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.


2 comments on “Misperceptions of Coaching

  1. What is coaching? It is a process that allows people to move from functional to optimal.

    It is a way to gain a competitive edge towards some goal in life, professional or personal. We live in a world of dramatic change, change this is only going to continue to grow in terms of tempo and magnitude. For many people coping with change and more rapid change is going to be difficult. A coach will be able work with people who desire to better manage time, stress, career objectives, personal objectives and more.

    What happens in a coaching session?
    A coach will use empowering questions that allow the client to set goals and to realize results that are specific to their need.

    Who uses coaching? People who want to move forward. Professional athletes, corporate executives and others use coaching to gain an edge. Olympic athletes use a variety of coaches in order to be a just a bit better than their competitors.

    That’s the quick answer.

    • karencwise says:

      I have to admit, I’m actually doing a masters degree in coaching / coaching pyschology. My dissertation is not about what coaching is, but what people’s understanding of what coaching is (subtle difference). I had originally assumed that most qualified coaches had a unified view of what coaching is, but in fact during my research it has become very apparent that this isn’t the case. If the qualified coaches don’t have a unified view, then what chance have the rest of the population of understanding it – particularly those who fill in questionnaires about using coaching? You’ll be surprised (or maybe you won’t) about how many conversations I get into about “what is coaching?” – even with highly educated people.

      Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting more about the nature of coaching, which will highlight my discoveries on this topic. Next week I’m going to be writing about the definition of coaching and ambiguities there around that……and later on I’ll be exploring about who uses coaching and how: There’s a lot of research out there which discusses deficit or remedial coaching – which is outside the answer you gave above. All interesting stuff and thank you for your time in providing such a succint and definitive response.

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