Although I allow for much latitude in defining what coaching is, I am pretty passionate about declaring what coaching is not. I’d like to debunk a few common myths about coaching. You’ve probably heard them before—you may even ascribe to some of them. Myth #1: Coaching is giving advice.
Actually, coaching involves asking the questions that the coachee wouldn’t think to ask herself so that she can access her own answers. It’s intended to help people whose perspectives are so ingrained that they can’t see their blindspots come to a new awareness of themselves. A coach needs to get rid of his own inclinations to give advice or to solve problems, even when the coachee is asking what she should do. Why is that? Why don’t coaches give advice?
First, providing advice builds dependency when you really want your coachees to solve their own problems and make their own decisions. Second, the advice you give may not be the advice that the coachee needs or that works for her at that moment. It may be something she’s already tried that hasn’t produced the results she wanted, or it might not inspire her to action. Third, there is no shortage of advice in people’s lives.
What’s missing is a technique to process that advice and to figure out what advice makes the most sense to the coachee. That’s where a coach comes in. Finally, coaches should not be wedded to any one solution or technique; and when the coach is the source of advice, he often expects the coachee to take it. Give advice and you’re an adviser; help the coachee discover her own best advice and you’re a coach.
Myth #2: The value of a coach is his knowledge and experience in the coachee’s area of interest or endeavor.
In fact, you can get great coaching from someone whose experience is completely unrelated to your current circumstances, or from someone who is your junior in chronological age or working years. A coach’s value lies in helping the coachee access her own knowledge and experience and bring them to bear on current circumstances and future goals.
The spotlight is on the greatness in the coachee, not on the greatness or expertise of the coach. That’s what sets a coach apart from a mentor, whose value is based on his knowledge and experience and how he can impart them to his protégé.
Myth #3: Coaching is just like therapy.
If you listen to an individual coaching session, it may sound like therapy. Deep issues are being discussed and emotions are welcome. But there are two primary differences between coaching and therapy. The first difference relates to the severity of the presenting circumstances in the coachee’s life. The second difference is the absence of any analysis of how a coachee came to be in her current circumstances.
Coaches won’t ask: What happened in your past to bring you to this situation? Instead, they’ll take it at face value that this is where the coachee is. It’s rather like saying you’re here and you want to get over there, so let’s get moving! Coaching has a present and future focus, and it doesn’t delve into the past as therapy might.
Myth #4: The coach drives the coaching process.
I once was looking for individuals to become coaches in an organization and was met with very limited response. As I tried to understand why, I was told that in the company’s previous coaching program, the people who’d volunteered as coaches had gotten burned out. They’d worked really hard on their coachees’ behalf—some had been doing such things as writing résumés or presentations for their coachees.
It took me a long time to break through this mindset and help the potential coaches in my program understand that the actual driver of the coaching process is the coachee. She sets the agenda for meetings, she works in concert with the coach to craft the assignments she will complete, and she takes action in her situation. It’s also true that what she puts into coaching is in direct proportion to what she gets out of it.
When the coach calls the meeting, determines the agenda, and assigns the homework, the coach is acting as the employee’s boss. Workplace coaching is especially challenging in this regard. How do you go from being someone’s boss in some situations to being her coach in another?
Coaching is a delicate two-way relationship, and the coach does have an important role to play in keeping to the focus the coachee has set, providing feedback on how the process of coaching is going, and checking in for accountability. It’s just that coaching is for the coachee, so she gets to create it and to be responsible for it.Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from 10 Steps to Successful Coaching (ASTD Press, 2008), a primer to learn and apply basic coaching skills. The 10 Steps include self-preparation for the coaching process, advice about choosing someone to coach, and a thorough outline of the coaching process to guide you from beginning to end