Provision #349: The Coach Approach

Laser Provision

In many circles, coaching has become the rage. Companies seek to incorporate coaching in management, schools in supervision, and parents in child raising. But what constitutes good coaching? And can it really make a difference in our experience of life and work? This Provision begins to answer those questions with solid definitions and coaching strategies.

LifeTrek Provision

We all probably have memories and images of coaches we have come to love and hate. They may have been our own coaches, from long ago up to the present moment, the coaches of our children, or the bigger-than-life coaches who take center stage in the media.

In high school, I threw shot-put and discus on the track team. In addition to designing and tracking our strength workouts, our coach focused on technique. I can remember the daily practices under his watchful eye, as well as the eyes of my peers, to learn the tricks that would transform strength into distance.

My coach wore many different hats. Sometimes, he was the teacher • showing us how it was done. Other times, he was the disciplinarian • making us work hard. Still other times, he was the strategist • setting training schedules and making substitutions along the way. He was also, of course, the conscience • using shame, guilt, loyalty, promises, rewards, and surprises to keep our heart in the game. I have positive memories of this coach.

But then there was my daughter’s high-school soccer coach, who was so negative in his orientation that my daughter and many other girls eventually quit the team. They were tired of his constant criticism, his preferential treatment of players, his failure to teach new skills, his mishandling of personnel, his impatience with injury, and his public insults at team meetings and recognition ceremonies. The team did well in spite of him, rather than because of him, and they never lived up to their potential. It wasn’t until the man was gone that the team eventually went to the State championship.

In the public arena, there can be no greater study in contrasts than Phil Jackson and Bobby Knight. Jackson, who has coached professional basketball in Chicago and Los Angeles, demonstrates the patience and intuition of a Zen master, especially with his more temperamental players. Knight, who has coached college basketball in Indiana and Texas, demonstrates the impatience and demandingness of a drill sergeant, even to the point of corporal punishment. No wonder the man makes headlines as much for his temper and run-ins with authority as for his victories on the court.

I mention these different memories and images of coaches and coaching in order to surface your own recollections and experiences. Good and bad coaching may be hard to define, but we know it when we see it.

And we see a lot of it in the workplace, where coaching is all the rage when it comes to leadership and management theory. The executive, director, manager, principal, and leader as coach literature is big business, with some organizations going so far as to include the word “coach” in various position and job titles.

As a professional coach, I’ve had many conversations over the years about how to make coaching come alive in a wide variety of contexts. Leaders want to use coaching in order to stop micromanaging and start inspiring their organizations. Trainers want to use coaching in order to translate learning into habit. Parents want to use coaching in order to improve relationships with their teenage children. Artists want to use coaching in order to unlock creativity and manage business.

Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold. Changing a title or even the concept of a position does not change the person in the position. Using the words “coach” or “coaching” does not guarantee any shift in orientation, perspective, style, or substance. Until we understand and apply the principles of good coaching, we will continue to suffer substandard performances and experiences. Once we understand and apply the principles of good coaching, we may indeed learn to love the work we do.

To grasp some of the principles of good coaching, I would invite you to consider the following five definitions of coaching:

  • “Coaching is the art of creating an environment, through conversation and a way of being, that facilitates the process by which a person can move toward desired goals in a fulfilling manner.” (Tim Gallwey, The Inner Game of Work, 2000)
  • “Coaching is an ongoing professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses or organizations. Through the process of coaching, (people) deepen their learning, improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life.”  (International Coach Federation, Definition of Coaching, 2004)
  • “Coaching is essentially a conversation within a productive, results-oriented context. Coaching involves helping individuals access what they know. They may never have asked themselves the questions, but they have the answers. A coach assists, supports, and encourages individuals to find these answers. Coaching involves learning. Through various coaching techniques such as listening, reflecting, asking questions, and providing information, coachees become self-correcting (they learn how to correct their behavior themselves) and self-generating (they generate their own questions and answers). Coaching is more about asking the right questions than providing answers • a coach engages in a collaborative alliance with the individual to establish and clarify purpose and goals and to develop a plan of action to achieve these goals.” (Perry Zeus and Suzanne Skiffington, The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work, 2000)
  • “Coaching is a relationship that creates transformation and learning in persons, groups, and communities. It starts with engaging people in a conversation where they clarify their vision, goals, and ideas as well as their agreement to be challenged and supported. It assumes that people have the inherent creativity, intelligence, and tacit knowledge they need to succeed but may need help in gaining access to it. It revolves around committed listening and speaking. It involves setting stretch goals, eliciting internal commitment and motivation and self-directed learning, creating a successful theory of action, practicing the fundamentals, observing breakdowns, providing meaningful feedback, as well as teaching new skills and capabilities.” (Robert Hargrove, Masterful Coaching, 1995)
  • Coaching is the art of listening to another person in a way that moves them forward toward desired goals. It assists people to clarify their thinking, clear their feelings, construct their plans, and control their actions. (Bob Tschannen-Moran, 2004)

