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Knowing Why Coaching Works: It Matters

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The benefit of a scientific approach for coaching is that we accelerate learning, adapt learning processes to diverse populations of learners and expand the scope of impact possible across diverse populations of clients. The ICF accreditation and credentialing systems provide a framework for curriculum standards and associated assessment approaches that invite coaches to demonstrate their knowledge of coaching and practical grasp of coaching skills and behaviors. High client satisfaction and the adoption of coaching interventions by individuals and organizations of all sizes suggest that what we are doing works. Yet, how do we know for sure without a scientific discipline?

The point here is not to determine whether coaching works; we know that it does all over the globe. Rather, it’s that a commitment to systematically understanding why coaching works, which interventions are best suited to specific clients domains and contexts, how to best support and accelerate coaches’ development (e.g., reflective practice, mentor coaching and coaching supervision), and what hinders achieving sustained, positive impact with clients is essential in order to improve education, training and, ultimately, the health of the field over time.

Achieving a disciplined science of coaching at this stage of evolution is one of the most exciting frontiers in our field of practice and is a critical step toward recognition of coaching as a profession. Without exception, a field of practice must submit to disciplined observation, analysis and interpretation on this journey. While we have seen the body of coaching research expand exponentially within the last decade thanks to the effort of a pioneering group of researchers and practitioners, a disciplined science of coaching can only take shape with the processes of coach training and education as its foundation. The foundational knowledge supporting an understanding at which coaching behaviors are and aren’t effective is central to consistent efficacy in practice, and the coach-training environment provides a laboratory for this. The result will be a virtuous circle, whereby our enhanced understanding of the science of coaching informs education and training to sustain continued excellence and stimulate further useful innovation.

In practical terms, the journey of becoming a coach is as much an unlearning as a learning process. Understanding this scientifically will allow greater clarity and congruence for coach trainers and educators. Ways of listening for understanding, engaging in conversation to get a point across, being curious to seek information, and being direct in order to establish a clear request or call to action are all skills learned at one or more points in an individual’s professional career. Every one of these skills transforms in coaching. Coaches listen to recognize what is meaningful for the client, engage to invite a client to deeper awareness, ask questions that evoke, and challenge clients to declare chosen actions and decisions.

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