Coaching – What is it?

In my last article, published on Tuesday 9th March, I spoke on the efficacy of coaching in uncertain times through its focus on people, and the resultant effects in engagement, people management and workforce empowerment. Before proceeding to expand on these many benefits of coaching in organisations, it is worth clarifying what coaching is, and how it differs from other professions.

The use of the word coaching is becoming more popular; however, it is more than a buzzword.

The term ‘coach’ or ‘coaching’ transcends the corporate world. A coach is a popular form of transport that conveys a person from where they are to where they want to be. In sporting, a coach is someone who guides and motivates his team to work toward achieving their full potential. In his book, The Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy Gallwey introduced a new perspective on sports coaching. He identified that the biggest obstacles to success were internal and not external. He thus explained the role of the coach as one that helped individuals improve their game by silencing their inner critique. This insight did not just apply to tennis or sports, but instead highlighted the fact that individuals have the solutions to their problems within themselves, thus in describing this multidimensional term, John Whitmore defines it as “the unlocking of a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them”.

In a similar manner, the International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “a partnership with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

The basis of organisational coaching thus lies in the belief that people possess inherent potential that can be maximised for individual and organisational success. It eliminates the practice of command and instruction, and instead introduces a form of partnership that thrives on asking rather than telling. It positions the coach as the facilitator and not the expert, guiding the coachee towards self-awareness and self-directed learning.

Coaching versus other related interventions

Coaching is often times used interchangeably with therapy, mentoring, consulting and even training. Although similarities do exist amongst these approaches, they are quite different, and it is vital to make the distinction;


Therapy explores the past rather than the future. A therapist works to overcome barriers and issues from the past, in an attempt to fix what is broken. Coaching, on the other hand, is focused on the present and the future. A coach helps in finding out where the coachee wants to be and how to get there.


Consulting focuses on expertise in a particular field, with the consultant leveraging on data to find solutions to identified problems. The role of the coach is to guide the individual to clarify and understand their own desires and goals.


A mentor is usually an experienced professional who leverages on his/her own knowledge and experience to help others attain similar success in an identified field. Unlike coaching, mentoring may be instructional, with the mentor regularly providing answers and advice to the mentee.


Training focuses on the impartation of knowledge, thus establishing a teacher-learner relationship. It positions the teacher as the expert with the ‘right answer’, a direct contradiction to the coaching relationship.

An analogy of the car is commonly used to highlight these distinctions;

· A therapist explores your past experiences of driving a car

· A trainer tells you what a car is and the different ways a car can be driven correctly

· A consultant tells you what to do, how best to drive, and where best to go

· A mentor shares his own experience of driving a car

· A coach engages you to let you discover how and what to drive by yourself

It is worth noting that whilst each of these interventions is beneficial for different situations, coaching can still be incorporated into each one through different means and in varying degrees. Coaching is not merely a tool or technique; it is a shift in mindset, a change in perspective, it is a transformational management approach that is fundamental to the success of every organisation.

Ayoade, an Executive and Leadership Coach is the MD/CEO of EZ37 Solutions Limited Contact: or +234 809 788 1001

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