COACHING – Gym shorts and whistles not required

The definition of coaching is:
“… a form of development in which a person called a coach supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance. The learner is sometimes called a coachee.”


I was a Royal Navy Medic for over 15 years and left this year to pursue a career as a freelance coach.  And as the wonders (and perils) of coaching are being discussed more and more, I was asked to provide some guidance on this emerging industry.

Now, I am by no means the legislative guru when it comes to this subject but let’s assume for a few moments that I am a trustworthy source and I am genuinely here to shed some light on this topic.  And the best way to do this is explain how I do it and serve this up with a wee side order of self-promotion.

A few other definitions include the words teach, instruct and advise. However, many effective coaching methods use none of these verbs.  In fact, they are the very opposite of coaching as demonstrated by Sir John Whitmore, who developed the GROW model and demonstrates the “Ask, Don’t Tell” technique.

Yet the lack of an agreed definition of coaching results in the method being misunderstood by some of the people delivering it and some of those in receipt of the service. Coaching is never about providing advice or consultancy.  If you need tutoring – get a teacher.  If you need advice – get an advisor.  Need a problem solving – get a consultant.  

If you want to aim for success through coaching – get a coach.

Coaching is focused on the person and establishing what success looks like to them. It’s their desires, their aspirations and how they feel they can succeed. 

The coach is there to assist in picking through all the good, the bad and the ugly.  To enable a client to see failure as an opportunity to learn, change and improve.  To celebrate successes, but always probing for the next step and maintaining the momentum.  And the client is in control and accountable by setting their goals and planning their activities.  

The coach is the passenger riding shotgun, not the driver. 

Abbie Pierce

And as coaching is becoming more popular, many are jumping on the bandwagon without clearly understanding the coaching method, defining who they are, what they are for and who they can best serve.  Furthermore, critics of the coaching industry are concerned as it remains largely unregulated, there are no mandatory qualifications and no governing body. 

Pretty much anyone can say they are a coach.  I know this, as I am one of them!

That said, coaching pings off every passionate nerve in my body and suits my ethical personality.  Good coaches share these traits and we naturally gravitate towards this profession as it relies on our integrity to remain committed to helping those we seek to serve. It is the same reason I joined the military medical services.  

However, having worked for 15 years in one of the most regulated industries in the world, regrettably I still hear about dangerous incompetence and highly unethical practices from doctors and nurses.  This suggests regulation is not always an infallible method for ensuring “best”. 

The flip side of that coin is, the other 99.9% of clinicians I encountered are amazing and provide sound advice to many patients on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, that advice can fall on deaf ears once the patient leaves the consulting room.  Which is a good example of how telling people what to do is not a full proof approach to improvement.  

I am also concerned by the lack of regulation as this results in the coaching industry being open to misuse and can attract a few charlatans who spoil it for the good people.  It takes time and patience to build a sustainable client base through referrals and word of mouth.  A sacrifice some are not prepared to make and thus we end up with poor quality coaching and disheartened clients.  

So, where does that leave you….

Well, in choosing a coach, you just have to go with your gut!!!  Check out what is on offer, take up a coach on an initial conversation as there is no obligation to agree a contract or ask colleagues if there is someone who comes recommended. 

The coaching process is all about human connection and communication.

If it feels right, it probably is.  

I’ll go over a few of my own coaching principles that could allow you to go with your gut with more confidence.

Haggling over price:

If a coach starts to haggle over price, offering discounts or asking questions about why you said “no” to taking the coaching to the next stage – no, should mean no.

Personally, I am ok with a “no” and it will be for one of 3 reasons.

  • I did not do a good enough job of enabling you to see the value of the coaching I have to offer – that is my bad.
  • You see the value but currently you cannot make the necessary sacrifices (time, money, effort) to fully invest in the coaching – you are not ready and that is ok with me.  You can shelve the idea and return to it in the future when you are ready.
  • We simply didn’t hit it off – not much either of us can do about that.

Workbooks and PDFs: 

These resources have their place in group workshops and seminars.  

However, 1:1 coaching is an interaction entirely through communication between one human and another.  Each one of us is wired differently and one size won’t fit everyone.  Coaching in its loose-fitting structure is, by design, flexible enough to tailor to the person sat opposite you.  To hide behind a workbook is far easier and more convenient – the kryptonite of quality. 


And I sincerely mean that.  If you want to change and improve, there are no quick fixes.  It takes effort and at times won’t be very pretty.  You will face fears and need to hold your nerve. But you will do it because you have chosen to enrol in this process and you have committed to changing your future as you envisage it. 

This can be challenging for some people to understand, particularly when as a society we have become so accustomed and reliant on overly specific metrics.

It is tricky to measure joy, as it does not lend itself to illustration on a spreadsheet. 

Fortunately, it is easy to see and feel. 

And I want to see those pictures.  You and your team of happy faces as you made the transition to a more freethinking and empathic leadership style.

You trekking across a far-flung corner of the planet or eating authentic sushi in Tokyo. Or that all-important candid snap of you enjoying snuggles on the sofa with the family.

And all because you put in the effort to carve out a career that allowed you to better integrate your work and life elements. 

If you have a change or improvement on the horizon and need to some help during this transition, I would love to hear more.

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