Coach or Crutch?

I am a great believer in coaching and I would even call myself a coach having done a fair bit of it with various people and organisations.

But I was most surprised (and annoyed, although there’s no surprise there) when I was called in to a business to coach its top team after we had completed a 360 degree appraisal exercise on their behalf. (For the uninitiated, or perhaps just the uninterested, 360 degree appraisal is a series of on-line questionnaires asking the person’s boss, their peers and the people who report to them how good they are).

Anyway, as I was saying… the reason I was surprised was that the manager I was coaching cheerfully told me he already had a coach.

‘That’s fantastic,’ said I. ‘How long have you been working with your coach?’

‘Oh, I see him once a month and have done for the past three years.’

‘What?’

‘I see him once a month and have done for the past three years. Is there are a problem?’

Too right there is. You see, that’s no longer a coaching relationship, it’s therapy. The coach is now a crutch and that’s just how he likes it, thanks very much. It’s regular income for the coach and the manager can no longer make a decision without consulting their coach first.

A business coaching relationship should be for a set period of time and for a set purpose. It should have defined goals to achieve and the coach’s job is to guide their coachee to achieve these goals through a programme of self discovery. The skill of the coach is in asking the right questions, not providing answers.

It’s been about for a while now but you couldn’t go far wrong reading John Whitmore’s seminal coaching manual Coaching for Performance in which he lays out the framework for every coaching relationship and every coaching session.

It’s called the GROW model and one I use religiously. It goes like this:

G – Goal: what do you want to achieve?
R – Reality: what’s the current situation? Now there’s a gap that needs to be closed
O – Options: what could you do to close the gap you’ve identified?
W – Will: what are you going to do about it? What’s your motivation?

It’s simple and effective. Whitmore says that the coach’s job is to raise awareness so the person being coached can take responsibility for making changes themselves.

In the situation I described above the coach has been on the scene for so long they are doing almost exactly the opposite. They are taking away the guys ability to take responsibility for his own decisions.

Coaching is a valuable tool in business… but please don’t let your coach become a crutch.

It’s much better if you can walk unaided.

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