I feel very uncomfortable with what is happening to the coaching profession that I have dedicated so much of my working life, energy and thinking to. There have been moments in the last year where I have thought about standing aside in this vastly over crowded market to let others “get on with it”.
At the heart of my discomfort is the Myth that “all coaches are much the same and it is a matter of chemistry which one you choose”. 1) It implies that there is no differentiation between the hundreds of thousands of people that now describe themselves as a “coach”. 2) “Chemistry” can be over rated when it comes to choosing someone to work with you to develop leadership capability.
Some of us have studied, learnt and practiced for many years to become expert coaches and developers of leaders; others have done a weekend training course. This depth of experience allows us to work alongside leaders and teams to create a meaningful narrative about why they are doing what is often really tough work. This is about helping them to connect with the wider context they work and live in and getting clear what it requires of them as leaders. A coaching process by itself (which anyone can learn in a decent programme) won't do this. It can help explore a particular issue and it can produce short term results but to have more longevity, learning needs to take place and be embodied.
This can only happen when there are a series of conversations between a coach and a leader who see themselves as equals. The equality comes out of mutual respect not out of chemistry fit. Conversation literally means “turning together” and that is the crux of what you need to be looking for in a coach.
Chemistry often means “do I like someone?” Much more important is to ask the questions: “Is this a person I can walk this difficult path with? Can I rely on them to help me do the work I need to do to become a more effective leader in the context I find myself? Will they be able to work with me amidst all the complexity and “hold” this for me as I grapple with it? Have they seen enough leaders and situations to be able to draw on their learning in support of mine?” This trust and meeting of equals allows learning to happen in a safe and supportive but deeply challenging environment. Without learning, there is no development.
Few coaches can take leaders on a learning journey that transforms their capacity to unleash learning in others. When you commission a coach, please don’t listen to the myth. That way, the best coaches will stay in the profession… your organisations need them!
For more information on how coaching can be benefit you and your organisation, please contact Judith Nicol, Director of Leadership Services