The ChangingMinds Blog!
Blog Archive > 11-Jun-08
Of recent years, 'coaching' has sprung from something to do with sports into
boardrooms and kitchens around the country, in its two main forms. 'Executive
coaching' seeks to help highly-paid business people to eliminate weaknesses and
better earn their salaries, whilst 'life coaching' helps more ordinary folks
cope with everyday pressures.
Many of the methods and techniques used in coaching come from the realms of
therapy and counselling, which gives a hint at the development of the industry.
For a long time people in all walks of life have realised that they have had
difficulties with a number of very human issues, from self-esteem to
communicating with others. The problem, however was that going to a counsellor
or therapist seemed like admitting to some kind of mental illness or
abnormality. With such stigma attached, it is not surprising that many chose
coping over addressing their internal issues.
But then someone came up with the brilliant idea of calling it 'coaching'. At
a stroke, the same thing was reframed from something negative to something
positive. Instead of treating mental illness or deficiency, it was now about
increasing mental fitness and honing personal skills. A euphemism is a weasel
word used to soften an unpleasant reality. A reality of life is we're all broken
and are just doing our best with what we've got, although we hate to admit this.
Happily, with coaching we never need to, at least not to those who matter most
to us and our careers.
Coaches thus become confidantes, therapists, challengers, guides or whatever
works. At the very least, they provide a welcome respite in the frantic day
where you can be yourself and sound off all you like. .
Recently, I posted an entry in my blog comparing a good coach to a good
caricature artist. It's a gift, whether we're talking kids sports or everyday
encouragement, or paid therapeutic coaching.
Seeing potential in people, and helping them realize what value they can bring
the world by excavating it, is an admirable undertaking which is mutually
If you are interested, here is the link:
You're right, Gloria. Coaching can be very rewarding (if a bit exhausting at
times). As with all abilities, there are indeed those for whom it is more
natural. There are also gateways -- if you lack empathy, you're unlikely to ever
get good at it.
But do you think empathy can be learned? Or do you think it's purely a right
brain dominated thing? Book after book abounds, suggesting that right brain
thinking can be enhanced by nurturing the creative side, but can empathy, which
is also a right brain attribute, be developed, by developing other right brain
skills? I mean for me, when I have had the experience of being treated poorly,
it makes it all the more likely that I won't pass that treatment on to others,
because I know how it feels.
Interesting question. Empathy is a below-the-waterline experience which is
difficult to learn. I think there is a definite natural spread, with some people
being naturally far more empathetic than others. I believe women, as a gender,
have a higher average than men. I also think it's connected with belief, which
can be changed. If you see others as objects, your empathy will likely be low
(and maybe the causal link is the other way around). If you see others as
embodied spirits, your empathy will likely be higher.
Empathy can still be learned, at the minimum as a technique, observing
body language and responding appropriately. It is founded on care. Nevertheless,
those who learn such strategies will never have the deeper natural empathy of
You are on the money. "Exceptional coaching" is active listening, empathic
listening, holding up the mirror to a client, asking questions which both cause
new thinking but also which better connect the client's feelings and their
thinking and their action, suggesting frameworks for thinking. If the coach
takes his or her ego out of the picture (not feeling any pressure to be
brilliant or helpful, just being there as coach), a climate of safety and
exploration is created.
I have more than a dozen CEO coaching situations each month. Some are more
valuable to the client than others. But there is no other environment in which
they can safely be completely authentic and open.
Not one of these people is "broken." They are, however, under tremendous
pressure to perform and eager to gain any insight into themselves that takes
their behavior and performance up a notch and their discomfort down a notch.
One final note: I do not believe in therapy that ends with the speaking parts.
As the late Dr. Albert Ellis (founder of cognitive therapy) taught us, there
must be actions to try in the real world, success or setback and recovery and --
always -- learning.
Just my view.
Stephen H. Baum
I am in the process of reading a book entitled, Becoming A Person Of
Influence, by John Maxwell. I would highly recommend it. It's all about
encouraging others and being a positive influence in their lives.
One thing is for sure:
"We're Better off for all that We let in..."
Interesting post - in fact, the "coaching church" is broad enough to encompass
elements traditionally handled by religion e.g. spiritual coaching (google it!)
Yes, there are certainly traces of therapy and counseling in the coaching
toolkit, although the fundamentals are that coaching looks to the future and
doesn't aim to fix what may be "broken".
Nonetheless, some coach training schools do attempt to make a distinction
between coaching, the mental health professions and consulting. In theory, a
coach should coach and leave the client in no doubt what he/she is 'qualified'
(There may already have been cases in the US(?) where life coaches have found
themselves in legal trouble when attempting to knowingly coach people on issues
for which the medical profession has diagnosed therapy or counseling.)
This is even a risk in executive coaching - the old joke among some exec coaches
is that all executive coaching becomes life coaching after the first couple of
sessions! And they're often right.
Problem is that some exec coaches take on clients who are approaching burnout.
Attempting to deliver a ROI on the coaching fees by having such a person set
even more goals, targets etc and then coach/push to deliver can be a bad news
scene all round...
Enough of the gloom (I am a career change coach after all !) - the one skill
that I think a successful coach MUST have is an ability and willingness to
listen to the client. Goodness knows, nobody else is!
It's so important that I wrote a blog post on listening skills recently:
I agreed that whilst there's a nominal line between coaching and therapy, in
practice it can be rather hazy. I used the term 'broken' to mean imperfect, not
incapable, and there's certainly plenty of execs out there who are a long way
from perfect. I also think that most of them are doing their best and that if a
coach can help them (even if it means getting them to attend more serious
therapy), then it helps the person, their colleagues and their company.
Listening? Absolutely! It's remarkably uncommon. People say something we're off
thinking about what we want to say. The gap between listening rate and thinking
rate is startlingly seductive. Another coaching attribute that several coaches
have suggested is 'curiosity'. You have to be interested and spot odd patterns.
I'd also add care.
I definitely agree with the fact that simply calling something by a different
name, such as 'coaching' can make someone feel loads better about themselves!
While everyone has what it takes to care for someone else, not everyone is
capable of leading a successful coaching program. Which is where coaching
training comes in!
-- Tucker M