Jan Brause explores some myths about coaching.
Coaching adds value in many aspects of our professional and indeed our personal lives, but there is a growing confusion amongst clients and businesses about what coaching actually is or for that matter is not.
Myth Number 1 – Coaching is the Same as Mentoring
Actually it isn’t. Mentors over the centuries have been gurus and individuals who have had lots of experience in the areas in which they are supporting others.
Mentors have been there, done that and got the T-Shirt so can support their ‘mentees’ in every way possible.
Mentors are experts in a particular field and often advise. So, how is this different to coaching?
Well, coaches do not necessarily have to have any specialist experience in order to coach others and their role is not to give advice.
The coach’s skill is in questioning, listening and challenging in a totally non-judgemental way in order to help others to reach conclusions that will work for them. It is possible for mentors to be coaches and for coaches to be mentors but the roles are different.
Myth Number 2 – Coaching is the Same as Counselling
Coaching certainly isn’t counselling. By using a model to overcome situations that have influenced where we are now, counsellors’ focus on past experience to improve future performance.
A counselling stance is often therapeutic – some counsellors may disagree, but I am entitled to my opinion.
Coaching works from the premise that past experience doesn’t have to be a predictor of future performance. Coaching therefore emphasises the now and the future – who you are now and where you want to be in the future.
The emphasis is on change and taking ownership of that change rather than reflecting on the past and what has made you who you are.
Myth Number 3 – Coaching is not Quantifiable
In my experience, where clear goals and outcomes are agreed at the start of the coaching process, progress is easily measured.
The measures however, can take many forms – I have worked with several clients who have achieved quantifiable results including:
Promotion to a more senior position, increased revenue for their business, saved time and these don’t include those personal changes which are often less easy to quantify such as more motivation, clarity of purpose, reduced stress and increased confidence.
The key to quantifying coaching is establishing what changes need to be made at the outset and constantly revisiting them during the coaching process.
Myth Number 4 – Coaching is a 21st Century Fad
Coaching is not new, it has merely been re-invented over the last 20 years and because it delivers results I reckon it is here to stay.
There has been a shift in our perception of management, reinforced by concepts such as ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘accelerated learning’ and ‘neuro-linguistic programming’.
I have seen this shift in the range of organisations I have encountered over the last 20 years.
Directors and managers of businesses are themselves embracing the concept of coaching and seeing the value it adds for them and their businesses. The new associations and growing organisations embracing coaching can’t all be wrong can they?
Myth Number 5 – Coaching is for Softies
Now, if your concern is that coaching is a ‘tree huggy’ affair (apologies to tree huggers out there). I have to challenge you to consider the growing market for executive coaching?
We have already mentioned the quantifiable benefits of coaching so why would it appeal to softies? Coaching isn’t a soft option. If you are on the receiving end of coaching and feel this way, challenge your coach or change them!
A coach should be helping you to stretch your own boundaries, get out of your comfort zone and at times making you feel slightly uncomfortable.
Remember the old adage ‘no pain, no gain’? Well in my opinion it applies to coaching as well as exercising!
Myth Number 6 – Coaching is a Serious Business
Coaching is certainly serious in terms of the results it can achieve but that is where the seriousness ends.
There is lots of research out there that suggests we learn more when we are having fun.
Now, you may think I am contradicting myself having talked about ‘no pain, no gain’ in Myth 5, but the coaching process does need to include some serious fun.
Laughter strengthens the immune system and produces endorphins in the blood which are directly responsible for improving moods and reducing stress.
Humour also engages the emotional centres in the brain and this helps with memory and retention. After all, even ‘painful’ things often have their funny side after the event.
A good coach will help you to build serious fun into the coaching relationship. What more would you need to help you on your journey of change?
Myth Number 7 – Coaching Can’t be used on Poor Performance
I beg to differ here! The times I have had people say to me, “If someone isn’t performing then they just have to be told what to do.”
If someone isn’t performing there is usually some underlying reason – lack of motivation, lack of focus, unclear goals and objectives.
Getting a big stick out and beating someone for this might deliver short-term results but it isn’t going to get long-term commitment.
Questioning and challenging are at the heart of good coaching and used effectively can win over even the poorest of performers.
Myth number 8 – Coaching is just like Training
This probably depends to a degree on your interpretation of training; let’s assume for these purposes that training means imparting knowledge and skill to others.
A great example to consider would be managing time. I have seen so many people attend time management workshops, come back armed with new electronic or paper based systems and tips for change and yet they still have the same old time management issues (apologies to all you time management trainers out there). T
he issue is often nothing to do with the systems we use but more to do with our deep seated patterns for self discipline, decision making, motivation or procrastination – habits!
Coaching gets to the heart of these habits helping us to explore and change them. Then, and only then, can we put our new found skills into effective use.
Myth Number 9 – Coaching Needs to be Done Face-to-Face
The absolute beauty of coaching is that it can be done in such diverse and flexible ways – telephone, e-mail, tele-classes, group and face to face. It all really depends on the needs of the individual and their coach.
This is why coaching also appeals to people with busy schedules as it can be anything from a 30 minute telephone call to a two- hour face to face meeting. Longer than this and it can become unproductive for both parties.
Myth Number 10 – Coaches Don’t Need Coaches
I am a firm believer that we should not only practice what we preach but also constantly strive to update our skill, knowledge and general capability.
Despite some opinions, coaches are human beings and as such are subject to all those human traits – egotism, depression, lack of confidence.
If you are an experienced coach you will know that at times coaching sessions can be incredibly emotionally demanding. If you have worked with a quality coach then you will know that they are highly attentive to what is going on with you.
The skills required for this level of coaching need honing and updating and sometimes coaches need a coach to help them deal with those difficult coaching situations.
Myth Number 11 – You can’t Coach Yourself
Actually you can, and no I am not contradicting myself again. We all benefit from the objectivity of someone else particularly during times of change.
Self-coaching demands a certain kind of clarity of thought and we still need to have some of the coaching skills in order to do this. Skills such as listening, questioning, challenging, being non-judgmental (now that’s a hard one when coaching yourself).
We are often our own worst critic. How many times have you called yourself derogatory names when you have made a mistake?
Well, the first piece of good news is that without mistakes there is no progress and the second is that changing our language can help – you know – that voice in your head that says ‘Oh, I’m so stupid, what did I do that for?’ Change it to ‘Ok, I’ve done that, now how can I use it?’ or something equally positive that works for you.
Coaching to me is absolutely about improving the performance of others by helping them to recognise and develop strengths they don’t necessarily know they have.
* This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Training Journal.