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Making Sence of Coaching

The Coaching Profession 

The coaching profession is rapidly growing and evolving.  Today, there is a continually increasing number of “coaches” from a wide range of professional backgrounds offering an extensive variety of coaching services that embrace a broad spectrum of human activities. While it can be said that all coaches are concerned with improving human performance, they go by many different titles and employ an extensive array of approaches and techniques in their work. Terms such as behavioral coaching, life coaching, leadership coaching, business coaching, executive coaching as well as several others, are used to define the services that coaches offer, but such labels often do not adequately describe the focus and objectives of what they actually do. 

Some coaches describe themselves by their expertise—what they know and do, such as a sports coach, sales coach or communication coach; while others define themselves by whom they serve, e.g., executive coach, CEO Coach. Even among coaching practitioners there is no universal agreement as to the meaning of such titles, no consistency in the types of services that each provides or even a consensus on a definition of coaching. Although the technology of coaching is exploding into organizations and into people’s personal lives, many remain unclear as to what coaching is and what the coaching process entails.  Coaching is sometimes perceived as a facilitation or management style or even viewed as being interchangeable with mentoring, counseling, training or consulting.  As a result, potential clients often have a difficult time understanding the differences between what different coaches do or the approaches and specific benefits offered by each.  

At Symbiont Performance Group we have attempted to define and categorize the many elements that constitute professional coaching in order to develop a good working understanding for both ourselves and our clients, of the types of coaching services that are available, the differences and similarities they exhibit and the benefits that each seeks to provide to clients.  By no means do we offer our categorization and organization as a definitive classification of professional coaching.  However, it has been useful to us in structuring and defining what we do, and we present it here in the belief that it may help others gain a better understanding of the current coaching landscape  

Definition of Coaching

We begin with the premise that the results individuals achieve in work and in life are the direct consequence of their daily goal-directed performance behaviors which represent not only the physical actions a person executes in striving for goal attainment, but also the thought processes he or she uses to conceive and implement such actions, i.e., mental models.  Since the fundamental purpose of coaching is to help people perform better, we feel that it can best be defined as a relationship consisting of a structured, process-driven interaction between a professional trained in coaching methodologies and one or more individuals seeking positive behavioral change for improved results.  Coaching has application in work, education, recreation and in one’s personal life.  In a general sense, coaching can have a positive impact on virtually any area that may contribute to helping people live happy, productive and fulfilling lives.

Elements of Performance

Because there can be a variety of factors that can determine the effectiveness of performance behaviors, the focus of an individual coaching initiative may be directed toward any of a wide range of different issues.  At Symbiont Performance Group, we employ a simple but comprehensive model around which we design and implement performance improvement approaches which we call the “Success Formula:”         

                                                M x (KSA + G) x E = PB→R 

The characters in this formula stand for the following:  Motivation impacting on Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes plus Goals interacting within a specific Environment generate Performance Behaviors which drive Results.  Effective coaching initiatives can be valuable in making a positive impact in any or all of the factors (motivation, KSAs, goals and environment) which shape performance behaviors.  The approaches and methodology in each case would be different but the overall focus, namely positive behavioral change leading to improved results would be the same. Learn more about the “Success Formula” 

Performance Coaching vs. Transformational Coaching

For the purpose of better understanding the field of coaching, it can be organized into two basic categories—performance coaching and transformational coaching.  Neither is more or less important, and while most coaching initiatives tend to focus primarily on one or the other, elements of both are usually involved to some degree in every coaching interaction. Performance coaching has to do with performing better, behaving more effectively and achieving performance and developmental goals.  Transformational coaching on the other hand, deals with the “inner self” and focuses on issues such as an individual’s beliefs, values, self-esteem, purpose and resilience.  Transformational coaching centers around what a person is being rather than what a person is doing and helps clients identify and transcend self-limiting assumptions about themselves. Learn more about Transformational Coaching

