Upskilling or changing awareness – transactional vs transformational coaching

In the art of coaching there are many different approaches and definitions. However, at a basic level they all are either transactional (coaching for performance) and / or transformational (coaching for a change in awareness and understanding that can lead to improved performance). The two foci are strongly interrelated with the transactional often leading into the transformational depending, in part, on the coachee’s readiness for coaching as well as on their context. I will discuss this below while also providing an overview of some of the similarities, differences, and overlaps between transactional and transformational coaching.

Broadly, transactional coaching – the ‘how’ approach – is focussed on the readily apparent, current performance of the coachee and tends to focus on acquiring skills, knowledge and techniques. It relates mainly to a coachee achieving their desired goals. The emphasis is on professional change and is often based on models of effective behaviour with change occurring through cognitive development and action (Unsell, 2015). The coach, while remaining non-directive, may place an emphasis on structured sessions that help a coachee narrow their focus (Chittenden, 2012), set goals, self-identify measures for success, as well as the skills required to achieve those goals.

In organisations transactional coaching relationships tend to be short (around three to six months) with frequent sessions to support a coachee to reach short term milestones, while creating new habits and ways of thinking, including, possibly, an ability to coach themselves (autocoach) (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.). This short duration can be effective in helping someone to develop within a specific domain of their work where a company is looking for a reasonably rapid return on investment (Chittenden, 2012). Psychologically quick wins are motivational for the coachee, and positive for other stakeholders.

Transformational coaching (the ‘who’ and ‘why’ approach) aims to raise a coachee’s self-awareness, as well as to recognise the reason(s) for, and to catalyse, change in order to improve not only the coachee’s professional performance, but also to positively impact the coachee’s sense of self and wellbeing. The transformational approach is a step beyond – but still includes – transactional coaching, and includes the use of similar techniques (Chittenden, 2012). The interrelatedness between transformational and transactional coaching might be envisaged as a cycle with interconnected nodes. As such, a coachee who has worked successfully in a transactional coaching relationship to achieve a positive outcome and has consequently experienced a boost to their confidence, may start to get a gut feeling that there is ‘something more’ (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.). The positive experience tends to encourage the coachee to try again with the expectation that, even if it doesn’t work there will be valuable things to learn, and the likelihood of success is good.

A coachee who is working in a transformational coaching relationship needs to have a high readiness for coaching with a willingness to venture further. They are likely to move through a series of ‘stages of development’ during which they grow in “capacity to explore and understand … [themselves]  together with more and more perspectives and, as a result, an ability to deal with greater complexity” (Chittenden, 2012, Para 5). In other words, the coachee is able to deal with ambiguity, and take on board a range of perspectives, including those that may not align with their own values. As a result, they are likely to be able to make more balanced decisions. The associated shifts in attitude and behaviour positively impact their resiliency as well as their ability to identify creative ways forward – for themselves, and for the organisation or company – especially if they are in leadership positions.

The coach will work with a coachee to expand their focus (Chittenden, 2012), draw on the coachee’s experiences, encourage robust self-reflection, and dig deep into long-held values, motivations, and attitudes. Sessions will occur over a period of twelve or more months, every four to six weeks, and be free-flowing to enable the unpacking of insights and challenges as they arise.

In conclusion, whether a coaching approach is transactional or transformational (unless shaped by an organisation’s requirements) will necessarily be different – and in different proportions – with every coachee. The coach will need to ‘meet the coachee where they are at’. With every coachee the coach’s approach needs to be fluid, organic and responsive such that they can ‘dance’ with pretty much anyone in a way that supports them to ‘go where they are ready to go’.


Chittenden, C. (2012). Transaction Or Transformation? Retrieved from

Chittenden, C. (2015). What Is Ontological Coaching? Retrieved from

Southern Institute of Technology. (n.d.) Transformational Coaching and its outcomes (Module C) [Lecture notes]. Retrieved from CBC103 (NET).

Unsell, F. (2015). Leadership development. Retrieved from


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Coaching and mentoring: Safe, confidential, and non – judgemental

A lovely overview from Sarah Whiting, about what coaching and mentoring is…and isn’t, and a couple of the options available through CORE Education.

