Coaching has clearly captured the imagination of professionals in a myriad of disciplines. From my experience in working with many of my clients, it’s also become evident that a large number of professionals are not getting their money’s-worth from their relationships with their coaches. They’re getting help they don’t need, to solve problems that they’re quite capable of resolving on their own, or they’re not getting confronted, by their coaches, with dysfunctional and counterproductive behaviors.
So what should a coach’s job be; and what should it not be. The worst thing that a coach can do, is to help their client work on what they already do well. People don’t grow, personally and professionally, because they do more of what they’ve always done. Nor do they grow if they’re not regularly upset. A worthwhile coach is a chronic disruptor of the client’s world, and has no problem putting the relationship at risk. In addition, a coach who hesitates to explore and drill down on the client’s personal life, is taking money under false pretenses.
A truly valuable coach should be doing three things. First, they must explain, in detail, what the client’s impact is. That is, what’s it like to be in the client’s space? What does it feel like to interact with the client? Is it comfortable; tedious; draining; or boring? It still amazes me, that most professionals I interact with, have absolutely no idea of what their impact is on other people. Without this information, neither party gets their needs met.
Second, it is incumbent that the coach make the client aware that any progress and change, in the client’s growth, will come with an emotional and relationship price. All change is loss; and the failure to identify, grieve and heal from change, most often results in self-destruction or relationship damage. Every time a change occurs, some part of us is left behind. In order to move on, that loss needs to be acknowledged.
Third, and perhaps most important; the coach must help the client identify how they get in their own way. What do they believe or what do they do (or don’t do) that gets them the results they say they don’t want. In order to discover what it is that gets in the way, the coach has to help the client identify their “Areas of Denial.” These are parts of the client’s life that they are aware of, and choose not to deal with. They are in the client’s personal life and their work life, and they are not addressed because doing so, would bring pain into their life. These “Areas” come with a belief system that has the person convinced that dealing directly with them, would be catastrophic. Given the emotional load that comes with catastrophizing, the job of the coach is to work with the client to set up a process of taking risks that slowly escalate, illustrating to the client, that dealing with an “Area of Denial” is not fatal. The fear that drives the Denial is rarely that dramatic. On a personal level it may be a less than satisfying marriage (every year Gallup does a survey asking married couples to describe, in one word, their marriage. And every year, the results are the same. The word that 70% of married people choose is “tolerable.”) On a professional level, we know from surveying the workforce, that without exception, the vast majority of companies keep dysfunctional and morale crushing employees on the payroll, regardless of how damaging they are to productivity and morale. Keeping these “Areas” a secret exacts an enormous toll on personal relationships and professional performance.
The job of a coach is demanding and, at times, draining. Above all, it requires a significant amount of self-information. The coach better know their key triggers, and their areas of vulnerability to manipulation and diversion. It offers a tremendous amount of gratification, in seeing, lives changed and whole environments being transformed. But it is not for the faint of heart.