The (Mis)perception of coaching (The Final Part)

Part 1 on the (mis)perception of coaching outlined the nature of the survey and the demographics of the participants.  This post seeks to answer one of the questions explored in the survey, and is the final post of 5 in the series.

Do participants believe that it is important that there is a scientific (ie psychological) approach to coaching?

A number of academic researchers talk about the importance of performance-related psychological principles within a coaching context.  Whitmore, who could be considered the grandfather of coaching is one of these academics.

The participants were asked a series of questions concerning the role of psychological models and theories and the competence of a coach in using these within a coaching session.

There was a strong positive correlation between a coach’s competency in using psychology models and having a solid understanding of these models  There was also a strong positive correlation between a coach’s competency in using psychology models and the credibility of a coach.

The research supports these statements, that coaches needed to have competency in using psychological models based on a solid theoretical understanding.  And when this occurs, the coach has credibility.

Two other academics, Grant and Cavanagh discuss the  fact that coaches are becoming increasingly aware of the need to have a solid theoretical background, and perhaps this is reflected in the results of this research.  Whilst a significant number of respondents were coaches, it could be suggested that this awareness is now also prevalent amongst non-coaching participants.

The participants who were self-declared coaches were not asked to comment on whether they used psychological models in their practice.  However, in the free commentary at the end of the research a number of participants felt strong enough to comment that they felt an understanding and competency of psychological theories and models did not prevent a coach from being successful.

This subject is obviously an emotive topic for some participants. It would be interesting to undertake further qualitative research with these participants to further understand their perception into this subject matter.

And I think that this highlights where the real issue lies:  Grant  wrote in 2004 that “such diversity is both a strength and a liability…..there is a lack of clarity as to what professional coaching really is and what makes for an effective and reputable coach”

Newnham-Kanas attempted in 2009 to write a bibliography of heath coaching research.  The authors sought to identify the operational definition of coaching used in each piece of research they audited, only to find that repeatedly no model or definition was given.    The authors themselves determine that “This prominent limitation made it difficult to understand what was intended by the term “coaching”.

The Bibliography also highlighted that frequently the coaching consisted of interventions such as providing information, telephone monitoring, 15 minute one-to-one sessions, personal tailored messages on a website and offering problem solving techniques.  There is also a question of the (lack of) ability or experience of many of the coaches involved in the research.

In light of the above, it is unsurprising that Bachkirova and Cox in 2004  drew the conclusion that “the conceptual ground that coaching is built upon could be viewed as, at best, multi-disciplinary, and at worst as atheoretical or even anti-theoretical”.

It is sobering to note that in 2004, Kilburg wrotes “for all the work that has been done to illuminate the subject of coaching in the past 15 or 20 years, what actually happens in coaching engagements remains quite mysterious”

It is evident from my survey that whilst there may not be mystery in what happens in a coaching session, there is no common understanding about what coaching is, what it entails or what to expect.  This I think is a more serious issue for the coaching industry today.

The (Mis)Perception of Coaching (Part 3 of 5)

Part 1 on the (mis)perception of coaching outlined the nature of the survey and the demographics of the participants.  This post seeks to answer one of the questions explored in the survey.

Is there any synergy between participants in their understanding of which behaviours are important for a coach to display?

Whilst the model or theory deployed by the coach is important within a coaching session, the behaviours demonstrated are also a key element.    “Helpful behaviours” orPersonal Qualities” or “skills” are frequently discussed within academic literature.

 What works best in coaching?*

From executives From coaches
Honest, realistic, challenging feedbackGood listeningGood action points ideasClear objectives

No personal agenda

Accessibility , availability

Straight feedback

Competence, sophistication

Seeing a good model of effectiveness

Coach has seen other career paths

Connecting personally, recognising where the coachee isGood listeningReflectingCaring


Checking back

Commitment to coachee success

Demonstrating integrity

Openness & honesty

Knowing the ‘unwritten rules’.

Pushing the coachee where necessary

In addition to the above, academic literature also highlights the following qualities: “empathy, perspective, clear focus, intuition, objectivity and strength to challenge the coachee.   The Co-active Coaching Model also tries to integrate these elements and are defined as:  listening, curiosity, self-management, forward / deepen, intuition.