The description from the Edtalks site reads:

Sarah Whiting, facilitator for CORE Education, discusses the role of coaching and mentoring in teaching. She talks about how important it is that coaching and mentoring happens alongside people, providing support in a safe, confidential and non-judgemental space. Sarah explains how coaching and mentoring has two different options for the way it may work in schools. One as an external partner, providing unbiased and sometimes different points of view, and the other where a school may want to develop a coaching and mentoring relationship that helps them to make changes from within the school’s existing structure. Sarah discusses the different ways schools can use the coaching and mentoring support offered by CORE and how important it is that schools build their capacity in this area to become their own coaching and mentoring community so that the skills become embedded in the education system.



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Coaching and mentoring for all generations

I must admit to feeling just a bit excited when I read recently that people are crying out for coaching and mentoring (although I did wince a bit at some of the language used in the article :D). This is a significant shift from seeing coaching and mentoring as something that used to be about performance management, or as something that seemed to be mainly reserved for executives, to a way of supporting all employees in their professional learning and development.

The article I read (Survey Says: Your Employees Want Coaching and Mentoring), unpacked the results from an October 2017 survey of over 2000 learners conducted by Wainwright Research, and highlights some key points, after first suggesting that “many who talk about learning in the workplace tend to think of the generations as significantly different in their preferences. Wainhouse’s findings show this is not the case. Across all the generations, learners prefer a range….” (Pagano, 2018).

Some of the key results were:

  • Coaching and mentoring appeals most to the oldest (50+ years old) and youngest learners (21-25 years old) out of all age groups in the workplace.
  • Young workers find informal conversation with a subject matter expert to be extremely useful. As workers age, this becomes less of a top priority. However, by late career the trend reverses again, and the 50+ group shows greater interest in informal conversation with SMEs than those in mid-career.

(Pagano, 2018).

Interesting stuff. The implications for organisations are many, and, beyond the practical, the findings maybe offer a window into a different way of thinking about learning as something we do as a ‘whole person’ as opposed to ‘a role’. Consider, for instance, the difference between content delivered to you to teach you something (no guarantee you want, need, or are going to learn it), compared with a series of conversations that help you identify your aspirations, and figure out how to move toward them (aspirations that you ‘own’, with an underlying reason to be accountable to yourself). Absolutely, sometimes you will need to access that content. However, coaching and mentoring will support you to figure out what your reason for doing so is – one that aligns with your values, and has direct and immediate relevance for you.

Maybe where I differ most from the author of the article is that, even for employees in the mid-stage of their career, the combination of coaching and other professional development opportunities can be potent. What are your thoughts?


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Visualising coaching…

Coaching is a bit of a buzzword, and you may be wondering why you might want to work with a coach, and what you’d get out of it. Mark Edwards and Hazel Owen (Ethos Consultancy NZ) have worked together with Cyma in a coaching partnership for the last year, and in this post we set out to explore these questions from Hazel’s experience as the coach and Mark’s perspective as the coachee.


Have you had that experience where someone advises you to do something in a certain way, and is quite insistent about why, how and what should be done? What was your reaction? Perhaps miffed, resentful, or annoyed – or maybe you felt it was one way forward and gave it a go. The thing is, at the end of the day, advice is someone else’s take on your situation … and who you are as a professional. In comparison, coaching supports you to identify your own strategies, based on your skills, knowledge of your strengths, areas you would like to work on, and your context.

As a potential coachee (or coach), given the range of definitions and approaches, I feel it is important for you to find an approach that resonates with you as well as being suitable for the organisation in which you are working. The definition that feels comfortable for me is…

“A human development process that involves structured, focused interaction and the use of appropriate strategies, tools and techniques to promote desirable and sustainable change for the benefit of the coachee and potentially for other stakeholders.” (Cox, Bachkirova, & Clutterbuck, 2011, p. 1)

In other words, it’s a fluid, responsive conversation where the coach uses an approach that draws on a range of tools and frameworks. The conversation helps you work through your thinking, ideas, and experience, and in doing so figure out a ‘way forward’.


