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What Is Coaching? The Core Competencies

June 10, 2022


6 minutes read

Coaching is an important concept in achieving personal and professional development. It allows a person to find self-discovered solutions to their challenges through the guide of a coach. Therefore, one can say that coaches are not trained to find solutions for their coachees but to help them, using different  methodologies, to evoke their inherent abilities to find solutions themselves. 

So what is coaching then? And what does it entail?

What Is Coaching According to ICF?

According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), coaching is defined as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”((International Coaching Federation. Retrieved on May 28th, 2022 One of the core values of coaching is that a coach is trained to see a client as an expert in his life or work. Hence, the responsibility of a coach is to guide the client towards achieving set goals.

Coaching has equally been described as the act or process of engaging clients in a creative and inspiring process that will cause them to maximize and achieve their potential.((International Coaching Federation. Retrieved on May 28th, 2022 In helping coachees achieve their set goals, coaches tend to adopt one or more models depending on what works for each individual. However, one major model that stands out is the GROW coaching framework. Co-created by Sir John Whitmore in the 1980s, the GROW Model has become the world’s go-to coaching model for problem-solving, goal setting, and performance. It is used in conversations, meetings, and everyday leadership to unlock potential.((Performance Consultants. The Grow Model. Retrieved on May 28th, 2022

The first step in GROW model is to set specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) “Goals”. The next step is to examine the coachee’s current “Realities”. This may give an insight into ways of achieving the set goals. Asking the What, Who, When, and How questions may be resourceful for a coach in this regard. This step is closely followed by exploring available “Options”. Being a client-centered arrangement, the client needs to take the lead in suggesting available options that may suit the current realities already determined. The final step in the model is establishing the “Will”.((Mind Tools. The GROW Model of Coaching and Mentoring. Retrieved on May 28th, 2022 Mapping out available options alone is not enough, there must be the willingness to execute the specific actions or options that have been suggested during the coaching sessions. 

In summary, the GROW Model can be captured under the following question, “What do you want?”, “Where are you now?”, “What could you do?”, “What will you do?”.

Core Competencies of Coaching

In 2019, the  International Coaching Federation which is the world’s largest organisation of professionally trained coaches released an update to its Core Competencies Model.((Hilary Oliver. An Introduction to the Updatd ICF Core Competency Model. Retrieved on May 29th, 2022 These competencies are considered the best in global standards for coaching qualification. They are established to help coaches provide effective coaching services to their clients. These core competencies are briefly discussed below:

1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice

This element presupposes that a coach must be abreast of core coaching values and ethics, and religiously applies them in his professional activities. A coach must demonstrate personal honesty and integrity while dealing with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders. The coaching ethics also requires that a client’s information and identity disclosed during professional interaction must remain confidential.

2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset

This core competency requires a coach to embrace continuous professional learning and development.((Mukul Dhawan. May 18th, 2021. A Powerful ICF  Core Compentency: Embodies a Coaching Mindset. Retrieved on May 29th, 2022,own%20emotions%2C%20culture%20and%20intuition)) Also, apart from the mental and physical preparation for a coaching session, a coach must always be aware that clients are the decision-makers in their personal and professional lives. He’s not responsible for imposing a decision or choice on clients. A coach can achieve a client-centered coaching session by putting some questions to the client about what they want. For example:

  • “What would you like to focus on today?”
  • “How would you like to approach this?”
  • “What do you think?”

Asking these questions will ensure that the entire coaching session focuses on the client and their choices.

3. Establishes & Maintains Agreements

This core competency envisages a coach forming a partnership with clients and relevant stakeholders to establish a clear agreement on the coaching relationship, plans, and goals.((UNT Health Science Center. Coaching with ICF Competencies: 3-Step Coaching Model. Retrieved on May 29th, 2022. This partnership helps to decide if the client and coach are compatible. It also enables a coach to know what a coachee wants and how to accurately structure the whole coaching relationship to achieve the desired results. With an agreement between a coach and a coachee in place, it becomes easier to measure the success rate of the coaching relationship. For instance, if a coachee agrees on some things that should be achieved at the end of the coaching sessions but some of them remain unticked thereafter, the implication is simply that the coaching session was not successful.  

4. Cultivates Trust & Safety

Trust is one of the important traits a coach must possess. As a result of the coaching relationship, a coach comes in contact with a lot of personal information about a coachee. Therefore, a coach must create a safe and supportive atmosphere that allows a coachee to share information freely knowing that the information is safe and secured with the coach. Part of cultivating trust with a client is for a coach to adopt a culture of openness and transparency.

5. Maintains Presence

To help a coachee achieve the desired results, a coach must be fully focused, observant, empathetic, and responsive to the client.((International Coaching Federation. Retrieved on May 28th, 2022 A coach must also demonstrate some level of curiosity during the coaching sessions.

6. Listens Actively

Listening attentively allows a coach to understand what the coachee is saying, the goals he wants to achieve, and other things he’s leaving out. The entirety of a coach’s attention during a session must be focused on the coachee. A coach would only be able to help a coachee achieve the set goals when he listens attentively and understands the coachee. One rule of thumb for coaches to ensure that they accurately capture and understand what the coachee has said is to attempt a recap or summarize what the client communicated. 

7. Evokes Awareness

The role of coaches is not to dictate or make decisions for the coachee but to assist them in deciding on their own. Therefore evoking awareness deals with using some tools to facilitate the coachee’s insight. These tools may range from past experiences, questioning that evokes creative thinking, and analogy, among others. Doing this will facilitate the coachee’s self-awareness and aid in making decisions on their own.

8. Facilitates Client Growth

The end plan of coaching is to achieve tremendous growth for the coachee. In facilitating client growth, a coach needs to give room for client autonomy. A coach should partner with the client in designing metrics for success and accountability. The coaching sessions are not about the coach but the coachee. Therefore, due regard must be given to the decisions of the coachee. 

Coaching v. Mentorship

There’s always a need to give a distinction between coaching and mentoring because many people seem to confuse the two or take them as one. Although they have the same end goal of accelerating development, coaching is intrinsically different from mentoring. However, this is not to foreclose a situation of overlap between the two concepts.  One major difference between the concept is that coaching is more formal than mentoring. Mentoring could be done by anyone, but coaching is usually by licensed coaches registered with different Coaching organizations like International Coaching Federation (ICF).

Another distinction is that coaching is more client-centric in the sense that the coachee is allowed to direct the flow of the coaching session with the coach serving as a guide. However, mentoring takes a more direct approach. The mentor dictates and decide the flow of the mentoring arrangement being more experienced and usually more knowledgeable than the mentee. 

In conclusion, it is imperative to note that both coaching and mentorship are important in achieving optimal personal and professional development.