Generalisations are the weapons of mass distraction for the lazy and judgemental. Yet, I still read endless commentaries about students and graduates being ‘entitled’, unrealistic about salaries and expecting their qualifications to do their talking for them. This does a massive disservice to every individual and their potential. Coaching has the power to release your potential for career development and workplace performance.
Coaching takes two to tango. Whether you have just entered the workplace, changed jobs or roles, or currently employed, what does the relationship look like between your manager as a coach and you as a coachee when it is at its best? What attitude or mindset do you need to be coachable?
In my book, Learning to Leap, I use tennis as an analogy to explain what coaching means in the business world and how it differentiates from, and complements, training and mentoring.
People often think of sports when they first hear the word coaching. Imagine you are a talented tennis player with great potential. A tennis coach will show you how to hit the ball over the net in a certain way and tell you how you are doing, but it’s you that puts the practice in and plays the shot. Traditionally, a sports coach tells or shows you how to do something, apply a technique or demonstrate a skill. That’s what the business world now labels training or instruction.
Sometimes we learn best from someone who has been there, done it and got the T-shirt – like Ivan Lendl with Andy Murray. A tennis player may need someone beyond the narrow area of improving technique or physical conditioning, someone with a wider, longer-term perspective, for advice on match strategy, the game plan or long-term career.
They are likely to have been an experienced tennis player in the past, someone who knows the pitfalls and has credibility in the player’s eyes. When you don’t know what you don’t know, they give you the benefit of their experience and open your eyes to new possibilities or ways forward. They can say what has worked or not worked for them because they have been in that situation, job or role. Like coaching, it’s still your decision what choices you make. Business tends to call that mentoring.
The seeds of what business now calls coaching can be found in The Inner Game of Tennis, an influential book by US tennis player Tim Gallwey. He found that players performed better when they focused on psychological aspects (‘the Inner Game’) as well as learning how to hit a ball over a net (‘the Outer Game’). The ‘Opponent Inside’ could be more challenging than the other player – ‘I can’t beat him’, ‘I’ll never be as good as her’, ‘It’s too difficult’. You may be a great stroke player when practising (‘Skills’) but crumble under the pressure of a competitive match (‘Unfulfilled Potential’). So being self-aware (‘Getting in the Zone’) and knowing where you want to get to (‘Goals’) were hugely important.
That’s one of the things that the business world has learned from sport. Gallwey suggested that fear and self-limiting beliefs ‘interfered’ and that coaching would help to reduce the interference, enabling potential to be realised. He reduced his core concept to an equation:
PERFORMANCE = POTENTIAL minus INTERFERENCE
Coaching in the business world has increasingly emphasised getting the best out of someone so they can get from where they are now to where they want to be. It’s not about fixing people or telling them what to do. At its core is the unconditional belief that the answer lies within each of us. The coach’s job is to help release that potential.
At its best, coaching is a trusting relationship between someone whose primary focus is to support you in recognising what you are capable of achieving. The role of the coach is in asking the right questions, listening so they can hold up a mirror to your progress and walking alongside ready to catch you if you fall as you work through what is right for you. Both coaches and mentors will provide support and challenge.
You may be someone who says you don’t know what you want, who lacks confidence to take action or make changes in your life and who settles for what you have – sometimes because it’s the devil you know, and sometimes because you don’t know what steps to take or what direction to head in, or you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Are you coachable?
If you want to do something about it, here are 11 ways to test your coachability right now:
- Your intent to develop and improve is serious
- You want to evolve, grow and adapt or switch gears when needed
- You are prepared to keep your commitments to your coach
- You are willing to be open, honest and objective
- You are prepared to show humility
- You are ready to do the hard work of personal reflection
- You are open-minded and willing to try new ways of learning
- You are willing to explore, challenge, and change thoughts, feelings and actions that you recognise are limiting your development
- You take constructive feedback well and are keen to learn from it
- You are willing to give regular feedback on your coach’s effectiveness
- You understand that your coach will support, encourage and challenge you while you do the work and reap the benefits of your efforts
Being employable can mean ready for work or maintaining or improving performance in a job…and coaching can help in both cases. Either way, “ego and arrogance are the enemy of coachability” – Tom Bolt.
Do you want to improve or change things? How open to coaching are you at the moment? What first step will you take to become more coachable?
Do you want a trustworthy coach to take you to the next level? If you do, get in touch!