Workplace coaches and athletic coaches don’t have as much in common as you might think. So, what does an executive coach really do and how is it different from what happens on the sports field?
You need look no further than my family room for the answer. There is no doubt that it’s football season in my house. All screens big and small are tuned to all-things-football all the time. Or, so it seems when I’m trying to concentrate on something really important like, say, writing a blog post. It’s the sound of the constant whistles that frazzles my nerves and pulls at my attention (when I’m not watching the game).
Numerous time-outs and flags on the play elicit the high-pitched whistles that trigger reactions from the coaches on the sidelines. Whistles or not, these coaches react, give direction, shout out what they want the players to do and not do. The energy! The drama! The emotion! And that’s just from the armchair quarterbacks and the fans in the stands.
Coaching in sports is all about directing. More often than not, that direction comes in the form of yelling and telling. The coach is the one with the answers, the tips, the feedback, the advice.
In workplace coaching, it’s the person being coached (the coachee) who calls the shots. As coaching guru Robert Hargrove says in his book Masterful Coaching, “All too often, people think that being a coach or thinking partner is about telling people the answer. This can be a mistake because the coachee often knows more about the business than the coach does… if you start by giving people the answer, you often wind up with a disempowered person who feels that he or she has nothing to contribute.”
The best coach is an executive’s confidential thinking partner. A trusted listener who can help individuals and groups make connections between what’s happening now and the future they want to create.
Organizations use trained coaches in a wide range of situations of various sizes and scopes.
- One large accounting firm hires a coach for every new partner annually. The partner and the coach meet monthly to set goals, discuss progress and work out strategies for any bumps in the road that are showing up along the way.
- A public sector organization runs a group coaching program for emerging leaders in which a coach works with newly promoted employees to discuss leadership principles and development plans.
- A private sector CEO meets with a coach bi-weekly to figure out how best to align his executive team’s priorities to the strategic plan.
- An entrepreneur engages coaching as a way to formulate his exit strategy and plan for the eventual sale of his business.
- A Human Resources Director ensures that a coach is assigned to all new hires as an integral part of the on-boarding process.
Whatever the project, the highly skilled coach recognizes that the real experts in any coaching conversation are the coachees themselves.
The International Coach Federation, a leader in the field of coach education and credentialing defines coaching as, “Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
Excellent coaching then, is respecting the brilliance in the coachee and understanding that the people being coached are fully capable of creating their solutions. A truly gifted coach can dig under the toughest situations in search of the quantum leap.
With football underway, baseball drawing to an exciting close (Go Blue Jays!!) and the hockey season poised to begin, there will be no shortage of armchair coaching ever within earshot at my house. A constant reminder that in my work, coaching is not yelling, or telling or having all the answers. It’s listening, observing and having all the questions.
That’s my perspective anyway. What’s yours?
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Want to know more? Get the book! Masterful Coaching by Robert Hargrove.
Author: Cathy Shaughnessy
Cathy Shaughnessy is a PRISM award winning ICF Master Certified Coach and author of the book series The Really Competent Coach. Cathy coaches senior leaders, mentors credentialed coaches, trains fledgling coaches and helps organizations build strong coaching cultures.
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