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What do you mean, when you say “coaching”?


When it comes to advising on good leadership practices, in safety or other areas, we often hear and read about “coaching” and that it is the method or style to be preferred.


When digging a bit deeper, e.g. by reading the full article or more by the same authors, it remains unclear, what the actual advice is. It seems, when the term “coaching” is used, it predominantly refers to having a nice chat, certainly not being rude and loud and doing a bit less of commanding and instructing, or if needed, instruct and tell in a smoother way. No doubt, a good move into the right direction, e.g. when trying to leave the carrot & stick approach.


However, I very much feel, that using the term without really dealing with the details of what “coaching” really is, prevents us from seeing the wonderful, magic and amazing potential of “real” coaching skills and techniques. And even more, when the loudest critics of modern safety concepts (safety differently, safety II etc.) claim to “coach” their folks, whilst still being focused to fix the “people problem”, it actually makes me angry, since doing coaching based on this attitude is impossible!


Willing to dig a little bit deeper in “coaching”? When studying the most common definitions* of coaching by Sir John Whitmore, Tim Gallwey, Eric Parsloe or the International Coaching federation, they all seem to have in common the following:


Coaching is

  • Unlocking & maximizing Potential

  • Creating Learning, rather than teaching

  • Improving and maximizing Performance


So, there is obviously no place in coaching to convince someone of what someone else wants. Also not when doing it nicely. In coaching people are not the problem to control, but the solution to harness. In coaching people are seen as being full of potential and the only resource to overcome obstacles and challenges and to increase their performance. And when we are coaching, our only focus is to support and help others to learn, by raising their awareness and generating their responsibility, for the benefit of their development and well-being. Which also means, that a coaching conversation, although coming from a strictly positive and optimistic mindset, might be anything but nice, since it might be rather challenging at times which will feel sometimes awkward or uncomfortable. There is also no place for judgements in coaching. Finding something good or bad, it doesn’t matter at all, and it is not the coach’s job to do so. Sounds weird, especially when coaching in safety?


Well, I had the pleasure to find myself sitting in a coaching class more than six years ago, 2 days long. As it turned out, I had no idea, of what coaching really is. I had no idea what great things it can do to me. I had no idea, what great impact I can have on others, even when I only tried to use some of the new skills, that I have learnt in only 2 days. Since then I had the chance to train, improve and implement my skills, with many successes and an enjoyment unheard of. I then had the opportunity to train hundreds of individuals with the objective to add these beautiful techniques and skills to their leadership toolbox and how to integrate them in their safety work. And, by all respect, not one of them only had a rough idea of what coaching really is, before we kicked off our joint learning journey. But most of them were open for something totally new to them … and they learned to coach.


This is nothing else than a plea for coaching and its use in the world of safety. And even more, it is a plea for the conscious use of the term “coaching”, since when used inappropriately, it overshadows the great potential it has and makes it look like a commodity, whilst it is pure luxury to be able coach or to be coached. Please take care of this golden nugget out there and handle it with care and the respect it deserves. Coaching is more than coaching.


So here is my advice for good leadership practices, especially in safety: Do not claim you coach, when you are not, and when you do not really know what it is. Instead, be curious about what it really is and what it can do, to you and others. Read a book about coaching (“Coaching for Performance” might be a good start), register for a coaching program or ask your learning & development experts to offer trainings for your leaders. Here is my promise: You will never regret it!


“Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” (International Coaching Federation – ICF)


“Coaching is a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve.” (Eric Parsloe, 1999)


"Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them learn rather than teaching them" (Sir John Whitmore, 1992)


“The individual’s internal obstacles are often more daunting than external ones, therefore what is more important is the individual’s own learning, rather than teaching from an external source.” (Timothy Gallwey, 1986)


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