Developing your coaching skills

Tessa Harrison FAUA | Director of Students and Education, King’s College London

Tessa is a qualified Executive Coach from the Meyler Campbell Mastered Programme (

If you would like to know more about about how to use a coaching approach, Tessa is running The Everyday Coach for the AUA in February.

In his book The Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy Gallwey introduces the equation: Pe = Po – i in which Pe (Performance) equals Po (Potential) minus i (Interference). This equation lies at the heart of coaching. Our potential to perform at the level required of us by our organisations can be negatively affected by the limiting voice(s) in our heads that frequently tell us we can’t or shouldn’t do something, and the assumptions we make about what other people will think. Business coaching is all about maximising individual and team performance through realising potential. Coaching provides a way of planning strategies for understanding and dealing with i, the interference.

There are many definitions of coaching. Essentially coaching is the opportunity for “a collaborative solution-focused, results orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates an employee or client, either as an individual, as part of a team and/or organization to achieve improved business performance and operational effectiveness”1. Coaching is not mentoring2 or advice giving; the worst thing a coach can do is to assume that what you have to say is more insightful than what the person being coached can realise for themselves. Coaching is not therapy, despite the fact that in very many cases difficulties people are having in their work life can often be connected to relationship patterns and learned behaviours formed much earlier in their lives. These sometimes require exploring in order for the person being coached to move forward to achieve the goals they have set for themselves.

The need for Coaching is always triggered by change. This can come either from within the person themselves or from something that has been externally imposed. Coaching enables us to recognise and come to terms with the fact that the interference mostly stems from the two things we fear the most – vulnerability and loss of control. Coaching provides a safe space in which to raise our self-awareness and identify the choices available to us. Once we know we have choice we feel more in control and able to decide and plan what to do next.

The coachee (a member of your team or a paying client) is at the centre of the coaching relationship. A fundamental principal for coaching is that the individual being coached has the inner resources they need to resolve their problems; they just might not know it when you start working together. The core purpose of coaching then is to increase self-awareness, to make choices
explicit and to close the gap between what someone is capable of doing and what they are currently doing. One model of coaching that is particularly applicable, and which can be used in multiple coaching and conversational scenarios, is the GROW model3.

1 Adapted from the Association of Coaching ([accessed 27 April 2017].
2 Defined by the Coaching Network ( definitions)[accessed 27 April 2017] as “off-line help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking”
3 See [accessed 27 April 2017].



Getting the goal established is absolutely critical to successful coaching – this can be an overarching goal for a programme of coaching sessions or an individual goal for a single session.
Sometimes nearly a whole session can be spent getting to the clearest articulation of a goal but you will find once this has been done the rest of the session will follow much more easily.

During a coaching session the coach needs to be mindful of active listening and using open questions to generate insight in the person being coached. There is a huge amount of literature about both of these skills and your use of them will improve with practice. The important thing to remember is that genuine listening is about suspending your own judgements about someone or their situation and being curious and demonstrably interested in the person you are coaching.

Your staff will often feel they have to perform for you – that there’s a right or wrong answer to your questions. They don’t and there isn’t. This can be particularly evident in line management
coaching and you might find yourself tending to fall into advice giving/mentoring. Silence can be really challenging in a coaching conversation but remember that insights develop when there is
time to think. Resist the urge to fill the silences.

Coaching has the power to transform individuals and organisations. Coaching can empower individuals to take personal responsibility for their choices and actions and team coaching can build teams in which trust, vulnerability and shared problem solving combine to achieve the sustained high performance that our organisations require of us.

Gallwey, T (2015). The Inner Game of Tennis: The ultimate guide to the mental side of peak performance. (Pan Macmillan: London).
Rogers, J (2012). Coaching Skills: A Handbook. (McGraw Hill: Maidenhead).
Whitmore, J (2009). Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practices of Coaching and Leadership. (Nicholas Brealey Publishing: London).

Some useful websites dealing with coaching and mentoring are: [accessed 19 April 2017]. [accessed 24 April 2017]. [accessed 24 April 2017]. [accessed 24 April 2017].

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