The only model that I came across in my research that consciously details the personal qualities was Passmore’s “Integrative Coaching Model”* which combines the personal qualities, use of psychological theory and self-awareness.

The personal qualities required by a coach is discussed at length in coaching literature, often based on research undertaken with groups of coaches and coaches.  This previous research has highlighted a vast array of different personal qualities that one single coach could not possibly possess.

In the survey, self-declared “coach – participants” were not asked about which coaching models or theories they used within a coaching session, they were asked to indicate whether a list of personal qualities were important in a coaching environment.   The participants were provided with a list of 16 behaviours and asked to rate them.

The results highlight that there were 25 strong positive correlations between pairing of behaviours.  Two behaviours (commitment and sense of perspective) had the largest number of strong positive correlations.

There was a strong correlation between commitment and the following:

  • pushing the coachees where necessary
  • maturity
  • organisational savvy
  • seeking clarity
  • personal connection
  • openness

With regards to sense of perspective, the correlations were as follows:

  • objectivity
  • listening
  • openness
  • seeking clarification
  • personal connection

This research suggests that whilst it is accepted from previous research a coach needs a range of personal qualities that underpin excellent communication skills, there are two core personal qualities that are considered more important than others.

*Table taken from Passmore, J., (November 2007) “Addressing deficit performance through coaching – using motivational interviewing for performance improvement at work” International Coaching Psychology Review, Vol. 2 No. 3

You can read about Passmore’s Integrative Model in Excellence in Coaching, Association for Coaching, Ed.  Passmore, J.  Kogan Page 2 edition (2010)

The (Mis)perception of Coaching (Part 2 of 5)

Part 1 on the (mis)perception of coaching outlined the nature of the survey and the demographics of the participants.  This post seeks to answer one of the questions explored in the survey.

Question 1: There are a vast range of academic definitions in common use across the coaching industry.  Are participants confused by this diversity?

If you research coaching definitions you will find at least 12 which are in common usage in academic literature. Jonathan Passmore’s Excellence in Coaching* provides a range of coaching definitions which he describes as “accepted”which include the definitions from Whitmore (2003), Grant (1999), the ICF (2005),Downey (2003).   In addition, there are a number of other high profile definitions including Parsloe (1995), the Special Group of Coaching Psychologist (part of the BPS), the CIPD, Caplan (2003), Driscoll (2005), Peltier (2010), Whitworth et al (2007)  and Clutterbuck (2003)

Two definitions are of particular note:

  1. Grant’s 1999  definition which is used by the Association for Coaching in 2005.

“A collaborative, solution focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and person growth of the coachee” 

  1. The other  notable definition is given by Staff (2003):

“A conversation, or series of conversations, one person has with another”

The participants were provided with 7 definitions of coaching and asked to indicated which best described their understanding of what coaching is. The participants were also provided with “free text” to write an other definition.

In the survey, Grant and Staff’s definitions both received around a third of the responses.

  • The remaining definitions each received between 8 and 15 responses each.
  • 7 participants provided their own definition
  • 1 participant stated that they did not know what coaching is.

It is clear from the research that there is not a unified definition that is referred to, although two definitions – those of Grant and Staff – are the most widely recognised by the participants in the survey.  Only Grant’s definition is included in Excellence in Coaching;  the Staff definition is one provided by the CIPD in their guide on buying coaching services.

You might be interested to learnt that there was no significant correlation between the coaching experience of the participant and their chosen definition. Equally, there was no significant correlation between the important behaviours of a coach and the chosen coaching definition.

If you look at the two definitions again, you will not that they are not similar in terms of their description of what coaching is.  So whilst there is some level of synergy in that two definitions of coaching were chosen by 60% participants reflect their understanding of what coaching is, the only conclusions is that there is no one clear definition that participants understand to represent “coaching”.

The survey also highlighted a strong positive correlation between the field of coaching the participant had previously experienced and their chosen definition:

  • Sports coaching and the BPS definition
  • Education coaching & the Grant definition

However, as you will have noted from Part 1, only 19% of respondents had received Sports coaching and only 8% had received education coaching.  The number of participants are so small, that I would view the correlations with caution.

Without doubt, the survey results supports the view that there is a the lack of clarity around the definition.     Coupled with this there is an increasing trend to develop bespoke coaching niches, each would require their own working definition.

