Understanding just what coaching is and the different forms it takes

Published On: 18 October 2022|

There are many misconceptions about what coaching is and the various forms it can take. The field of coaching is diverse and covers many different areas of development. At its most basic, coaching is a discourse; a conversation between two people.

Dr Sharon Munyaka – one of the participants in the last Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) ENGAGE session for 2022 hosted on 11 October, explained just what coaching is and the different styles and types of coaching that people can participate in.

Dr Munyaka (left) is a registered Industrial and Organisational Psychologist and was one of the pioneers of research in positive organisational scholarship at the Nelson Mandela University. She does leadership coaching across sectors with a keen interest in high potential leaders moving up the leadership pipeline. She is accredited on Results Based Coaching, ORSC, LUMINA and the Enneagram and teaches coaching modules at business schools.

Dr Munyaka says that often people think that coaching is about psychotherapy. They expect to be healed when they discuss their issues. She says people also confuse it with other disciplines such as consulting and teaching, and being a mentor.

“Coaching is not about that. For me, the wisdom is already there and my job is to switch on the lights and be a thinking partner as I walk the journey with the client.”

She explained the terminology typically used to describe each of the disciplines which demonstrates what each offers:

  • Psychotherapy – Healing
  • Consulting – Giving solutions and advice
  • Teaching – Knowledge transmission
  • Mentorship – Showing the path and operating like a sponsor
  • Coaching – The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines Coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”

“If we break up the definitions above, with coaching, we are partnering. A coach does not come with a blueprint and, as a coach, I don’t have all the answers. My job is to create an environment where your best thinking can happen. It also talks about a thought provoking and creative process, which means that my experience with one coaching client will not be the same with another one. The client needs to understand just the type of support they require – it could be extra training or therapy but it may be a thinking partner who will help ignite best thinking.”

She described the different forms coaching may take — which is important for understanding this discipline.

Transactional Coaching

Transactional Coaching is interested in forming an exchange-focused relationship. This task-driven and time-limited style is aimed at promoting performance and avoiding stumbling blocks. It is focused on actions and is about performance. It basically says, “You do this for me, I’ll do that for you.” Transactional coaches could ask the following questions: “What options have you been thinking about?”, “What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?”,  “What are you inclined to do?”,  “When do you plan to do that?”, “What challenges might you anticipate?” and “How might you resolve it if those challenges happen?”

Transformational Coaching

Transformational Coaching is a one-on-one approach that involves building a trusting coach–client alliance with both parties agreeing on coaching goals and processes. Transformational coaching is focused on the individual. It communicates the message “I am here as a coach to help you grow — not only, for example, just as an athlete but as a whole person.” Transactional coaches could ask the following questions “Why is resolving this situation important to you?”, “What do you get when this situation is resolved?”,  “How will you know if it is resolved?”, “In what way might you be contributing to this situation, unknowingly?”,  “What shifts, within you, might you need to make to allow the situation to be resolved?” and “What assumptions might you be making that could be preventing you from achieving your goal?”

Transitional Coaching

Transitional Coaching works with people going through major transitions. Examples may include changing careers, starting a family and recovering from death or divorce. Transitional coaching focuses on partnering with businesses and/or individual clients to effectuate change. They use the same process with all clients, whether they seek services for career coaching, life coaching, or transition coaching. Transitional coaches support clients as they make significant career changes, whether they are related to layoffs or returning to work after a hiatus. It can also be related family responsibility leave or related to family planning or career development.

Continued Dr Munyaka: “It is vital that you take the time to think about yourself, what kind of support you require and what type of coaching would be relevant and best for you. As we journey through life, different types of coaching will apply.”

Coaching, she said, is about taking a person from their current reality to where they want to be and for that the GROW model – originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore – is often used.

GROW stands for:

  • Goal
  • Current reality
  • Options
  • Will

“At the outset you decide where you are going (the goal) and establish where you currently are (your current reality). You then explore various routes (the options) to your destination. In the final step, establishing the will, you ensure that you’re committed to making the journey and are prepared for the obstacles that you could meet on the way.”

Dr Munyaka said that she adds an ‘S’ to the end of GROW (GROWS) model: “This stands for support. Who can support you on this journey? What will you do to get the support? Which structures are needed?” Anyone can take this simple model and, without any training, just try and set a goal for themselves and achieve it by applying these steps.”

The value of listening in our daily lives

She emphasised how important listening is in our daily and business lives.

“Coaching requires us to listen. A lot of us listen with the intention to reply while a lot of us listen from a very distracted mind. We’re going through the world without noticing and we are listening from habit. No new information can come through, as a leader in your institution, unless you are listening on a deeper level.

“A better type of listening is where we listen from an open heart and where we try to listen from the other person’s perspective. You don’t have to have experienced what they are talking about and you allow yourself to see something from the other person’s perspective. This allows for an empathetic emotional connection.

chinese symbol for listening
Chinese symbol for listening

“The last way of listening is around open will, which requires a shift in identity and will. It relates to our capacity to connect to the highest future possibility that wants to emerge.

“Deep listening is the process of suspending judgment and being fully present with another person to understand his or her experience or point of view. It involves hearing more than the words of the speaker but a deeper meaning, unspoken needs and the feelings that are being conveyed. It is something that is done with the heart as well as the mind. As we grow in awareness, so too does our ability to deepen the conversation. Every day we need to remain curious, compassionate and courageous. However, in order to listen to others, we have to learn to listen to ourselves.”

In conclusion, Dr Munyaka said she believed the world is shifting in terms of coaching: “While the cost used to be prohibitive, the encouraging thing is that, within coaching, there are so many innovations coming through – from email coaching to different ways to create spaces for people to talk to someone. Leaders should have a thinking partner. Imagine if each and every leader on the African continent had a coach, what would be possible? If we stop simply doing and start being as humans, imagine what becomes possible? My advice is that if there’s an opportunity to get a coach, please sign up and find someone to think with you. The world is so much nicer with a thinking partner!”

Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.