What is Transformational Coaching?

We define transformational coaching as:

“Transformational coaching seeks to bring about increased awareness of the a person’s model of the world in order to create new possibilities for how one sees oneself, other people and the world.”

Over the last few years, there has been increasing recognition that different kinds of coaching have fundamentally different intentions that drive the nature of the conversation.

Whilst there are many approaches to coaching and many styles, it has generally become established that there are essentially three kinds of coaching. These are:

  • Performance Coaching
  • Developmental Coaching
  • Transformative Coaching

Each is distinctive in its underlying intention.

A performance coach’s main intention is to help the client towards agreed outcomes and to achieve this more efficiently and effectively than if the client didn’t work with the coach.

A developmental coach broadens the coaching to explore what learning the client takes from the coaching and the change that takes place. The fundamental intention is to create learning from action.

A transformational coach could be said to work “deeper”. Their focus is on helping the client explore the underlying assumptions, beliefs, values, expectations, personal attitudes that shape their experience of themselves, their world and other people. Of course, this is not an unfocused exploration. It starts with the client’s presenting challenge, issue or aspiration but rather than focusing purely on resolving or achieving this, it seeks to explore what is at the heart of this whilst also enabling, where relevant, the achievement of the objectives.

Each type of coaching has its time and place. If a coach were to work with a client on a goal such as to increase sales in their business by 20%, it is likely that performance coaching would be the natural approach. But if the same business owner started to question the meaning of their business and became disenchanted, bored or frustrated, it is likely that a performance approach simply wouldn’t bring to the light the issues at play. Transformational coaching would be a better response to this client.

As a coach, this does not mean you need to be one or the other of these. You may choose to work across all three modes of coaching according to client needs. Alternatively, you may have such a strong preference for a way of working that you focus on gaining the clients that need your style of coaching. For instance, the performance coach would choose to work with clients who have relatively straightforward, action-oriented issues, the developmental coach would seek clients who want to grow within a role, and the transformational coach would work with clients whose issues were more complex and the result of their ways of thinking, being and relating.

To make the distinction between these three ways of coaching clearer, let’s take an example of how one coaching issue might be approached in each style:

Let’s imagine a client wants to be coached on managing their team more effectively. They notice that they have some difficult relationships with their colleagues – that the team isn’t performing well and they are feeling stressed and anxious.

The performance coach is likely to take an approach that sets a goal for what a high-functioning team looks like and then help the client to decide behaviours, conversations, and tasks that they can do. The expectation would be that the client would then go and do these things and then together they would review performance until the client achieved the outcome or the contract came to an end.

The developmental coach would take a somewhat different approach. They might start with the same goal-setting approach but much of the work would focus on what the client is learning along the way. What are their lessons from their new behaviours, what worked and what didn’t and what this means to the client. A great outcome would be not simply the goal achievement but that the client learned how to be more effective in similar situations and thus grew their capacity as a manager.

The transformational coach might similarly start with goal-setting and a sense of the ideal outcome. The work would progress differently, however, in that the coach would help the client explore what their current set of assumptions, beliefs, and values were as they reveal themselves through the way they talk about the issue. Thus the coach might help the client to notice how they had an assumption that people should share their values, and that when people seemed to have different values it caused poor communication. In other words, the transformational coach is working at the level of root-cause of the presenting challenge.

It should be said that these three approaches are not separated by anything like clear divisions. The coach is always responding to the client and their needs as they show up. Rather, it is that the coach has a particular lens of inquiry. It is also worth noting that the transformational coach is more likely to have the skills to flow across all three approaches, whereas the performance coach is unlikely to have developed the skills that would allow for transformational inquiry.

Transformational coaching is still in its early stages as coaching emerges from its earlier limited focus on performance and skills-development. Animas is at the cutting edge of developing this field of work and of training, supporting and supervising coaches to work at this level.