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September 10

An Understanding of Coaching in Asia

The coaching industry has grown tremendously in the last few years. As of 2019, the estimated global total revenue from coaching was USD2.8 billion, a 21% increase over the 2015 estimate. According to ICF Global Coaching Study, there were 71,000 trained professional coach practitioners globally in 2019. Sixty-one percent of these coaches were based in North America and Western Europe. This number excludes managers or leaders who apply coaching skills and approaches in the workplace. While the market size of the coaching industry still trails that of some other therapeutic modalities, its growth potential is enormous for its applicability across many aspects. Unfortunately, here in Asia, coaching has not gained traction as quickly as in the Western world.

State of Coaching in Asia

Asia accounted for barely 4.4% of the global total revenue from coaching, a far cry from the 45.5% in North America and 32.2% in Western Europe. Similarly, the number of trained professional coach practitioners in Asia was 4,600, making up 6.5% of the global total. 1 Compared to the Western world, coaching is still considered to be in a relatively nascent stage when it comes to the number of professional coaches and prevalence of coaching services.

Challenges to the Growth of the Coaching Industry in Asia

Some factors contribute to the slow take off of coaching in Asia. They include:

  1. Loose definition of coaching — Coaching as a term is being used loosely by many, not all of whom have gone through formal coach training or are applying coaching principles to their practice. The variation in quality of services received, all purportedly termed as coaching, gives the profession a bad name and contributes to the skepticism general public may have of coaching. Trained coaching professionals end up being discredited when viewed as a collective with those others who have not been properly trained to provide coaching.

  2. Incorrect beliefs of coaching — Coaching is not well understood in Asia, which partially explains why perceptions of individuals who seek coaching in Asia is less positive than that in the West. Westerners consider it normal to seek coaching for personal development and growth, but Asians consider it necessary only for those with a problem that makes them dysfunctional. The perception that only those who are dysfunctional needs to be coached limits the pool of individuals who are stepping forward to experience the impact coaching can bring to them and their lives. To complicate matters, fear of judgment can be an impeding force as well. Correcting the wrong beliefs is necessary to expand the impact of coaching on communities in Asia.

  3. Price of service deemed unjustified — Even for those who may have properly understood how coaching works and have accepted it as a professional service, they may still find the cost of this service too high and unjustified. Interestingly, many in Asia are willing to fork out money on commodities and treatment of physical illness but show greater reluctance when it comes to addressing internal personal issues. A broader cultural shift in attitudes towards self-help professions is needed to raise the profile of coaching and achieve greater appreciation of its value.

Common Misconceptions of Coaching

Despite the existence of a formal body to certify qualified coaches, doubts continue to exist over the efficacy of coaching and how exactly it works. Most of these apprehensions can be addressed, to some extent, by examining the misconceptions people commonly have of coaching.

Misconception 1: The best coaches give me advice or solutions to help me with my problems

A lot of individuals turn to coaching for getting advice on their current issues, in a bid to obtain solutions from the coach. When individuals set out with such intentions, they tend to seek coaches who are particularly experienced in the area for which they would like to seek coaching on. For instance, someone facing difficulties with making a career transition into the banking industry may dismiss coaches who do not have a banking background from their considered list of coach candidates.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your views on this), a coach does not provide advice or solutions. What a coach does is to guide the client to uncover the solution on his or her own, whatever that solution may look like for him or her. The underlying principle in coaching is that no one but the individual concerned is best positioned to decide on the best path forward for his or her (presenting and underlying) issue. This concept empowers the clients to use their strengths to find their way out of their situation.

A natural question that people may have when they learnt that coaches do not provide advice or solutions will be “What value does a coach then bring to the table that their friends or family members cannot already provide?” A good coach should be equipped with astute active listening skills and are able to ask open questions that challenge the thinking of clients who are stuck in their situation. The ability to empathise and be non-judgmental are also highly valued traits of a good coach.

Misconception 2: You cannot coach someone older than you or who is going through something you have never experienced before yourself

During challenging times, we are mostly likely to turn to someone older than us or who has walked the same path as us for guidance and advice. Understandably so! Why would anyone turn to a more junior person for life wisdom? The catch here is that a good coach should not be leading a client to a solution they think is the best, which is why having a coach who has never gone through a similar situation as you can be even better than a coach older than you or with a similar background and experience. A coach who has never experienced the same situation as a client is more likely to remain neutral and less likely to project their personal unconscious biases into the coaching session. Instead of setting arbitrary criteria for what a good coach should have in terms of life experience, clients should focus themselves on the chemistry and comfort level they have with a prospective coach in deciding whether to commit to a coaching engagement. Ultimately, coaching is a learned skill that can be applied across situations. Its efficacy does not depend on the specific context of a presenting issue, which brings us to our next point.

Misconception 3: My coach is responsible for the success of the coaching relationship and achievement of my coaching outcomes

The role of a coach is to facilitate the coaching conversation in a way that helps the client to pivot and gain new insights. The onus of thinking through the questions posed by the coach and looking within themselves for the answers is on the client. An effective partnership is one in which the coach does not shy away from asking the client tough, but important, questions and the client feels comfortable opening up to the coach without holding back. This partnership determines the success of the coaching relationship and whether it leads to the achievement of the coaching outcomes set at the start of each session and across the engagement. A healthy partnership should be one where the coach and coachee are both giving 100% of themselves and the relationship is balanced. An overly engaged client can be as much of an issue as a disengaged client. Sign of an overly engaged client can include dependency on the coach whom they hold in an extremely high regard, whereas a disengaged client usually presents as being distracted and uninterested in the coaching session.

Misconception 4: Smart people do not need to be coached

People often have preconceived notions of the profile of individuals who need and seek coaching. A common assumption is that smart people do not need to be coached as they can think through their issues and are good at independent problem solving. The sad truth is that no one is perfect. Even the brightest individuals can be blindsided when confronting their issues. This is when someone needs a coach to step in. A coach helps to challenge assumptions, uncover blind spots, explore different angles to approaching an issue and open up new possibilities for individuals who struggle to address their issues on their own.

On that note, it should be mentioned that even coaches themselves can benefit from being coached by other coaches! As humans, coaches will also have their own biases and be prone to be led by their emotions when confronting situations that may benefit from considering more than a single aspect. In addition, there are many different coaching specialties, such as relationship coaching, health and wellness coaching, life coaching and executive coaching. A health and wellness coach may still seek a relationship coach to improve their existing interpersonal relationships. Similarly, a life coach may reach out to a fellow life coach for their personal issues that can benefit from an accountability partner.

As more and more people in Asia gain a better understanding of coaching and embrace coaching as a modality to achieve personal growth, the size of the coaching industry in Asia is bound to grow more rapidly in the coming years.

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