The Basics of Coaching

If you lead a company or department, you may wonder if coaching could help meet your developmental needs or those of your key people. Coaching is increasingly popular. However, popularity does not guarantee value. Whether coaching delivers on its promise depends on factors that can be reviewed pretty quickly. Knowing the basics can help you make a decision about whether to explore coaching as a resource for your company, your department, or yourself.

Many people report that coaching has been valuable to them. Some people hire personal coaches for themselves. Personal coaches may help people with highly specific goals, such as learning to speak in public, or with broader issues, such as how to develop leadership skills that will make them more promotable.

Other people get coaches sponsored by their companies. When a company hires a coach for someone, it usually means that the company values that person and is willing to invest in the development of their talent. Typically, companies hire coaches to:

  • support a key executive’s move into a new role or level of responsibility

  • facilitate each member of the senior staff’s adaptation to rapid change

  • help an executive who is stuck in a problem and knows it

  • increase readiness for promotion

  • help a talented executive develop key interpersonal skills that could solve a business performance problem that is interfering with promotion or even job retention

  • make a good leader into a great leader

What Effective Coaches do and don’t do: Coaches don’t fix people. They help capable people improve their performance.

Coaches do not give directions or orders, as a football coach might. Rather, business coaches help people discover their alternatives.

Coaches do not tell people what to think. Instead, they help people become more effective and creative by showing them how to break out of traps in thinking that commonly occur.

Coaches don’t operate out of a formula of instant answers. They take time to get to know someone, usually in several ways - by talking with them over time, by talking with others who know the person well, and perhaps by sitting in on meetings with the person so that they can see them in their real environment.

Coaches do not work with the unwilling. It is a waste of time. Coaches work with people who are motivated towards self improvement, performance enhancement, and career development. Coaches help people gain greater mastery over their thinking and emotional skills, leaving the person more powerful tools to use in their development.

How to use a Coach

If you decide to use a coach, either for yourself or for key people in your company, these guidelines will help you get the most out of the experience:

Begin with the end in mind. Decide what you want to accomplish: to earn a promotion; to change a pattern of behavior that no longer works; to develop interpersonal skills that your company and boss have decided matter. If coaching is company sponsored, effective coaching requires that you, your boss, and your coach all agree on goals and how they will be measured.

Understand what is and isn’t private. Even in company sponsored coaching, you need a certain level of privacy when you talk to your coach. You will find yourself trying out ideas, only some of which will be keepers. This must be done in private. However, if you tell your coach about plans to seriously harm the company or that you are engaged in illegal activities, do not expect that to be kept from the company. All guidelines need to be understood and agreed upon by all parties at the outset.

Pick a coach you like and trust. The relationship with your coach must feel supportive to you. If you have had the good fortune to have supportive relationships in your life, then you know the power and growth that can come out of such relationships. The coaching relationship should be designed to focus on your needs and interests, without intrusion of the needs and interests of the coach.

Expect to resist change. All of us resist change. Part of your coach’s responsibility will be to help you understand your particular concerns about changes under consideration so that you can make good decisions. Your coach will also help you translate insights into actions and help you learn how to develop yourself so that you can be your own agent of change.

Do your homework. Change takes practice in your real world. Your coach will help you discover new ways of seeing things and new responses to old problems. Practicing these new responses will let you rewire your habits so that the new skills become your default responses under pressure.

Commit adequate time and resources to your coaching: Do not expect instant changes. Such “miracles” are built on foundations of sand, and they do not last. Invest time and energy in yourself, the only real tool you have to use for your career. Only then will you achieve lasting behavior change.

The CEO Coach: Many CEOs hire coaches today, for two reasons. First, they have developmental needs too. Second, it allows them to gain access to perspectives that may not be otherwise available. Much of the feedback CEOs get from their staff is tainted by the fears and concerns that naturally exist when one is in a subordinate position. CEOs don’t have full control over how their subordinates see them. Because coaches don’t have as much at stake as the CEO’s subordinates, they can be more direct and honest. As one seasoned coach tells it: “My job is to tell truth to power.”

Coaching has gained favor because our times demand rapid change. None of us can be expected to automatically possess all the skills necessary for success in our complex world. It is hard to see ourselves as others do. Coaching can help you develop talents that may otherwise lay dormant and unreachable.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., which focuses on helping executives reach their potential by overcoming barriers they thought they had to live with, and helping companies align employee skills and efforts with the company’s strategic plan. He can be reached 774-1927 and by e-mail at

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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