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.