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What is a Coach
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I was invited recently to speak at the Annual Conference of the eLearning Network (ELN), an organisation that promotes best practice in all aspects of learning technologies.

The theme of the day was 'Coaching and Mentoring in e-Learning' and supported the proposition that training is not the only option for plugging the skills gap. Its objective was to explore how coaching and mentoring works alongside instructor-led training in an e-learning situation.

The organisers were also keen to widen the awareness of ELN's members of the nature of coaching and mentoring and whether they are the same thing as tutor-support or something completely different.

I hope the 60 plus attendees had their horizons widened ... I certainly found the event quite an eye-opener. Although, as an experienced coach, I am only too well aware of how coaching differs from training in its many forms, the experience of presenting alongside other professionals really brought it home to me that, while we all talked about 'coaching', we all meant something different by it. Tutor, mentor, trainer, teacher, guru ... were all words used in the context of coaching.

But the true coach is none of these things. What differentiates coaching from all other forms of intervention, if we can use that term, is that the coach isn't the one with the answers.

My clients don't learn anything from me in the traditional sense... although I think they would expect to do so from all of the people I mention above. The key to coaching is that it enables the client to find their own answers, by removing the psychological and behavioral barriers that prevent them from achieving their potential.

I recently heard Tim Galwey (author of The Inner Game series of books) say that over the years he had been coaching, including when he was a professional Tennis coach, he had come to realise you could sum up Performance Coaching in the formula P=p-i. Here performance (P) = a person's potential to perform (p) – the interference (i). Note the missing input from the coach – only the opportunity to take away (the interference!) This neatly sums up our belief that coaching allows clients to tap into the answers, knowledge and potential skills they already have.

That's one of the lessons Jenny Radcliffe learned with the help of her coach, Mike Duckett. And now she's turned her back on a successful, high-flying career to take a flyer at a new, and rather surprising, business venture of her own.

Jenny has always been a high-achiever: regularly top-of-the-class at school, she went onto higher education and a career in buying and supply chain management that culminated in a senior position with a Fortune 500 company … and all before she turned thirty.

But something was missing for Jenny: "I had a good job, I was financially comfortable and secure, I was doing an MBA, I was getting job offers, I was (and still am) happily married… but I knew in my heart it wasn't enough. I couldn't see where my next challenge was coming from. I felt I'd done it all before and already proven myself. In short, I was restless."

She turned to coaching for some answers. But of course the answers were there all the time, it was just a question of helping Jenny find them for herself.

Jenny & Mike started by exploring her values – the beliefs that really make Jenny the person she is. She discovered that it was important for her to be her own boss; that she needed to be able to take risks – not something that you can easily do as an employee. She also learned how creative she is and realised how the working life she'd always led was actually constraining this and leading to feelings of frustration and impatience.

"The great thing about working with Mike was that he was someone with no emotional investment in me as an individual – unlike friends or family – who could give me an unbiased, totally objective perspective", says Jenny.

"I had the answer all the time – I was already a risk taker, I was even planning my new business, but it was just a hobby, I didn't see it is a real life option. Coaching just helped me to make up my mind, to take action, to make a change."

Jenny is now about to start the new business that she'd thought of only as a passing interest. She's going to open a beauty salon … running the business but employing trained therapists – she has no plans for learning how to do a French manicure herself!

"I know it seems like a bit of departure from the world I used to inhabit, but then I've also realised I'm a bit unconventional … something else that coaching has helped me to understand about myself.

Of course, it's a good business opportunity too – I'll need all the skills I've learned in my career and my studies. That includes the people management side of things and I'm looking forward to working with young people and helping them to develop.

Starting her new business is also going to give Jenny the opportunity to get involved with the local community – something she's never really been in a position to do before. She has become actively involved in "Sefton Women in Business" networking group, and is acting as a mentor to local teenagers who are studying business for the first time.

"My coach helped me to break through my conventional life and go for what I really wanted. I've come to terms with the high expectations I've always placed on myself and which I believed others had for me too. And I still have my ambitions … I'm going to build an empire you know!"

By Mike Duckett
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Biography: Director Coaching for Success Ltd. Life Coaching: coaching on Work/Life Balance, Career, Redundancy, Stress, Success goals, Life Planning, Confidence building, wellbeing and life style changes.

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