What is coaching all about anyway?

Over the centuries, the value of coaching has been established in sports in the skills and attitude of athletes. In the twentieth century, it became a practice in companies—specifically, a responsibility of managers to address the work performance of staff. Increasingly, however, companies are utilizing it to address the career and job needs of their senior executives, and they reach outside for coaches. Because coaching is now recognized as an integral element in leadership development, there is increasing interest in its best practices.

American Management Association commissioned a global examination of the state of the art of coaching by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, not only to review the ever-increasing use of the discipline today but also to see in what direction it will take in the future. Over 1,000 executives and managers were questioned about their use of coaching to determine its popularity, its association with higher performance, the correlation between executive performance via coaching and corporate performance, the methodology used to choose coaches, the international outlook for coaching, and even the role of peer coaching.

Here’s what I found to be particularly interesting. The AMA/Institute for Corporate Productivity team defined coaching as “a short- to medium-term relationship between a manager or senior leader and a consultant (internal or external) with the purpose of improving work performance” (Douglas & McCauley, 1999). So now that coaching has become mainstream in corporate America, it has become the norm to think of it as defined above, a one-on-one relationship between a coach and a person to be coached.

While this surely has value in increasing the effectiveness and performance of the person being coached, I think it’s really unfortunate that coaching has become thought of in such a limited way. Our findings are that no matter how effective the individuals in a company are, if they don’t work effectively as a team, the company will suffer. This stems directly from our definition of a successful company: a group of “enthusiastic, confident, optimistic, appreciative and happy people who work together on behalf of a future they have all committed themselves to.”

We have worked with hundreds of companies and that definition is almost always not achieved because human beings simply have not learned three important lessons which the vast majority of coaches don’t seem to understand anything about. Lesson 1: that we need to learn to communicate all upsets, disappointments, unfulfilled expectations and thwarted intentions and not file such communications away; Lesson 2: that we need to complete Lesson 1 in an appropriate and non-confrontational way; and Lesson 3: that we need to make it safe for the people in our lives to communicate to us.

To be continued …