In practical terms, coaching can help you:

  • See opportunities within your organisation

  • Identify next steps towards moving towards these opportunities

  • Develop personalised ‘toolkits’ that are tailored to the work you do – toolkits you might want to share with colleagues

  • Move through transition times, such as when you join an organisation, or move into a new role

  • Identify when you feel that you are no longer stretched, or enjoying, your role, and to seek other avenues (within the organisation, or within other organisations)

  • Identify possible risks (for the organisation, as well as professional and personal)

  • Work through immediate challenges and issues

  • Talk through strategies

  • Move through processes such as goal setting, planning, reviewing, and refining


The roadmap below illustrates the nuts and bolts of the coaching approach at Cyma, where people are seen holistically; as people who are professionals with a personal life, emotions, and areas they would like to work on that would support them outside of work, as well as in their professional role. It’s an iterative approach, with built in opportunities to revisit and review how well things are going at each stage, and reflect on ongoing learnings. This makes it easy to be responsive, identify risks, and address challenges and issues as they arise, as well as to plan for the future. At the end of an overall cycle (which is often related to goals) there is time to evaluate and refine in a way that feeds into the next iteration.

My description is a bit esoteric, so Mark shares his experience of this coaching approach below with a couple of actual examples.


In a nutshell, my coaching partnership has provided me with a disciplined focus to ‘sit down’ and pay detailed attention to my journey – in both my professional and personal life. It made me realise I spend more time planning things like outdoor activities, than planning my life’s journey, which is kind of weird!

Initially working with Hazel, I used my Cyma Professional Development Plan as a starting point, which was focussed on developing a leadership capability for innovation and new services for Cyma. It soon became apparent that I needed to consider much more than my professional development to achieve a work / life balance, so my personal development aspects were included as part of my coaching and development plan – something I’ve never really considered or visualised before.

The initial coaching sessions provided a foundation on which to develop a plan, out of which my goals and actions were established. We reviewed my progress on actions and discussed things like blockers, measurement evaluations, achievements and issues, using reflection.

As part of the regular coaching review process, not only are next steps and actions identified, but also evaluation (via scoring), on what didn’t work so well. This has been very beneficial for me to identify areas where I need focus, which, in turn, has led to the development of personalised toolkits.

The coaching sessions with Hazel have also provided an opportunity for me to reflect how I work on a day to day basis, and to develop a repeatable, structured approach to my engagements, resulting in a great customer experience in terms of professional working relationships.

Including my personal life aspects into coaching has allowed me to visualise and focus on a work lifestyle balance that allows me to plan to achieve it. By regular plan reviewing, it is constantly adjusted and helps provide focus on the things that are important to me outside of my professional work.

The visualisation below provides an overview of my coaching journey, showing how my Cyma Personal Development Plan and personal well-being is used to develop my own coaching goals and actions.

In summary, the coaching I receive at Cyma is a fantastic investment, not only on a developing professional level, but also on a personal level, to help me maintain a balanced and evolving lifestyle.


Whether you are a professional wondering if investing in coaching is worthwhile, or an organisation considering coaching for your employees, this post has hopefully illustrated some of the major benefits, and why it is worth taking the plunge.

We’d love to hear any questions and experiences you may have, so please jump into the comments below. You can also contact Mark at Cyma ( to find out more about his thoughts. Hazel is keen to work with you and your team to find that winning formula – so please contact her directly ( to find out more about the coaching opportunities she offers.


Cox, E., Bachkirova, T., Clutterbuck, D. (2011). The Complete Handbook of Coaching. London: Sage Publications Ltd.


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Some of the ‘soft factors’ that influence students’ initial experience of distance online learning

What are some of the ‘soft factors’ that influence a student’s initial experience of distance online learning? A couple of years back, this study sought to identify some of the key aspects that helped shape their experiences, as well as some of the expectations that they came with.

The study drew from video diaries submitted by 20 students, who were participating in their first semester of online courses. Tara García Mathewson from Education Dive summarises advice for online course creators and facilitators, taken from the study, as including:

  • encouraging students to participate in support services from the beginning
  • creating opportunities for students to interact with their peers and develop a sense of belonging
  • offering additional training for students who may not be as comfortable with the course technology
  • providing timely interventions to address a second at-risk period just before the end of the semester – the point just before their last assignment of their first course is due, where students and may begin to question their ability to complete their full programs (Mathewson, 2016, source).

If you are involved in online course design and/or facilitation, this article is a highly recommended read.

You can find the full paper here: Stories from students in their first semester of distance learning.

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What characteristics do you have as a coach?

What are the personal characteristics of a coach? It’s an interesting question because the response, while apparently simple, also requires a look at characteristics that could potentially work against a coach, and their suitability to develop in an organisation in that role.

Every individual has a different personality, and this means that every coach must, as a consequence, be different. Each coach uses similar tools or approaches, but each is different because the coach’s personality shapes and influences how the coaching is experienced. However, there are some personal characteristics that form the foundation of really effective coaching. I will reflect on some of the strengths and attributes that I have found have helped – or that I need to work on to develop further – as a coach.

1. Self-awareness

As someone who is usually self-aware, I find that this has been a real help in developing as a coach. It means, that, for instance, I am aware of the nuances of how I am listening, or asking questions … or that I have momentarily let my concentration drop.

On the down-side, this self-awareness can mean that when I identify that I have not performed as well as I might, or a coachee gives me feedback that they would have liked to have covered something differently in a session, for example, I have a tendency to over-analyse. On the upside, this means that I don’t tend to make the same mistake or misinterpretation twice!

I am also aware that I am an introvert, who enjoys her own space, and is happy to go days on end without talking with anyone. This can mean on busy days I feel exhausted when I have been coaching several people. On the other hand, one of the benefits of being an introvert is being very happy to listen, and I have received feedback from some of my coachees that they feel I am a really good listener and asker of questions. “To listen is to be the master of both content and context” (Burdett, 2005, p. 8), so the focus for me is to remain fully engaged and non-judgemental so that I can listen for what a coachee says, as well as what they don’t say – the gaps, silences, and hesitations – which can help uncover the coachee’s intentions.

2. Flexibility

Every coachee will need different approaches depending on their own preferences, as well as their context and/or current circumstances. As such, I find that I need to work closely with a coachee to initially identify what these preferences are; for example, a more analytical coachee may identify that discussion of process and data is really helpful for them. Then, during each subsequent session, I ensure that I adjust the approach and tone I am using to continue to ‘go where the coachee needs to go’.

Something I have to be aware of though is supporting my coachees to unpack their challenges, sometimes “introducing conflict to promote self-examination and further development of alternative perspectives” (Stokes, 2011, p. 8). This isn’t always easy and is likely to be challenging, but when I do it well, it results in us both becoming aware of shifts in perspectives and thinking. These factors help the coachee and I watch for indications “that the relationship may be transformative and growth producing for both partners” (Stokes, 2011, p. 8).

3. Patience

I have a very positive attitude, and am committed to work actively with my coachees such that I am “an active partner in the communication dance” (Burdett, 2005, p. 8). One thing that can be frustrating, however, is when the coachee and I have worked together, and the coachee has identified their goals and the changes that they want to work toward – and yet progress seems to be three steps forward and one step backwards. The frustration comes from knowing the person has the potential to change and a sense that sometimes they aren’t making the progress that they might be.

However, I am also acutely aware that change – especially in core beliefs and identity – takes time and energy, and is not comfortable. Patience is required to help ensure ongoing motivation, recognition, the celebration of positive growth when it occurs, and at all times the provision of “a mirror… to extend the…[coachee’s] self-awareness” (Daloz, 1986, in Stokes, 2011, p. 8). Sometimes mistakes are made (analysed by the coachee and learned from), and I find that kindness and empathy can be powerful ways of supporting a coachee through challenges.These factors can be enhanced by the practical strategies I use, such as helping my coachees stick to our coaching schedule, using a consistent process, and ensuring that I remain reliable.

The knowledge of my own characteristics means that I am conscious of both the benefits and the drawbacks, and can actively tweak, respond and reflect during and after coaching sessions.

What are your characteristics?


Burdett, J. (2005). The listening paradox. Organizational Performance Review, 7-9.


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Don’t let technology disruption disrupt your team: Living with change

This post was written as a guest post for Cyma (a technology and enterprise architecture consultancy), and was originally posted as Living With Change – Don’t let technology disruption disrupt your team on 16th April 2018.

Hazel Owen has been helping Cyma employees with personal development. She supports Cyma to recognise our strengths, alongside collaboration and co-construction, and can help us on our journey to transformation. She also stresses that it takes both leadership and team growth for organisations to realise their vision. Cyma has been using Hazel’s professional expertise in coaching and mentoring and wanted to share it, so we asked her if she was willing to do a guest blog on what she knows best, and well, here you are:

Hazel’s Contribution

At Cyma we talk a lot about how organisations need to be aware of the impact of new technologies on their business, and how they need to change in order to meet the new challenges that they face.  As technologists, it is easy for us to look just at the technology. But organisations are more about people than technology. For any change to be effective it is important to look at the impact on people and how they can support that change. This blog takes a look at how you can do just that.