The results so far suggest that the lack of clarity about the basic working definition could be the first step to explain why there is a public misperception about coaching.

*Excellence in Coaching is an excellent “beginner” coaching book.  If you’re interested in reading it, the publisher is the Association for Coaching, and the editor is Passmore, J.

The (Mis)perception of Coaching (Part 1 of 5)

In early 2011 I sent out invites via a range of social media networks to participate in a study that sought to explore the understanding the exists in society about coaching.   Specifically, the study aimed to determine whether there was a consistent or shared perception about what coaching seeks to achieve, and the methods used by coaches to enable this and whether this is influenced by past experience.   After  two weeks  273 participants had completed the survey.

Of this group 32.6% were male and 67.4% were female.   The majority of the respondents were between the ages of 31 and 60 (48.7% between the age of 31 and 45; 38.8% aged 46-60).  Only 3.3% of respondents were aged over 61 and 9.2% of respondents were aged 30 or under.    A significant majority (83.9%) lived in theUKand over half had a postgraduate degree or higher (62.6%).  A further 25.3% of respondents had a first degree.

In terms of having experienced coaching, three-quarters of the respondents had accessed coaching previously (75.8%).   9.9% of respondents had both purchased coaching and considered themselves to be a coach;  38.5% indicated that they considered themselves to be a coach;  a further 5.1% purchased coaching services but did not coach themselves.

 Respondents were asked to indicate what type(s) of coaching they had previously accessed.  The breakdown is as follows:

Coaching Niche

Percentage of Respondents





















Other individuals indicated that they had received “redundancy coaching”,  “coaching supervision and co-coaching”, “leadership coaching”, “conflict coaching”, “disability strategies coaching” and “driving instruction coaching”.

Prior to commencing the survey a number of friends had said to me “You’ll have to help me: I don’t know what coaching is”.   This kind of comment was exactly what I seeking to explore in my survey, so I keen to ensure that there was no cross-contamination of understanding between the researcher and the participants.

As a result, the participants were not given any briefing prior to completing the survey regarding the nature of coaching itself. No definitions or frameworks were provided and thereby participants were able to respond to the questionnaire without any influence from the researcher.  In this way, the methodology ensured the integrity of the data.

However, this approach also brought limitations to the study.  For example two friends were completing the survey together.  One ticked the “I am a coach” box; the other didn’t.  They both believe they use coaching skills in their role as a line-manager, but their perception as to whether or not that made them a coach differed.

So whilst this research yielded some interesting results it suffers the usual complaint of academic research:  whilst one question is being answered, two more questions are being asked.

This is the first blog post of 5.  The next 4 blog posts will outline in detail the conclusions drawn from the survey.

Blogger’s Block

Once in a while I find out someone I know “outside” my Social Media world has picked up and read my blog:  a colleague will mention it in an email exchange, a supplier will mention it in a telephone conversation.

For some reason, when this happens, I find it hard to write the next post.   The reason is that I have “the fear” – fear that I’m going to write something too risky or that will breach confidentiality.  Knowing someone has read my blog makes me question myself and seeds of doubt grow in my mind.

I take great care whenever I write a post.  I might get my inspiration from an event or a conversation, but all my stories are transformed in such  a way that it no longer resembles the reality which inspired me.  My characters (“friends”) are fictional, and over the last six months their names have all started with the letter “D”  (had you noticed?).    The whole point of each post is to make a point:   it isn’t to expose, humiliate or demonise any particular person or any particular organisation.

There are lots of subjects that I want to write about.  But I can’t.  It would breach confidentiality, or I would end up in muddy legal waters.   I have a rule of never writing about anything that I’m currently working on.  And there’s some topics that are still too close to projects that I have completed, but I still feel uncomfortable discussing them in a post.  It’s times like these that I really wish I was anonymous, as then I think I would have more freedom to write.

Having said that, I enjoy writing this blog and it has benefits.  One client took me on because they had read my blog and liked it.  I find that  my relationships with new colleagues or other contacts develop more quickly if they have read my blog as they understand how I think and they know my views.  (The down-side is that our relationship isn’t on an equal basis, as I don’t have the same background information on them, but this is easily overcome).

One time a coachee quoted my blog in the middle of a coaching session.  (It took me a while to realise!)  We went on to use the subject matter of that particular post as part of the coaching session. I honestly believe it helped the coachee develop a greater level of insight into the issue.

