Coaching was only recognized as a helping discipline in the ‘80s, but has already become a global phenomenon. Where once the noun coach had little relevance outside of sports, there are now life coaches, business coaches, executive coaches, career coaches, spirituality coaches, study coaches…professionals whose profession is helping others to excel.
I pursued training as a coach for entrepreneurs and executives primarily from a desire to become better at one of the core competencies of business leadership – nurturing subordinates’ potential. I had benefitted from some outstanding coaching during my career, but also encountered some awesomely incompetent coaches; I was determined to give better and more consistently than I had received.
To my surprise, my journey through the world of coaching has led me to conclude that coaching as taught by major schools such as CTI, Newfield, College for Executive Coaching, and others, is a flawed model.
Let me explain.
Coaching encompasses two broad models of how to help others fulfill their potential.
- The first model is the general/guru. He is the guy-in-charge on the sidelines with the clipboard. His approach is to create winners by calling winning plays. Players must obey.
- The other model is the mentor/trainer. His approach is to create winners by helping them develop their inner potential. He may assign drills and disciplines, but he believes success lies in his athletes’ hearts and must be liberated. He helps them find and fulfill their destiny.
Both approaches, the general and the mentor, can succeed in sports. But neither sufficient in the business world.
Most schools of business coaching teach the mentor/trainer model. They hold that the coach’s central discipline is enabling the client’s agenda. They train coaches to “create an environment in which clients focus entirely on their fulfillment, balance, and process… [while] the coach is invisible.”
That may be fine for life coaching. Not so much in the bottom-line world of business.
According to this template, the coach’s role is to actively listen, ask powerful questions that lead clients to new insights, and provide direct feedback. She can help clients become more aware, suggest actions and exercises that help them turn new insights into more productive behaviors, help them plan and set goals, and create process that helps them stay accountable to themselves.
That sounded great when I first encountered it. But when I acted like that with clients, I often felt cheap and phony afterwards. I felt like I was leaving myself at the door and not being authentic. Because what I have to offer others includes more than mentoring; it includes decades of hard-earned lessons from the hard world of business. If I could not advocate my ideas or offer my own solutions, I was not fully present.
I was trained to strictly separate coaching from consulting. A consultant can offer solutions and advocate ideas. A coach can only facilitate his client’s agenda. I was even told that when I absolutely had to offer an idea, I should say something like, “I’m stepping out of my coach role now.”
I believe almost anyone can benefit from having a skilled, objective mentor in their life. But wouldn’t it be even better to have an advisor with the skills of a coach plus the problem-solving intellect of a consultant? Someone who brings her actual real-world experience into the discussion? Someone who is not invisible, but fully present with all that he knows?
That’s not a coach and it’s not a consultant. It’s neither a tyrant nor a teacher. It’s all of the above. Call him a trusted consigliere, a Wise Advisor. Someone who has sat in your chair and understands your perspectives and challenges and is committed to helping you be your best…sparing you from relearning the lessons he has already learned.
Let me be clear. Coaching schools teach a great set of skills. With some clients, I stay almost entirely in the coach role. But because I think of myself as an Advisor, I have no hesitation to leverage the wisdom and experience I have acquired from successes and failures in the real world. It’s not that I move from one role to another; rather, I draw from a broad, unified, authentic toolkit, using whatever I believe will be most helpful for the client at that moment – and then checking with the client to make sure that what I offer is indeed wanted and valuable.
Hey, in the end, it’s still my client’s agenda and decision. If she rejects what I have advocated, it’s no skin off my nose, and I will do everything I can to help make her decision succeed. I won’t do her job for her, and will hold her accountable to her choices. Just like any coach. But with an extra secret sauce.
What do you think? How can business coaches bring the most value to their clients?
 Whitworth, Kimsey-House, & Sandahl, Co-Active Coaching, 1998, Davies-Black, p. 12