is to find out if a prospective coach offers a no-obligation ‘chemistry’ session – a free 30-minute conversation so that both coach and coachee can talk and decide whether they want to work together.

This is an important element of developing the coaching relationship and allowing the potential coachee an opportunity to make a choice and listen to their feelings/reactions to a new person whom they may need to trust in order to gain the developmental outcomes they are seeking.


What to expect from your coach


One of my tutors at Oxford Brookes University, where I obtained a PG Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring, told us of feedback he had received from one of his coachees. This person had enthused about how valuable the session was in helping him find clarity about an issue he had brought to coaching. Although clearly having listened intently, the tutor/coach had hardly said a word. This makes coaching sound too easy, doesn’t it? But creating a trusted coaching space, developing rapport, honesty and openness, encouraging the coachee’s confidence to bring authentic content, listening well, maintaining boundaries, allowing for reflection and silence, and doing all this with intention and confidence, takes knowledge, skill and practice.


Making room for a bit of magic


Coaching at its best is a little bit of magic: like when one of my clients, in between sessions, whilst collecting her child from school, suddenly had a distinct moment of clarity about what she needed to do to make a change in her career. The work we had done together in our sessions stayed with her and allowed her to see her situation and priorities in a different light, and she was able to find her own answers to her dilemma.

Personally, coaching has helped me to make profound changes in my working life and inspired me to undertake my postgraduate course at Oxford Brookes and my practice as a coach, to help others as it helped me.


Halpin offers coaching as part of its People & Culture services and a number of our Consulting Fellows and Senior Advisors are experienced coaches working with staff and leadership across the Higher Education sector. If you want to find out more search our People directory or contact us for details on how we can help.