I know the fear is ridiculous.  It often takes two to three weeks to over-come the fear.  In that time I struggle to write posts, but continue to do so to meet my self-determined target of at least one post per week.    I won’t let the fear beat me.


Missing Personal Qualities?

I have worked with a number of coaching clients who have needed support in building their confidence.   One of the interventions I use is to ask the client to identify their personal strengths. To help them with this I give them a list of personal qualities or aptitudes.

Recently, as I have been working on a personal project, I felt it was time to revise the list.  The added challenge was to ensure that I only used one-word descriptors, and the end result is  below.  But I have a nagging feeling that I’ve missed an important personal quality.

Do you know what word(s) are missing from my list?









































































Role Model








Team player






Willing to learn

Guest Blog – coaching

Today I have a guest post on Coaching Confidence’s blog about the “Public Misperception of Coaching”.

You can read the post here.

I am currently researching this topic as part of my Masters Degree in Coaching Psychology.  This post launches my on-line survey.  If you would like to participate in my research, please click here .  The survey will take you no longer than 5 minutes to complete.

You can follow Coaching Confidence on Twitter  @theCoachingblog.

A different kind of patient

We woke up on New Year’s Day to hear of the riots at Ford Prison in West Sussex.  There has been criticism of the staffing levels on New Year’s Eve; the National Prison Officer’s Association claim that nationally there is a shortage of 1,000 prison officers before the planned redundancies take place over the next year; The National Governor’s Association provided insight into the judgement calls that staff have to make when staffing levels are low and the impossibility of robustly monitoring the perimeter fences.   Last night, it was announced there would be a review into staffing levels at the prison.

The whole situation raises the profile of how difficult it can be to manage the workforce within the prison service and the day-to-day challenges that they face. Prison officers are required to hold a particular skill set which will enable them to manage the delicate tensions between prisons and staff such as treating others with dignity & respect, conflict management skills, and emotional intelligence.

I have no experience of HR within the prison service, and so I cannot comment on the extent that the prison workforce has the necessary skills to support them in this difficult role.  However, issues relating to staff competency had previously been identified within Prison Inspection reports as highlighted in today’s Guardian Editorial .

I have worked with healthcare teams within prisons.   Last year I was asked to provide individual and group coaching to a team who had been through a difficult period:  two members of the team had “moved on”, and a new manager had been appointed.  My role was to enable the team to move forwards and positively approach the new challenges that they faced.

Unsurprisingly, the factors that affected them went beyond the interpersonal relationships between the remaining team members and included the environmental factors in which they worked.  A key theme that emerged was the behaviour of the prisoners towards the healthcare team.

The told me stories of how prisoners would kick the door repeatedly if they felt that a consultation was taking too long.  There would be verbal abuse if a nurse would not provide non-prescription medication (eg for a headache) when she judged that the prisoner was not in need of it.  And in quiet moments, some of the prisoners told the staff that they were the best healthcare team they’d experienced within the prison service.

The prisoners treated the healthcare staff with disrespect and this had a direct impact on their attitude towards their work.  They made decisions that were influenced by how a prisoner was acting, and they recognised at times that these decisions led to inequality in their treatment of prisoners.  In order to gain respect, they needed to ensure that they were acting professionally, fairly and appropriately according to need.  They also needed to work as a team, not just with the prison-based healthcare team, but with the wider set of healthcare professionals who undertook sessional work.

Another impact of the prisoner’s behaviour was that they felt that they were always fire-fighting; they were reactive to the demands that changed from day-to-day.  Their vision was very different:  they wanted was to deliver pro-active healthcare that would have a lasting effect on the prisoner’s health long after they had left prison (eg helping prisoners to give up smoking).   The team decided that they no longer to accept “the way things are” and set about changing the culture so that they could achieve their vision.

So my thoughts in the aftermath of the Ford Prision riots are for the healthcare team.  I hope that the review includes the views of this valuable (but often unrecognised) team as they will be able to provide a different perspective into the issues that contributed to the events on New Year’s Eve.

What is coaching? 10 definitions

I’m on a quest to understand the nature of coaching.  This week I’m going to bring you an array of coaching definitions that I discovered along the way.   

