17. March 2021

Coaching – helping people to help themselves

Looking at a problem from a distance, focusing and finding your own answers to personal and professional challenges. That is coaching - an important element in our continuing education programmes. Tanja Widemann, Law and Management and Markus Seitz, Executive MBA discuss the contents of coaching from two different perspectives and provide insight as to why coaching is gaining in importance, why coaching is relevant at the top management level and what status coaching has in our Executive School continuing education programmes.

What is coaching?

Tanja Widemann: Coaching is a professional guidance and support of a person, the coachee, by the coach. The coach asks specific questions and helps the coachee to find his or her own answers to questions, to recognise goals more clearly, to make decisions or to be able to solve problems independently. All revolves around understanding oneself. Questions from different perspectives are used to crystallise the coachee’s concerns. The coach does not give recommendations or hints about a possible solution.

Markus Seitz: Coaching is a two-way process between coach and coachee that takes place at eye level and with shared responsibility. This is linked to a positive view of human beings that is based on autonomy and the ability to act and make decisions on one’s own behalf. A person can act autonomously and knows how to make decisions on his or her own. This is the biggest difference between coaching and counselling. Coaching does not take away the decision, but raises the right questions and thus helps to clarify and consciously make decisions.


What does a coach have to be particularly good at?

Tanja Widemann: A coach should listen calmly and carefully, and ask a wide variety of questions at the right time. This also includes irritating and upsetting questions that open up new perspectives and help the coachee to look at habitual points of view in a more differentiated way.

Markus Seitz: The most important skills of a coach are active listening, putting oneself at the service of the coachee’s needs and goals, being able to build a resilient relationship of trust, mastering professional tools of questioning techniques and process design, following the coachee’s pace and finally also being able to complete the coaching process and let go of the coachee.


What do you have to pay particular attention to in coaching?

Markus Seitz: Coaching is time-limited, resource- and solution-oriented. The course for a successful coaching process is set by a clear clarification of the goal and the division of roles between coach and coachee. The coachee brings everything he/she needs for his/her next steps. The coach should not take decisions or give advice.

Tanja Widemann: Systemic coaching looks at the relationships between different people and systems to better understand ways of acting and connections. As a result, these can be questioned, adapted and changed. This helps the coachee to leave deadlocked paths and to recognise one’ own patterns as well as new possibilities.


How and when can coaching provide added value to a leader?

Tanja Widemann: One example is leadership coaching. It helps to build a solid foundation of leadership skills, effective behaviours and creates confidence in one’s own abilities. It empowers the growth of leadership skills, enables a better acceptance of the leader by his or her staff and shows a clearer vision of upcoming steps.

Markus Seitz: Leadership begins with self-leadership. This is where a leader’s questions about vitality and self-management can be addressed. Coaching can help to clarify leadership responsibility and leadership role in the current environment, to create more visibility and better impact as a leader, and to explore communication, negotiation and conflict behaviour and overcome resistance. The coach can help to make the leader aware of group dynamic processes in the team and accompany them. In addition, he can make the role of coach accessible to the leader himself (The Leader as a Coach).


More specifically, in which questions can a coach help a leader?

Markus Seitz: In the context of coaching, questions about the leadership career and development goals (values, meaning, identity, etc.) can be addressed. Are there conflicts with the inner attitude? What drives me? What do I have a passion for? How do I inspire as a leader? What do I want to leave behind?

Tanja Widemann: In all situations that are perceived as stressful. Examples are: Dealing with conflicts, making important career or life decisions, leading and motivating employees, stress management, increasing self-confidence, self-management, maintaining a solid work-life balance, etc. Leadership coaching helps to deal with conflicts in the team, such as a drop in performance, power struggles or a bad working atmosphere. Role expectations and related role conflicts are uncovered and clarified. Leadership work such as giving and receiving feedback, conducting discussions and a confident appearance can be topics that are addressed


In which situations is it advisable to consult a coach? Why?

Tanja Widemann: If you are faced with a problem, you often can’t see the wood for the trees. You feel blocked and can’t find a quick solution. In such a situation, the coach helps you to take a step back and look at the problem from a distance and from other perspectives. In doing so, the blocking chaos sorts itself out and the coachee finds clarity about how to overcome the barrier. The newly gained perceptions help to take the focus away from the problem and onto solutions and the coachee’s own resources. Although the coach does not give advice, he can be the valuable sparring partner who gives the coachee competent feedback and questions his ideas.

