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The Myths of Coaching


I started coaching people in organisations about 15 years ago when working as the Group Training Manager for WH Smith. I was on a two year secondment there from my primary employment as an HR manager with IBM UK; Dave Marchant explains those coaching myths.

I had been brought to Smiths to help with their modernisation agenda and to facilitate their organisational and culture change initiative to raise their people and business management standards, with the aim of improving the financial performance and growth of the business.

As an experienced HR & Training manager I assumed that I knew what coaching people was about – but I gradually discovered that I didn’t. It is not just as simple as telling people what and showing them how to do it.

It was during this time that I became fully aware of the non-directive coaching process and of its potential to help people to dramatically improve their satisfaction, positive focus and performance at work.

I learned coaching originally from a man called Ben Cannon and my understanding of the coaching approach and techniques was largely drawn from writers such as Sir John Whitmore (Coaching for Performance) and Timothy Gallwey (The Inner Game series).

I have since continued to coach people from various organisations in the UK & Europe and I have now reached some initial conclusions about the myths that surround coaching and the coaching approach.

These are the key things that I have subsequently learned about coaching:

  • You need to be an expert: you don’t and often knowing what you would do and how, gets in the way of the coachee finding the right answer for them.
  • You need to have a formal coaching qualification: no not necessarily, but you do need some key interpersonal skills, broad life and business experience and the knowledge of and confidence to use an appropriate coaching model and approach.
  • You should not coach a manager and someone reporting to them – yes you can - but be careful about confidentiality and that you are not being used as a communicating vehicle for them.
  • You cannot coach someone in their office: ideally you should coach away from their office where they will be relaxed and undisturbed.
  • You must know the answers: no but it is your role to help the coachee to find answers that will work for them.
  • You shouldn’t coach peers from the same team: yes you can but you need to be doubly careful about confidentiality.
  • You cannot listen attentively and take notes at the same time: this is a skill that you can practice and learn and many coaches find the notes very beneficial – but you need to check that it is not getting in the way of you actively listening to them and of the times when it is important to stop note taking and to focus completely on what they are saying.
  • You give coaches what they want (ask for): yes but you should also offer them what you perceive they need – which may well be very different from what they are asking for.
  • You cannot coach someone on the telephone: yes you can and some coaches have set themselves up coaching purely on the telephone – but it is not the same communication relationship experience as face to face and I only use telephone conversations or emails to augment face to face coaching sessions.
  • It is not enough for a coachee to merely ‘get it off their chest’ – whilst there is a value benefit for coaches to be able to unburden themselves to a coach this is not the point of the exercise – the main aim is for them to think and then ACT differently as a result.
  • You must stick to the organisation’s agenda: not necessarily but if one exists then you should ensure that the coachee knows exactly what it is from their manager/sponsor and that they buy into working on it. The essence of this non-directive coaching is that the coachee gets to work on their own agenda and not just that dictated by the organisation. It is important that the sponsor knows that you are taking this approach. In either case the end goal is to help the coachee to maximise their performance and satisfaction.
  • Anyone can make a suitable coaching subject: only if they take responsibility and want to be supported by a coach.
  • Coaching can be just ‘done’ to people: they don’t need to be aware that it is happening to them – yes they do need to know what you are doing with them and what your respective roles and responsibilities are in this process. How else can you assess their readiness and willingness to be coached.

Written by Dave Marchant, Developing People Ltd.


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