There are many ways of positively implementing and supporting changes in organisational culture, and much that has been written about them (e.g. Michael B. Goodman, 2017Mehdi

Khosrow-Pour, 2018). In this post, though, I’d like to consider the specific support that people are able to access that em

powers them to make, and own, their own personal and professional shifts.

Change is not a ‘once only occurrence’ that means an organisation is all set for the future. Rather change is part of being responsive in a rapidly changing, global environment where it is almost impossible to keep current, let alone ahead.

In their bid to meet the needs of their clients and customers, many of the organisations that I work with invest majorly in innovation. However, innovation, without an overall shift in culture that recognises that their people need to be comfortable with ongoing change, is likely to be at best, marginally successful.



To grow a culture where change is the new normal requires  “a new environment in which the majority … think in new ways, develop new skills and have new understandings of themselves as professionals” (Bolstad, & Gilbert, 2012, p. 43). It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Sometimes there is an uneasy dichotomy where the current culture of an organisation sits alongside innovations that require people to develop new ideas, approaches, and ways of working that they might feel they didn’t sign up for when they took the job. Also, where a shift in culture is heavily top down, or mainly ‘lip service’, often there is a sense of being ‘done to’. In situations like this, people may feel as though they aren’t being listened to, that their organisational knowledge is not valued, and that the change underway is ‘for the sake of change’. Throw in a new culture where change is an everyday occurrence, and this can send people into a tailspin that can result in anger, stress, and a decision by (often highly talented people) to move on. Alternatively, people can become disengaged, disillusioned, and/or (vocally) negative.



It rolls off the tongue: “a shift in culture“, but what does it actually mean for the people who work in the organisation? People will need to have the skills and mindset to be responsive, while also being comfortable with ambiguity (i.e. the range of factors involved means that there is no clear ‘right or ‘wrong’, but rather a decision needs to be made and evaluated – then tweaked, or abandoned, if necessary).

To support their people through the process of being comfortable with ongoing change, an organisation might decide to include coaching to support the different ways their people work and interact, as well as the way they build relationships with clients and customers.

In a nutshell, any coaching initiative should be:



Coaching can help an organisation’s people identify what’s missing for them – and this might be something that is transactional (a skill set for example), or transformational (delving into what their role and relationships actually mean for them, and how they align with their own values).

Working with a coach encourages a person to unpack their challenges in a safe, confidential partnership that may be “transformative and growth producing” (Stokes, 2011, p. 8). For example, a strong coaching relationship will enable the coach to push back and ask the ‘hard questions’ that encourage the coachee to examine themselves closely, and to develop alternative perspectives (Stokes, 2011). This isn’t always easy or comfortable for the coachee, but when a coach does it well, it results in real changes. Mistakes are likely to be made as part of the process of growth, but these will be seen as opportunities to learn and will feed into future strategies.



Conversations that promote personal and professional growth, need to help a person manage their own progress (including accountability) (ICF, n.d.), often in the shape of setting their own goals. This requires a delicate balance between what a coachee has identified as important for them, and the requirements and values of an organisation (ICF, n.d.). Beyond the practical aspects of goal-setting, research indicates that setting, and evaluating, your own goals play a large part in sustained motivation and ongoing action, even in the face of emerging challenges (Bandura, 1998). The process of associating attainment of stated (valued) goals with self-satisfaction has a direct influence on “how much effort [a person]… expend[s]; how long they persevere in the face of difficulties; and their resilience to failures … [and these contribute]  to performance accomplishments” (Bandura, 1998, p. 75).

For example, in one coaching session a person might do some great work identifying goals that align nicely with an organisation’s focus and big-picture aspirations. They have worked out action points, timeframes, possible blockers, enablers and sources of support. However, at the start of the next session, for a range of reasons, they have not achieved much of what they set out to achieve. This is when it’s important that the coach remains non-judgemental, acknowledges them for what they have achieved, and talks through why the coachee feels they haven’t made (much) progress toward their actions. This could involve reviewing the actions based on what the coachee has learned, or become aware of, since their previous session – and possibly revisiting the relevance of the goals to their role at the organisation. The focus, therefore, is importantly about supporting the coachee to grow skills and strategies are all about their own resilience and self-motivation – including changing, or dropping, their goals if they aren’t working out.