Markus Seitz: As such a sparring partner, the coach can provide support in case of uncertainty in all the areas and questions mentioned before.


How relevant is coaching for continuing education?

Markus Seitz: Trends towards individualisation and transfer orientation can also be observed in continuing education. Our participants show a strong motivation to learn, develop and change. They are looking for personally relevant and individual development impulses and want to implement what they have learned in their current professional environment. By focusing on individual challenges and offering resource-, solution- and implementation-oriented help for self-help, coaching takes these trends into account and will accordingly continue to gain relevance in the future.


How is coaching used within the Executive School’s programmes?

Tanja Widemann: In addition to teaching the latest management theories, we strive for holistic learning at all levels in Law and Management. This enables participants to implement what they have learned and apply it in their own context. The training concepts contain not only theory sequences (head), but also countless practice units (hand) and provide self-reflection impulses for personal development (heart). We offer participants a safe environment to experience, try out and apply new things. This creates sustainable learning through self-experience.

Markus Seitz: Part of the integrated concept of the German- and English-language Executive MBA programmes in General Management is the promotion of interdisciplinary personality, leadership and career development skills. In various formats, participants can take advantage of a wide range of development opportunities during the 1 1/2-year personal EMBA / IEMBA journey. This integrated personal development also includes individual coaching offers.


“The air is thin at the top” is frequently said among the top levels of management. What contribution can coaching make here?

Tanja Widemann: Through coaching, the manager acquires a wider range of behavioural options, which enables him or her to lead consciously and to take personal responsibility for actions. Thanks to a review of one’s own leadership skills, core tasks such as organising, planning, deciding, cooperating and delegating are optimised. In the process, one’s own personality is strengthened to accept even difficult challenges, to endure them and to recognise one’s own strategies and master them.

Markus Seitz: Power sometimes makes you lonely. Open, trustworthy companions at eye level who initiate reflection processes by asking questions, open new perspectives and help to develop solutions and decisions responsibly are rare and can be perceived by coaches.


How has the coaching services changed over the last few years? Has the Corona virus had any influence?

Tanja Widemann: Supply and demand have visibly increased in recent years. Due to the Corona virus, the possibility of online coaching was increasingly used. In the beginning, the online version was considered difficult due to concerns about being able to build up less closeness and feel the other person less. In addition, there was a lack of ideas on how to implement the work in the room. Many quickly recognised the advantages of online coaching. In addition to the necessary physical distance and the elimination of travel, it is easier for the coachee to allow emotions in his or her protected space/familiar environment. The Corona time has led many people to think more about themselves and their own situation and to look for inspiration to go beyond their own limits and to increase their personal, future-relevant competences.

Markus Seitz: I agree with Tanja: Corona has led to a greater acceptance of online coaching. In addition, dealing with uncertainty and sometimes profound changes in professional and private everyday life has raised existential questions. What really counts? What fulfils me? What do I want to achieve and where do I want to contribute and create added value? What do I still want to achieve and what do I want to leave behind? Questions about inner attitude, identity, values, meaning, goals and motivation were asked more frequently in coaching sessions. But also, the need for career coaching or repositioning after job loss, dismissals or in restructurings has increased.


What does the future hold? Will coaching become more and more relevant?

Tanja Widemann: Definitely. Coaching offers the opportunity to look behind one’s own reflection, to exchange ideas in intimate cooperation, to learn new things about oneself and to continuously develop oneself. In a world that is constantly spinning faster, it is extremely important to keep focusing on oneself and to recognise one’s own needs.

Markus Seitz: Yes, coaching will become even more relevant in the future. It offers the opportunity for individual learning experiences and personal development impulses on self-selected topics, if they are current and relevant, customised, one-to-one, to the desired extent and independent of location.


Thank you very much for the inspiring answers!



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About the author
Noah Buergin is currently studying in the Master's Degree Programme in Business Innovation (MBI) at the University of St.Gallen. He also works as a student assistant at the Executive School of Management Technology and Law at the University of St.Gallen.