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Setting coachees up for success – Part 2 – Developing coachees’ self-coaching capacity

In general, coaching is perceived as being about learning and human growth, resulting in sustainable behavioural change and enhanced personal effectiveness for the coachee. Yet, because we live in a constantly changing environment, a key challenge is posed for coaching practitioners; this being, how do coaches help people to sustain their changes and to adapt in times of increasing uncertainty and ambiguity? This article explores how coaches can develop their coachees’ self-coaching capacity to foster sustainable change and adaptability.

The definition and purpose of coaching

Definitions of coaching tend to group around learning and development linked to performance improvement or personal growth – based on the coachee’s needs. In addition to these type of coaching outcomes, there are definitions of coaching which also place emphasis on the coaching process needing to foster the on-going self-directed learning of the coachee in order to facilitate sustainable change, as follows:

  • Grant (2001, p. 8) defines coaching in the workplace, whether for executives or non-executives, as “a solution-focused, result-orientated systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance and the self-directed learning and personal growth of the coachee”.
  • Peterson (2006, p. 52) states “In addition to changing behaviour, the second purpose of coaching is to enable people to be better learners – by enhancing their self-guided learning.”
  • According to Flaherty (2006, p. 5), “Coaches have to address both a short- and a long-term view. Short-term in the sense that they must support their clients in reaching their goals, but long-term in the sense that the client will always have more challenges later and must be left competent to deal with these situations as they arise…” Flaherty, therefore, views self-generation and self-correction as products of coaching which the coach must drive for.

What emerges from the above is that there are two purposes of coaching; firstly, the attainment of the client’s goals or outcomes and secondly, some form of learning or self-coaching capacity for sustainability. In our experience, and based on research, it appears that this second purpose of coaching may be overlooked, or not explicitly focused on by coaches and coaching providers – and is not generally expected by coachees and client organisations.

The meaning of self-coaching capacity (SCC)

Self-coaching implies the ability to coach oneself, independently of a “facilitative partner” such as a coach. More specifically, SCC may be viewed as the ability to have a coaching conversation with oneself, which includes the application of coaching skills and techniques learned during the coaching process – so leading to reflection, awareness and choice of response to situations or on-going life challenges. Reflection, therefore, appears to lie at the heart of SCC, which implies that developing reflective capability is essential for developing SCC.

How coaches approach the development of coachees’ self-coaching capacity during coaching

A key finding of Bennett’s study (2010) of SA executive coaches’ approach to developing their coachees’ SCC was that different coaches have different approaches to the development of SCC as part of their coaching process – with their approach being informed by their own coach training/education and personal beliefs. Essentially there are those coaches who develop SCC more explicitly as an additional outcome of the coaching process, whilst others view it as being developed more implicitly through the coaching process. The key features of these two approaches are outlined in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Coaches’ different approaches to developing self-coaching capacity (SCC)


Even though it is acknowledged that some SCC transfers implicitly through the coaching process, what is the quality of this capacity? We believe that making it a more explicit focus within the coaching process will promote the development of a more effective, robust and resourceful quality of SCC – so enabling coachees to be more adaptive in a constantly changing environment.

Guidelines for coaches on how to explicitly develop coachees’ SCC during coaching