The exciting thing is, when the experience of coaching is spot on, a person can move within an organisation, from a place that feels bleak, to one where, over time, they recognise that the initial situation provided a catalyst for incredible professional growth. However, it also pays to be acutely aware that change – especially in core beliefs and identity (as a professional and as a person) – takes time and energy, and is not comfortable. Patience is required to help ensure ongoing motivation, the celebration of positive growth when it occurs, and at all times the provision of “a mirror… to extend the…[a person’s] self-awareness” (Daloz, 1986, in Stokes, 2011, p. 8).

Over time, once a person has a clearer sense of identity and purpose, they are able to not only take advantage of, but also to recognise, a broader range of possibilities. In addition, they are more likely to be inclusive, open to learning, tolerant, and ready to make the most of change.



When an organisation recognises that, to remain relevant, they need to make change part of the way they ‘do things around here’, coaching can be integrated into the culture. This will not only help people to develop into thought leaders and lifelong learners, but also give the whole organisation a common language and, increasingly, a common mindset that will help ensure they meet ongoing change with confidence…and enthusiasm!

More Information

If you would like to connect with Hazel on LinkedIn click HERE, and if you would like to know more about what Hazel does and use her services feel free to go HERE for more information.



Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).

Bolstad, R. and Gilbert, J., with McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012).   Supporting Future-oriented Learning and Teaching: A New Zealand Perspective. Wellington:   Ministry of Education. Retrieved from

International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). ICF Core Competencies. Retrieved from

Stokes, M. (2011). Mentoring in Education: The Mentor as Critical Friend. Retrieved February 14, 2013 from

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What is a good coaching question?

Questions are part of our everyday lives, and it’s a challenge to communicate without them. If you have ever played those games where you have to communicate without any questions you know what a fundamental role they play. There are many types of questions, each of which has a different purpose, including (but not limited to) probing, elaborating, clarifying, and planning.

Coaching questions tend to have particular characteristics, and a good coaching question has the power to support a coachee in a range of different ways. Well-framed questions can positively stimulate thought, motivate, inspire, and help your coachee recognise their own strengths such that they remain motivated, energised and focussed.

I will now discuss some of the characteristics of a ‘good’ coaching question, but not before emphasising that effective questioning goes hand-in-hand with effective listening.

Effective coaching questions are:

  • Mostly open: Questions that start with, for example, “what”, “how”, or “if” and provide opportunities for a ‘wide’, sometimes surprising, response from the coachee.
  • Focussed on solutions: The coach supports the coachee to explore underpinning  frameworks that are influencing how the coachee considers an issue. The questions help the coachee identify options in a way that expands their thinking and ways of working (e.g. “What would you like to accomplish?”, and “What do you think you need to do to get a result that will work for you (or closer to your goal)?”).
  • Neutral: Do not contain any elements of the coach’s reaction, opinion, or concerns (e.g. “What do you feel?”).
  • Simple, short, clear and one at a time (with plenty of silence and space): Enables the coachee to focus on their thinking and ideas, rather than trying to figure out what the coach has just asked (e.g. “How could you appropriately communicate your point of view with the rest of your team?”). Multiple, rapid-fire questions can also interfere with the flow, and should be avoided.
  • Motivating: Focus on the things a coachee might do to move toward identifying and designing their own strategies and solutions (e.g. “What if you knew the answer? What would it be?”).
  • Have a positive effect on coaching outcomes: Questions that help the the coachee be creative to think of ideas and solutions that they may not otherwise have thought of (e.g. “If anything were possible, what are five possible options? What else?” And “What could you do differently?”).

These questions also map onto coaching roles, although they are not exclusive to those roles. As such, they may involve some of the following:

  • Investigator (knowledge): Who, what, when, where, why, how . . . ? Could you please describe . . . ?
  • Guide (comprehension): Would I be right in thinking…? What did you understand from…?”
  • Neutral inquirer (application): How do you feel X is an example of Y?; How would you say that X is related to Y?; Why do you feel that X is significant in your context?
  • Investigator (analysis): What are the identifiable aspects of . . . ? Would you classify X according to Y?
  • Investigator (synthesis): What are your thoughts around solutions for . . . ? What would you infer from . . . ? What are your additional reactions to . . . ? How might you go about designing a new . . . ? What could happen if you added . . . ?
  • Advisor (evaluation): What do you think about trying . . . ? What is the most important outcome for.. . ? Which would you say are the highest priority for . . . ? What would help you decide to . . . ?