Performance Coaching 

Performance coaching focuses on helping individual and teams perform their roles and responsibilities in a more effective manner by developing performance enhancing behaviors. It deals with facilitating learning and development to enhance peoples' actions, responses, and reactions to generate positive behavioral change resulting in improved personal effectiveness and satisfaction. Performance coaching activities are aimed at generating positive behavioral change in any area of human activity be it sports, the arts, interpersonal relations, the military, education, business or in matters relating to one’s personal life. Virtually any coach-client interaction focused on improving the client’s performance behaviors can be appropriately categorized as performance coaching.   Performance coaching is also used to minimize or remove performance limiting behaviors that create obstacles that stand in the way of an individual's optimum performance. Most performance coaching initiatives focus on one or more of four basic objectives:

  • Improving a deficiency in a person'sexpected performance level (remedial coachinh)
  • Augmenting a person's effectiveness in a current responsibility
  • Developing a person's ability to performing at a higher or level of responsibility
  • Minimizing or eliminating a person's undesirable behavior

The field of performance coaching is vast and diverse and the approaches, methods and styles employed by coaches in the each coaching area as well as in each individual case would be different, but the overriding objective—positive behavioral change—would be the same.  Performance coaching applications are generally competency-based and usually concentrate on developing specific, clearly-defined, relevant and mutually agreed upon knowledge skills and attitudes to change behavior to bring about improved levels of performance. Most coaching requests from organizations or individuals involve some form of performance coaching.

Coach's Responsibility 

In performance coaching, the coach usually has a vested interest in achieving a positive coaching outcome.  Whether it be a district sales manager coaching a salesperson on effective closing techniques, a high school football coach giving pointers on blocking or an executive coach advising a businessman on communication skills, the coach is usually responsible and accountable for results achieved. 

Behavioral Coaching/ Behavioral-Based Coaching

Behavioral coaching also known as behavioral-based coaching or evidence-based coaching is a coaching style within the domain of performance coaching that espouses a specific coaching model and incorporates a structured methodology that relies heavily on the behavioral sciences (i.e., psychology, sociology and anthropology), from which the term “behavioral” is derived.  While behavioral coaching models vary, each usually places strong emphasis on analyzing the driving forces behind current behavior in order to better understand how the behavior can be positively changed and sustained.  Additionally, behavioral coaching techniques apply proven methods of assessment, data collection and data analysis and employ established valid behavioral change techniques.

Behavioral coaching approaches are generally applied in the area of business coaching (see below) and are primarily geared toward the learning and development of individuals or teams, which in turn assist in the growth of the overall organization. However, behavioral coaching represents a holistic approach to performance improvement in that it recognizes that any aspect of a person’s life can be relevant to a coaching agenda, even though the primary focus may be work-related.  An individual’s life goals, meaning and purpose, values, health and support networks are all valid areas of inquiry in behavioral coaching.

Types of Performance Coaching

Sports Coaching

The first association that probably comes to mind when anyone thinks about coaching is sports coaching.  Some of the basic principles of performance coaching derive from sports psychology, such as performing to one’s best, setting and reaching goals and becoming a team player. While traditional sports coaching tends to focus on a win-lose model, many contemporary sports coaches advocate a coaching approach that puts the interests of the individual first.  Such a philosophy is harmonious with the basic purpose of performance coaching and represents the epitome of the ideal coaching relationship.  It embodies the basic objectives that underlie all performance coaching—personal development leading to improved performance resulting in personal satisfaction, usually represented by winning.

Furthermore, many of the principles that govern the actions of sports coaches and players such as honesty, trust and mutual respect, have relevancy in other performance coaching arenas. Sports coaches are responsible for developing athletes by analyzing their performances, instructing in relevant skills and by providing encouragement. They are also often responsible for the guidance of the athlete in life. Therefore, the role of the sports coach is broad and varied, encompassing that of assessor, instructor, facilitator, motivator and supporter. Additionally, successful sports coaches are highly knowledgeable in the technical aspects of their respective sport and are motivating and empathetic leaders…qualities that are important for any performance coach

Business Coaching

Business coaching seeks to provide advice, feedback and support to individuals or groups within organizations to help them recognize and overcome performance improvement challenges.  Essentially it covers any performance improvement intervention within the context of a business environment. Business coaching can be applied to all types of organizations from large public and private corporations to medium and small business.  Business coaching generally focuses on key individual and organizational functions necessary to achieve business success such as effective communication, teamwork, sales, customer loyalty, leadership, strategic planning and many others. A good business coach does not need to have business expertise in the same specific field as the client in order to be able to provide quality business coaching services. However, he or she must be expert the root causes of business performance challenges and in the specific discipline being coached (e.g., sales, time organization, motivational skills, etc.).  Business coaching may be organized into the following three basic domains all of which can have a critical impact on organizational effectiveness:

