The Pitfalls of Executive Coaching and How to Avoid Them

Coaching is great!

For many situations in professional and personal life, it is ace!

Speaking with your coach gives you time to reflect on the situation in which you find yourself and is there to pose those “elephant in the room” questions no one else will. They will do this with compassion and your best interests at heart.

However, there are several things coaching does not do, and it is essential to understand these things when you are considering a coach.

A coach does not seek to deal with psychological or mental health issues. Coaches are not therapists. They may seem to have the same gene pool, but they diverged as a species long ago.

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”.

The ICF also gives clear guidance on when and how coaches should refer clients to therapy. Coaches who stray into psychotherapy put their clients at risk and break their code of ethics as professional practitioners.

The second thing coaching isn’t is a quick fix. Steven Berglas suggested the concept of easy answers with a self-help feel in his article, “the very real dangers of executive coaching”, as coming from behavioural sports coaching. He suggested that sports coaching was based more on behaviour modification than encouraging time spent in introspection.

Coaching has come on a lot since Berglas wrote his article in 2002. Most coaches are primarily interested in clients becoming the best versions of themselves rather than a persona of the textbook perfect leader. This approach is not quick or linear. It is sustainable and authentic.

Despite these two significant areas marked with a “do not trespass” sign on the door, coaching can bring about profound changes. The way to avoid both above is to make sure you have attended to these three things.

Firstly, make sure your coaching objectives are defined. Even if you don’t know where you want to end up but understand you’re stuck where you are, that’s close enough as an objective to start your journey.

If you are a member of the Human Resources Department commissioning coaching services, please make sure those being coached know why they are selected for the programme. They may think it’s because they’re underperforming or have done something wrong they don’t know about.

Secondly, don’t assume your coach is there to give you advice. Most of the time, they’re not there for that. Their role is to help you gain insight and not provide an opinion on your situation. Listening and reflecting are vital skills of a coach. Your coach may challenge you, but not by projecting from their own experiences.

The third thing to make sure of is that you are ready for the journey ahead. The coach is not making the journey for you. They may help you improve your self-awareness and provide a safe space for you to confront your vulnerabilities. They will encourage you to try new things in the process of self-exploration.

They will not do it for you. It is your journey.

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