If an Olympic figure skater doesn’t take to the ice without their coach, why should a senior exec (one of the “Olympic athletes” of his/her organization), someone who’s out on that figurative “ice” every day and whose performance is critical to business success?
I have a colleague who’s teaching in a coaching skills certificate program at a major university. She recently told me that when she suggested to her students that they should each hire a coach so they could experience what it’s like to be coached (which in my opinion is as important as being trained), the class was taken aback, with the response being, “Why would I need a coach?”
I’ve become aware over the last several years that coaching is increasingly being viewed as the tool you use for “people who need help,” with the obvious connotation that if you wind up working with a coach you’re somehow lacking or need “fixing.” I’m not sure how we got to this perception because nothing could be further from the truth, and it’s an important distinction to understand.
Let’s look at areas like the performing arts, sports at the Olympic level and elite athletes like Tiger Woods. Everyone who’s anyone in any discipline works with a coach to increase effectiveness. These are people who are already great at what they do, and who they coach with is a source of pride. Olympic athletes never practice or compete without their coaches right there with them. Tiger Woods has a swing coach. Performing artists–actors, musicians, singers, dancers–work with coaches to learn roles/parts, refine technique and keep their talent honed and at the razor’s edge; Luciano Pavarotti, the late great operatic tenor, had a vocal coach, for example. There’s no hint here about coaching being anything other than what it was conceived to be: a means of attaining big goals in less time and with better results than you could have alone, of achieving and maintaining peak performance. Believe me, in no organization I know of is money spent on “real” coaching except for those who are viewed as having the potential to contribute even more than they already have/are. Smart organizations flatten the learning/performance curve by investing in coaching for key people, and reap the rewards for it!
So let’s make sure we position coaching the way it was meant to be: as a tool to turn good performers into great ones, to develop potential and provide the objective point of view people need to maintain momentum and achieve greatness, and not as something we use to fix people. A “coaching culture” in an organization is one that’s vibrant and alive with promise; it’s an interdevelopmental dynamic, where everyone grows together. THAT’S what coaching was designed for and how it should be viewed.
Coaches, I’d love to know how you combat this misperception.