Coaching questions will only really be useful if you try them out. This will provide you with opportunities to reflect on whether you felt your questions were well put together, and if they positively impacted the way your coachee was thinking. You should also consider if any of your questions were not really suitable for coaching (such as those that are closed, leading, contain your opinion, are multi-parted or wordy and difficult to understand). Effective questions are key to a coaching relationship; however, being able to craft a good question takes practice. The more you actively listen, and the more you hone your questioning skills, the more powerful the experience will be for both you and your coachee.

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The benefits of coaching and mentoring: A range of perspectives

I often find myself pondering why coaching and mentoring are so powerful. When I am being coached the fact that someone is listening so intently, and asking questions that in turn … even though I know they are part of a coach’s tool box … help me dig deeper than when I ask myself the same questions. I am not the most extroverted person around, but still have a deep appreciation of the ‘gift’ of someone else’s time and care.

Well, that’s my perspective, and I know there are many others!

A while back, Rick Whalley and I decided to find out a bit more about what people felt the benefits of being coached and/or mentored are. So, we surveyed, as part of coaching professional development sessions we were facilitating, some of the people with whom we were working to see what:

1) They thought the benefits of working with a coach or mentor were;

2) Why they might be motivated to coach or mentor someone; and

3) What they thought the key attributes of an effective coach or mentor were.

Below are some of the responses, mainly in the original words of the respondents. (NB Where responses were similar they have not been included). I hope you will agree, they are pretty interesting.


  • Strengthen and / or challenge my personal views and ideas
  • Different perspectives from someone who is interested in me
  • Access support to change practice
  • Social support
  • Download / discuss issues with someone who is not a manager, partner, or colleague
  • Guidance
  • Help develop skills and knowledge about my orgnisation
  • Inspiration
  • Encouragement
  • Someone to run things by (critical friend)
  • Affirm that I am on the right track
  • Someone invested in my learning
  • Sharing and pooling ideas with an expert / experienced progressional in the field
  • Idea sharing
  • Articulate goals and have someone keep me on track with the goals
  • Find solutions to problems
  • Share strategies that have worked
  • Growth (mutual self discovery)
  • Strengthen and develop skills
  • Specific – e.g. ‘promotions’
  • Open new doors
  • Benefit from the institutional + personal experience + knowledge of others
  • Development of capabilities and dispositions
  • Community / relationship building

The 24 key benefits are pretty wide ranging, and illustrate the fact that people see mentoring and/or coaching as achieving different things. Some of the key themes that jumped out for Rick and I are, within a ‘safe’ partnership, being able to share (issues, ideas, aspirations, and work in progress) and in the process developing as a person and a professional. Wrapped into this, for some people, is accountability, which helps motivate them to stay on track.

While there is nothing new in the 24 benefits, it is a useful snapshot of where the thinking is around coaching and mentoring, and maybe – if you don’t already have a coach – be the catalyst for you to seek one out.

Why coach or mentor?

The other part of the partnership is ‘doing’ the coaching and/or mentoring, and these are some of the responses.

  • Help others achieve above what they thought was possible
  • Support someone to realise their potential
  • To help people find their own paths through discussion and support
  • To give something back / help someone else
  • Share our experiences with likeminded other / next generation
  • Learning is two way and I can always benefit from a coachee or mentee
  • Enjoy co-creating and collaborating, especially in developing best practice
  • Enjoy people
  • Inspire / share ideas
  • Give a new perspective to others
  • Help someone through the process of self-discovery
  • See how others grow
  • Communicating in a respectful space
  • We learn powerfully when we coach or mentor others

The stand-out themes that came through for Rick and I were the enjoyment of the reciprocal nature of a coaching and/or mentoring partnership, as well as the fundamental ‘feel good’ aspect of supporting someone to grow personally and professionally.

If anything resonates for you, maybe it’s time for you to look into opportunities to do some coaching and mentoring 🙂


The final responses were to do with the attributes people felt were essential in a mentor and / or coach, and, by implication, what they would look for in their own mentor/coach and within themselves.