But before I do, I wanted to highlight that my research has uncovered a huge number of different definitions;  and they vary between “regular” coaching, coaching psychology, co-active coaching (an a-theoretical model!); and executive coaching.   I believe the following is symptomatic of an unregulated industry.  What is heart-warming is that there is some commonalities between the definitions – and perhaps suggests that at some point in the future, the profession can attempt to bring some uniformity and standardisation to the “wild west” of coaching.

 10 Definitions of Coaching

  1. “Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (Whitmore 2003)
  2. “A collaborative, solution focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and person growth of the coachee”  (Grant 1999, basic definition also referred to by the Association for Coaching, 2005).
  3. “A professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual or team that support the achievement of extra-ordinary results, based on goals set by the individual or team “(ICF, 2005)
  4.  “The art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another” (Downey, 2003)
  5.  “Coaching is directly concenred with the immediate improvement of performance and development of skills by a form of tutoring or instruction”  (Parsloe, 1995).
  6. “Coaching psychology is for enhancing well-being and performance in personal life and work domains underpinned by models of coaching grounded in established adult and child learning or psychological approaches” (Special Group of Coaching Psychologists, part of the British Psychological Society)
  7. “Coaching is about developing a person’s skills and knowledge so that their job performance improves, hopefully leading to the achievement of organisational objectives. It targets high performance and improvement at work, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s private life. It usually lasts for a short period and focuses on specific skills and goals.” (CIPD 2009)
  8. “Psychological skills and methods are employed in a one-on-one relationship to help someone become a more effective manager or leader.  These skills are typically applied to a specific present-moment work-related issues….in a way that enable this client to incorporate them into his or her permanent management or leadership repertoire” (Peltier 2010)
  9. [Co-active] coaching is “a powerful alliance designed to forward and enhance a life-long process of human learning, effectiveness and fulfilment”  Whitworth et al (2007)
  10. “Coaching is about enabling individuals to make conscious decisions and empowering them to become leaders in their own lives” (Wise 2010 – sorry couldn’t help sneaking one in myself!).

 Interestingly, whilst searching for defintions I came across the following from Bruce Peltier

“A coach must be able to provide a good working definition of coaching and articulate the difference between coaching and psychotherapy”. 

Whilst this sentence might appear on the surface to be self-explanatory, the vast range of definitions can only be a challenge to a coach wishing to provide “a good working definition”.   If only it was that simple……

Misperceptions of Coaching

For a while I’ve been exploring the world of coaching.  What is coaching? What happens during a coaching session? Who accesses coaching and why? 

There have been a couple of surveys that have grabbed my attention:  the 2009 CIPD’s “Taking the Temperature of Coaching” Survey and the 2010 Henley Management College’s Corporate Learning Priorities Survey Report. 

These reports have made the headlines as

“90% of organisations are using coaching” (CIPD)


“61% of respondents said developing a coaching culture was one of their top 5 priorities” (Henley).

These figures don’t appear “real” to me.  I talk to a lot of different organisations due to my “day job” and I have friends who work in all sectors and at different levels of their chosen profession.  To me, these figures seem a bit high.

It’s led me to think that perhaps we (and I include myself in this, as I’m the kind of person who would fill in such suveys) have a misunderstanding about what coaching actually is?  Is this because it’s an unregulated field? 

On a recent LinkedIn discussion forum, a significant number weighed in to give an answer to the question “How would you describe HR to a 10 year old?” 

It was a great question with many diverse answers (is this a reflection on how much our 10 year olds understand?).  But if a group of experienced and qualified HR professionals don’t (or can’t) present a unified definition of their profession, what what chance has the coaching profession?

I decided to dig deeper into these surveys, and interestingly both the authors agree:  The Henley report wonders if there is “an uncertainty about how to go about it or a concern as to whether the senior team will support [coaching]?”;  the CIPD report commented on the high percentage: “This is a very high level and may reflect a re-appraisal and re-labelling of other management practices and programmes”.

From my perspective, the lack of clarity also arises from the fact that some people call themselves a “coach” when in fact they’re not.   And there are a lots of people who “coach” who have not had thorough training or even hold a basic qualification. 

So in essence, I don’t think that I can get definitive answers to my questions.   And whilst the coaching industry remains unregulated, the misuse and misperception of coaching will continue.