These definitions begin to hint at those principles we need to understand and apply if we want to be successful in today’s world. To highlight a few key words and phrases: Coaching is about partnership, collaboration, learning, movement, performance, and quality of life. It involves listening, reflecting, asking questions, and providing information. It treats people as creative, intelligent, and capable. It works with vision, goals, ideas, commitment, motivation, feelings, planning, action, and feedback.

Are those the words you would use to describe the relationships you have with people at work? How about your relationships at home, with your partner, spouse, or children? If not, then your work and relationships probably leave something to be desired. And good coaching may very well be the antidote.

To get a better handle on how good coaching looks, feels, and works, I intend to use the next few issues of Provisions to explore the coach approach in terms of three coaching conversations identified by Tim Gallwey in “The Inner Game of Work.”

Gallwey speaks of coaching as “eavesdropping on someone’s thinking process” not to give advice or counsel but to listen for and reveal the way they are thinking, how their attention is focused, and how they define the key elements of the situation. As a nonjudgmental thinking partner, providing minimal technical instruction, coaches assist people to move toward a desired outcome. This approach, Gallwey observes, “can usually be completed in a fraction of the time it takes using the traditional model of coach as problem solver.”

Mobility is what Gallwey understands coaching to be all about. Coaches assist people to “move toward desired goals in a fulfilling manner.” And he sees this as happening primarily through three conversations: (1) “a conversation for awareness (getting the clearest possible picture of current reality), (2) a conversation for choice (getting the clearest possible picture of the desired future outcome), and (3) a conversation for trust (in which the client gains greater access to internal and external resources in order to move from current reality to the desired future).”

In the next three weeks, we will look at each of these conversations in detail. Unfortunately, they’re all too rare in organizations and in families. But it’s not beyond each and every one of us to adopt the coach approach as our way of being and doing in the world.

Coaching Inquiries: Has there been a great coach in your life? What difference did they make? Do you carry some part of them with you? How could you be a better coach to those you work and live with?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


You had something in a Provision recently, I think, about a juice fast you do. I thought I saved it but can’t find it. Could you resend that info please? Thanks (Ed. Note: It is archived on the Web, including recipes, along with hundreds of other Wellness Pathways Click).


I have really liked the last two LifeTrek provisions, however, as much as I try to apply the wisdom, I come back to my level of dissatisfaction and unhappiness with my work. I have two jobs, my first is actually a career. I am for the most part happy with my career but my second job (on my days off) is dragging me down with unhappiness and dissatisfaction, especially my immediate supervisor and the organization’s inability to organize and think on our feet. I just can’t believe how this is getting me down!!! Any words of wisdom??? Thanks!! (Ed. Question: Why keep the second job? Is what you are buying with that paycheck worth what it is costing in terms of your well being? Give us a call if you want to talk.)


I’m a subscriber of LifeTrek Coaching from India. I wish to thank you for the contents mailed to me regularly. Is there any way by which I can be a coach like YOU? Any course or books you recommend? Or any training session? Please mail me if there is a way out. (Ed. Note: You may want to join and explore www.CoachVille.com). 


I have six inside pets and use a lot of essentials oils and scented candles for fragrance, is this a “No No?” Thank you for your time and energy today. (Ed. Note: How do they make you feel? Watch out for petroleum-based ingredients in your fragrances.) 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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