  • Humility
  • Dependable
  • Listener
  • Questioner
  • Reflective (lateral)
  • Self-knowledge
  • Neutral
  • Non-judgemental
  • Passion for learning
  • Experienced
  • Empathetic
  • Approachable

There are a wide range of perceptions of what coaching and mentoring is and can provide, and the results from this informal survey align with some of the formal research that is out there.

The responses have prompted Rick and I to ask ourselves, as well as some of our clients:

  • What is already underway in your organisation?
  • What could professional learning look and feel like if it were all underpinned by a coaching and mentoring approach?
  • What would you add to the lists?

Your thoughts…?


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Two things essential for coaching

microscopeWhile under discussion between coaching theorists and practitioners, there are some core competencies that most will agree contribute to being an effective coach. These core competencies are the ‘things a coach does’ before, during and after a coaching session, and comprise coaching knowledge, skills, attitude and behaviour (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.).

Active listening

I’d like to focus on two competencies that I feel are possibly the most challenging. The first is listening (ICF, n.d.). The ability to listen involves the related skills of active listening and questioning. Active listening also has many different interpretations, but essentially includes three aspects: comprehending, retaining and responding. Going hand-in-hand with active listening is questioning. Questions are part of our everyday lives, and we can’t really communicate without them. Question types that are common include, probing, elaborating, hypothetical, clarification, planning and strategic.

The tough part is being fully ‘there’ while your coachee is speaking, so that you are listening for what is and isn’t being said. You also need to be able to understand what is meant within the wider context of your coachee’s aspirations – while also choosing powerful questions to help your coachee express themselves and dig deeper into their area of focus.

Sometimes active listening will require a coach to leave space for their coachee to download what’s on top, without passing judgement or making comment (ICF, n.d.). Imagine working with someone with whom you have developed a strong professional relationship, such that you care a lot about their welfare. They then share a situation in their professional or personal life that is affecting them deeply. You have to be able to listen while keeping your own opinions firmly off the table, and to hear what is being said, as well as intuiting the ‘gaps’. You then need to be able to summarise, paraphrase, reiterate, and mirror back (ICF, n.d.) what your coachee has said, and follow up with questions to help them break from a loop of negative reflection so that they can work toward next steps.

Sometimes supporting the coachee to move forward may require finding just the right questions to support them to break from the narrative running through their head. The conversation can help them recognise, for instance, implications within their current situation for their own values, beliefs and goals. It is likely to involve bringing the coachee to the point where they identify what they feel is important, what is and is not possible, and to support their exploration of their own perceptions and concerns, while possibly helping them identify alternatives. Ideally, by the end of the session(s) the way forward should be owned by the coachee, who should feel heard, supported, positive, and comfortable about the next steps they have chosen to take.

This is a big ask, and requires empathy rather than sympathy. The coach has to remain as neutral as they can (non-judgemental) and to constantly check whose agenda is being served by the questions they are posing.

Help with managing progress

The second core competency I feel is tricky, and which is linked to the first one, is to help a coachee manage their own progress (including accountability) (ICF, n.d.). Within this competency is a need to delicately balance attention on what a coachee has identified as important for them, while also leaving responsibility with the coachee to take action (ICF, n.d.).

For example, during a coaching session it may be that there has been some great work identifying steps toward your coachee’s stated goals and big-picture aspirations. Your coachee has identified specific action points, considered possible blockers, enablers and sources of support, and put a timeframe around everything. They even ask if they can text you once they have carried out key actions as they feel it will help keep them on track. You receive one text, and then nothing. At the start of your next session you ask about how things are going in relation to the actions that were identified. Then, remaining non-judgemental, you acknowledge them for what they have achieved, and talk through why the coachee feels they haven’t made progress toward their actions. This could involve reviewing the actions based on what the coachee has learned, or become aware of, since your previous session.

The focus, therefore, while helping the coachee remain on track and ensuring an ongoing sense of positivity, is more importantly about helping them build the skills and strategies to be resilient and self-motivated, such that they carry through with what they say they are going to do, within the time frames they have put in place.

These are both competencies that it takes time and experience to hone, and remaining self-reflective as a coach will help develop them. The exciting thing is, when it’s spot on, the coachee can move from a place that seems bleak, to one where, over time, they recognise that the initial situation provided a catalyst for incredible professional growth.


International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). ICF Core Competencies. Retrieved from

Southern Institute of Technology. (n.d.) Transformational Coaching and its outcomes (Module A) [Lecture notes]. Retrieved from CBC105 (NET).


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