  • Personal Skills - e.g., planning and oirganizational skills
  • Interpersonal skills - e.g., communication skills
  • Job Skills - e.g., management skills

Traditionally, most business coaching interventions strategically link the performance improvement of the individual to the organization’s overall performance objectives with the benefits viewed as accruing primarily to the organization. Therefore, the goals for the individual(s) being coached are always determined in conjunction with what is in the best interest of the sponsoring organization.  We view business coaching in broader terms and believe that there can be value to the organization even when there is not necessarily a direct link between coaching and organizational needs. Organization sponsored coaching in such areas as time planning and organization, effective goal setting, personal motivation and others not only convey strong dividends in the realm of an employee’s personal life, but through its positive impact on individuals—evidenced by improved self-confidence, reduced stress, increased commitment to the organization—also improve the overall effectiveness of the organizations and institutions to which they belong.  See “Life Wheel”

Business coaching is not just the domain of outside practitioners; most successful organizations today expect their senior leaders as well as middle and first level managers to coach their team members toward higher levels of job performance. In fact, many organizations view the coaching of subordinates as a key responsibility of managers.  A key factor in the success of internal performance coaching initiatives is the degree to which managers are skilled in the discipline of performance coaching.  Coaching ability is not instinctive. It involves a distinct set of skills along with the implementation of a clearly defined coaching process.  Ineffective coaching is not only a waste of time and effort, it can actually be counterproductive. Learn more about Symbiont’s Performance Coaching training

Life Skills/Career Coaching  

Life skills coaching is a category of performance coaching that focuses on an individual’s personal life goals.  It may encompass all the important areas of a person’s life including aspects pertaining to physical, family, social, mental, financial and ethics and beliefs, and career. see “Life Wheel.”  Life coaching is essentially about successful life planning and execution. Coaches help clients set and achieve clear, attainable goals in each of the important areas of their lives, but, many practitioners in this area go beyond performance coaching to help individuals identify their life vision, mission and values as well as deal with factors relating to personal motivation.  While life skills coaching is oriented to personal coaching for benefit of the client, many also see a focus on personal growth, career development and life issues as having a demonstrable value on the organizations they work for as well.

Career Coaching incorporates many of the elements of life skills coaching, but places the primary focus on career development.  Career coaches help client assess their strengths, aptitudes and desires to identify their optimal career paths and then set and achieve appropriate developmental goals and performance goals to maximize career results.    Learn about Symbiont’s Self-Leadership program

Transformational Coaching 

Transformational coaching focuses on getting clients to see themselves differently rather than helping them perform in an improved manner as in performance coaching.  While performance coaching is oriented toward “doing better,” transformational coaching is oriented towards changing what a person is “being.”  People often get themselves into a mental-emotional condition in which they see the world and their role in it in a certain way (their context).  They develop mental models about how things work and become trapped in those models. 

By using deep inquiry techniques and heart-felt compassion, transformational coaches motivate people to surface the underlying issues in their lives and push themselves beyond their comfort zones into unknown territory.  They encourage clients to take actions that may seem undoable to move to a mental/emotional state in which they feel empowered and trust that they can create the life they say they want to have.  Clients learn tangible skills to clear away negative beliefs, patterns and emotions so that they can live fully present in the here and now while breaking away from the restraints that keep us from creating rich, satisfying lives. The process is transformational because it helps clients transform their perspective to one where the impossible becomes possible.  

Unlike with performance coaching, transformational coaches do not assume responsibility or accountability for the outcome of the coaching intervention.  They do not suggest what clients should do.  Rather, they stand beside their clients and to the best of their ability; try to see the world through their clients’ eyes.  Furthermore, they make no judgment about what is right and true for the client.  Instead they ask appropriate, insightful questions to help clients draw out for themselves what their right course of action should be. Learn about Symbiont’s Transformational Coaching program

What makes a Good Coach?

