“Coaching and counselling are really for losers”, said a forthright friend of mine the other day.

“I know it’s what you do but I don’t believe in this coaching stuff.  If people were just a bit more resilient… I guess if you’re a bit of a loser it might help, but otherwise I don’t believe in it.”

And with friends like that you might think…

But I really didn’t take offence.  I’ve been hearing echoes of that statement for a long time.

The myth that coaching fixes problems

This idea is still widespread.  How else do we explain that two thirds of CEOs understand the value of coaching, yet 90% of them don’t have a coach?

It’s not lack of budget or sign-off power that is holding them back.  It’s the idea that they might have a problem that needs to be fixed, or some trait that needs to changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I coach  people who want to improve a specific skill

Presentation skills are a good example.

The “path to success” is relatively clear.  We all know what an effective presenter needs to be: clear, concise, credible and compelling.

I can help with that. 

This kind of coaching could also be labelled one- to-one training.

I give feedback and suggestions but I also believe that the client is a resourceful learner. My greatest value lies in encouraging clients to become more resourceful, more reflective and more self-aware.

So is coaching ever for losers?

I’m afraid I can’t answer that question because, as I told my friend, I’ve only ever coached successful people.

These are people who might have been the top of their class in school, or who graduated with honours and ease, or who landed that one in a thousand job, or got promoted young.

You get the picture.

Clients choose coaching because they want to continue to be successful – they want to achieve something they care about.

Coaching is a powerful process that converts uncertainty and anxiety into clarity and change

There is a lot of research to support the idea that the drivers that make us succeed, are also eventually the source of uncertainty and anxiety.

The image I use is that of a dog on a long leash.  Long leashes allow dogs to run in any direction they choose.  When they see a rabbit, they might chase it.  If they’re fast enough, they may out-run it.

And they think they’re free. But the freedom to roam is conditional.  At some point they will always want to go faster and further than the leash will allow.

What got you here won’t get you there

“There is something standing between you and the next level of achievement. Perhaps one small flaw—a behavior you barely even recognize — is the only thing that’s keeping you from where you want to be. It may be that the very characteristic that you believe got you to where you are is the one that is holding you back.” ~ Marshall Goldsmith, What got you here, won’t get you there

Whether my clients come looking for help with leadership development, transition, business development or work/life balance they have, consciously or unconsciously, realised the habits and behaviours that got them this far may not work for them in the future.

Getting a coach is not your only option

Of course you don’t need a coach to work out  where to go or what to do – that is why we have friends, colleagues, spouses.  And these conversations and relationships are essential to our growth and happiness.

But they are nothing like the conversations that you have with a coach.

Coaching has two main purposes

1. Maintenance

Just as you service your car so that it runs efficiently, and doesn’t break down unexpectedly, coaching offers executives a way of maintaining their equilibrium, letting off steam and trying out ideas in a uniquely challenging but safe environment.

Leadership and success can be lonely and isolating, and coaches can fill that void.

2. Sea Change

If you play golf and you want to lower your handicap, then you need to take extra lessons and play and practice more.  The coach can be your pro golfer and the coaching room can be both driving range and major tournament.

Coaches can be trusted advisors; they allow you to test out your ideas, to say out loud your hopes, fears, plans and dreams and to have them both accepted and challenged.

Coaches may not have done what you have done  – or planned to do –  but they have coached lots of people who have faced similar challenges.

I have a coach

All professional, accredited coaches have to have a coach themselves.  It’s called supervision.  And when you have a coach it’s all about you.

A coach is not your friend

A good coach listens at another level to most of the people who hear you out on a daily basis.  A good coach challenges you, not because they disagree with you, but because they want to make you think.  A good coach will balance challenge and support and will have the courage to tell you uncomfortable truths.

There is not a conversation with my coach where I don’t discover something new about myself or my work that I would not have discovered by myself or in conversations with friends and colleagues.

Coaching is not an easy option

Coaching is for people who are self-aware enough to ask for help.  Who are strong, but not proud.

Coaching is for people who are open to change

Who can see that options are choices and choices are freedom.  Coaches are for people who have slowed down long enough to think and feel, rather than respond and act.

I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank