Institution news

What is coaching?

Ann-Marie Barlow, IMechE Coach, Learning & Development

...time and space to think a challenge through
...time and space to think a challenge through

Coaching is often cited as a valuable personal development tool — but what is it, and what are the benefits?

Coaching is a non-directive approach to personal development. The key to successful coaching is for the coachee to have time and space to think a challenge through - often resulting in an ‘aha!’ moment.

Here are some examples of coaching challenges:

  • I feel like I am an imposter. I do not deserve this role and I feel like I am waiting to be found out.
  • I am struggling with an inter-personal relationship. I know I need to work on this relationship, but I do not know how to move this forward positively.
  • I want to progress in my career but I am not sure where to focus my energy.

What you can expect from coaching

Coaching sessions should be tailored to the coachee. So how the session is structured will depend on what you want to work on.

Powerful questions

Powerful questions can help you to take a pause and really think deeply about an issue. Here is an example of a powerful coaching question — in this case for a coachee who is worried about public speaking:

  • If you knew everyone in the room had the same insecurity, how would that change your outlook?


Coaching is also about trying to get to the root cause of your challenge, and sometimes that cannot be answered in a question alone. That is why coaches have a toolkit of techniques to apply to various situations. Here is an example of a technique used to figure out where your energy is right now — and where you need it to be:
Emotion Energy Matrix Emotion Energy Matrix

Taking action

Coaching is not limited to the time you have with your coach. Sometimes the real work can happen between sessions — once you have had time to settle your thoughts and start to work on your plan of action.

Here is an example of an action a client took away when he wanted to work on a difficult professional relationship:

  • Find 20 examples of how this person (the person you are struggling with) is doing a good job.

By bringing that challenge to the forefront of their mind, the coachee is likely to focus on seeing more positive examples of this person. Left unchecked, people can start to form confirmation bias (unconsciously looking for examples to prove and justify their negative perception of this person.)

So, what are the benefits?

For the employee

For the business

  • Adapting to change. Did you know that 70% of change programmes fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance?* Coaching gives employees and managers time and space to process, and think about how they are going to adapt to change (source: McKinsey & Company).
  • Engaged employees. Research has shown us that the outcomes of coaching play a pivotal role in helping organisations achieve their people strategies, in particular, leadership development and employee engagement.
  • Increase in performance and productivity. 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment on coaching and more (source: ICF 2009).

Further reading…

If you would like to do a bit more reading, here’s an excellent article from Harvard Business Review: ‘What Can Coaches Do for You?

Next steps

Find out more about how the Institution’s coaches can help you by visiting or contacting us at


Professional Engineering magazine

Professional Engineering app

  • Industry features and content
  • Engineering and Institution news
  • News and features exclusive to app users

Download our Professional Engineering app

Professional Engineering newsletter

A weekly round-up of the most popular and topical stories featured on our website, so you won't miss anything

Subscribe to Professional Engineering newsletter

Opt into your industry sector newsletter

Related articles