There is no universal coaching method.  Coaching is a human to human process that needs to be tailored to the style of the client and the context of the situation.  Fundamentally, the role of a coach is to bring out the best in people.  In order to be successful at this, a coach must expect the best from people.  A good coach never prejudges a client negatively regardless of any negative input he or she gathers directly or through the impressions of others.  Any such assessment is subconsciously conveyed in a coaching relationship and is readily perceived by the person being coached, thereby erecting barriers to the development of a productive coaching environment.  

An effective coach need not necessarily like the client but it is critical that he or she demonstrates respect for the person. Good coaches connect personally with their clients by focusing totally on the client’s needs and aspirations and by actively listening to what they have to say.  They never try to impress a client by showing how smart they are.  They demonstrate genuine interest in their clients’ success and happiness and work to develop their trust so that they will feel comfortable discussing performance issues as well as their dreams, fears and personal values.  This serves to minimize or eliminate any resistance on the part of the client to be receptive to coaching input and facilitates their becoming fully engaged in the coaching process.

Another characteristic of effective coaches is that they demonstrate confidence in themselves and their methods so that they will be perceived as competent and authentic.  They convey the impression through their words and actions that they have earned the right to coach.  They live their values, they don’t equivocate and they assume full accountability for their role in the coaching interaction.  They are open and honest in their coaching discussions and are not afraid to ask the tough questions when they are called for.  Learn about how you can develop your performance coaching skills.

Coaching vs. Mentoring, Counseling and Consulting

Coaching is often confused with the disciplines of mentoring, counseling, training and consulting.  While coaching does have some elements in common with each, there are also some significant differences.

Coaching vs. Mentoring.  While both coaching and mentoring focus on learning and development for improved performance, mentors usually go beyond coaching to assist in the development of their protégés in additional ways.  Mentors often act as role models and are usually recognized as experts in their field as well as having broad knowledge of organizational structure, policies and culture.  As such, mentors often function as advocates for their protégés in facilitating recognition and advancement. Mentors can be coaches and coaches can also serve as mentors, but good mentors usually transcend coaching for improved performance and focus on comprehensive personal development of an individual above and beyond simply that of improved performance behaviors.

Coaching vs. Counseling.  Coaching initiatives focus on performance improvement in general. They include interventions intended to enhance an individual’s capabilities to perform current and future responsibilities as well as to overcome existing performance deficits or counterproductive behaviors.  Counseling on the other hand, usually comes in to play when a person’s underperformance becomes a problem for the organization. Its primary area of involvement is with regard to what is perceived as sub-standard behavior. Coaching emphasizes new competencies and improved performance behaviors, and while workplace counselors may at times adopt a coaching role, they primarily look for causes for performance deficit and search for ways to eliminate them.

Coaching vs. Training.  Training initiatives usually involve structured learning process with a formalized curriculum.  The focus of training centers on creating foundational knowledge skills and attitudes required for a specific task or set of tasks. Coaching interventions center on enhancing capabilities associated with current roles as well as preparing people for future responsibilities. Coaching is developmental rather than foundational.  As with training, there is a focus on positive change in knowledge, skills and attitudes, but unlike training where the emphasis is usually on well-organized, short-term learning opportunities with specific, immediate outcomes, coaching centers on more gradual, less-structured, and informal, experience-based learning over time. Learn more about Training & Development

Coaching vs. Consulting.  Both coaches and consultants work to help individuals improve personal and organizational results. Consultants tend to be experts in a particular field or discipline and after analyzing a particular situation, dispense advice on how a function can be performed more effectively.  Coaches are not generally business field experts, but rather experts in analyzing and developing individual performance behaviors to overcome identified performance challenges. Consultants’ efforts revolve around issues to be resolved while coaches focus on developing interpersonal relationship through which to improve individual’s performance behaviors.  Consultants advise clients on how to achieve better results; coaches help clients develop within themselves the ability to achieve such results.  Additionally, coaches provide ongoing behavioral feedback and support which consultants rarely do. 

Contact us for a no obligation consultation regarding your personal or organizational coaching needs.  Phone: 860-283-9963 |

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Symbiont Performance Group, Inc.

77 McBride Road                      

Litchfield, CT 06759

"Winning Performance Strategies"