  • When agreeing on coaching outcomes with a coachee, also contract for developing SCC as an additional, secondary outcome. This will put SCC on the radar screen and help to ensure that it is focused on throughout the coaching process.
  • Explain the purpose of the SCC outcome, what SCC actually means and how the coachee will benefit from developing this capacity.
  • Consciously make more of the coaching process and the techniques explicit to your coachees, so they learn how to use these for themselves.
  • Suggest that your coachees observe you as a coach, for example, how you ask questions and what type of questions you ask. Also, encourage your coachees to ask these questions of themselves because this is essential for shifting one’s awareness or perspective. Ellison (2009) identified that her clients regarded certain of the coach’s questions, the style of questioning and repetition of the language used in doing this – as enabling the development of SCC. This indicates the significance of the questions that coaches ask, and perhaps the need for the coach to make explicit the rationale for asking certain questions.
  • Make explicit the experiential learning cycle (underpinning your coaching process), as a means of developing SCC. Help your coachees to understand this so they learn to move through the process themselves. It is important to explain how reflection on experience, leads to awareness and learning, and then to the application of that learning, resulting in choices, decisions and planned actions.
  • Develop your coachee’s reflective capability as it is the foundation of SCC and is not a natural skill for most people. For example, after taking your coachee through some meaningful reflective conversation and questioning, make explicit to your coachee what you did and why – and how this led to the coachee’s insights and learning.
  • Encourage your coachees to journal in between coaching sessions to develop their reflective practice and capability. Be sure to explain how to journal, using a more structured approach (e.g. using a set of questions as prompts). This is a key way of getting coachees to practise the process of reflection in a structured way to develop their reflective capability – which is key to SCC. Jackson (2004, p.63) suggests that “structured reflection, through the effect of rehearsal, creates a more accessible habit or capability of reflection.”
  • Hold your coachees accountable to their agreed actions between coaching sessions, and follow up on these in the next session. Griffiths (2009) refers to the role of the coach in holding their clients accountable to learning and getting them to apply their learning through action – as this assists the client to integrate their learning, to take responsibility and start self-coaching.
  • Encourage and assist your coachees to adopt a coaching approach in the conversation with relevant others e.g. their team, colleagues or clients. Get them to share their learning from this with you.
  • Monitor and review the progress made with your client in developing SCC alongside the primary coaching outcomes you are working towards. Notice when your coachee has demonstrated SCC (or key aspects of it such as reflective capability) by listening for it in your coachee’s sharing of experiences and giving you feedback on what has happened in between the coaching sessions.  Is your coachee using self-coaching language e.g. “when I reflected on that incident, I realised that….” or “when reading some of my notes in my journal, I noticed a trend that I was  … , so I decided to ….”.   Be sure to acknowledge and affirm your coachees’ use of self-coaching skills, so they build their awareness of this and appreciate the value of doing so.
  • When ending the coaching relationship spend some time on how your coachees will be “their own coach” going forward, based on what was learned from the coaching and from developing SCC. Help your coachees to anticipate or visualise certain challenging events (e.g. an unexpected organisational change) and to see themselves using SCC to assist them to work through these.


If you are a coach and believe in the importance of fostering independence and empowerment of your coachees, then explicitly developing your coachees’ self-coaching capacity during coaching is one way of enabling this. Does this mean that coachees will never need coaching again? Definitely not. Some coachees might have a preference for talking to somebody or working with someone – be it a coach or some other professional. And even though self-coaching capacity will assist your coachees with many of life’s on-going challenges, there may be some major change, transition or challenge when a person would want to enter into a coaching relationship again, possibly with a different coach.


Bennett, K.(2010) “Executive coaches’ experience of developing their clients’ self-coaching capacity”. A project submitted to Middlesex University for the degree of Masters in Work Based Learning Studies (Professional Coaching)

Ellison, R. (2009). Seeking to explore and understand self-coaching and its potential impact from an individual client perspective. Work-based research project. [Online]. Available from:  [Accessed 14th Nov 2009]

Flaherty, J. (2006). Coaching: Evoking excellence in others. (2nd Ed).Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann

Grant, A.M. (2001). Towards a psychology of coaching. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 23rd August 2009]

Griffiths, K. (2009). Discovering, applying and integrating: The process of learning in coaching. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. Vol. 7, No.2, p.16-30

Jackson, P. (2004) Understanding the experience of experience: a practical model of reflective practice for coaching.  International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. Vol.2, No. 1, p.57- 67

Peterson, D. B. (2006). “People Are Complex and the World Is Messy: A Behaviour-Based Approach to Executive Coaching.” In D. Stober & A. Grant (Eds) Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Penny Abbott and Kathy Bennett are the authors of “A guide for Coachees: How to optimise your personal coaching journey”, published in March 2011 by Knowledge Resources and available from their online bookstore –

Contact the authors through 082 566 8074 or

Author/s: Penny Abbott and Kathy Bennett  |  ISBN: 9781869221751  |  Publish Date: 11 Mar

Penny Abbott is a founding Partner and Director of MDQ Associates (previously known as Clutterbuck Associates South Africa), a leading consultancy in the support of organisations’ coaching and mentoring programmes. She has a PhD from the University of Johannesburg in Human Resource Management, and M. Phil from the University of Johannesburg in Human Resource Development.

Kathy Bennett is an independent Organisation Development consultant leadership coach. She has a PhD in Coaching from USB-ED, an MA (Professional Coaching) from Middlesex University, an MBL (UNISA), an MA (Professional Coaching) from Middlesex University and  is a faculty member of the business school of the University of Stellenbosch (USB-ED), involved in their Certificate and Masters (M Phil) coaching programmes. 

[This article was originally published in Human Capital Review, 2011]