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Confessions of a business coach

Ian Dyason. 5 February 2021

Coaching is a very rewarding job. It is one that helps another become the best version of him- or herself. It is a job that can impact greatly on the future, and develop others to grow themselves, their organisation and ultimately, the whole economy. While coaches are not directly involved in creating the change, they are the indispensable force that champions that change. They provide another set of eyes that keep a lookout for pitfalls, helping the coachee steer clear from obstacles and help clarify the solutions for success. Coaching cheers success and provides support in failure. It helps build resilience in executives.

But all is not rosy as a coach. We can do better by working with more people, but many hesitate to ask for help. Many think that a coach is not worth the money (s)he charges, not realising that coaching can lead to multi-million dollar deals, which I had brought to a few of my previous coachees. (See my case studies on coaching here.) And herein lies the rub... coaching is a discretionary expense when it should be mandatory. Until enough people see the direct benefit of coaching to give it the same importance as training, it will still be relegated to the sides. But I hope to change all that by sharing my responses to an internal interview I had with a Middle East organisation. Here are the juicy bits of the interview entitled, "Confessions of a Business (Growth Mindset) Coach". (I have changed the focus a bit to the growth mindset, as outlined in parentheses)

What do you do as a business (growth mindset) coach?

I help companies grow by directly impacting the actions of the business leaders.

What is the difference between a business advisor and a business coach?

A business advisor normally has direct, relevant experience in the industry. A coach has broad-based experience that often lies outside the industry. Also, advisors advise. Coaches lead people to come to the decision themselves.

If you don't have any direct experience in the industry, how can you help the business leader?

There are three types of competencies: technical, behavioural and leadership. To be a good coach, you must have the behavioural and leadership competencies. Technical competencies are good to have but can be a double-edge sword. If one has direct experience in the industry, he/she might prescribe a solution of choice, thereby cutting off the learning aspect of coaching.

Does a coach need to have senior management experience to be a good business (growth mindset) coach?

The coaching industry says no, but here is where I differ. I say yes. As a CEO, I have been faced with strategic decisions that no one else has had to deal with. For example, I had to contend with the directions of the Board versus the needs of my staff. I had to commit money to something that "experts" said would not work, only to have them proven wrong after 11 months. But during those 11 months, I had been derided by many industry leaders - and the board members too. But in the end, we prevailed, and the Board suddenly forgot that they had wanted to fire me earlier! If a coach does not have such relevant experience, how can he help a CEO who is dealing with such experiences?

What happens if a coach tells a business leader to do something, and then it turns out badly?

First thing is, a coach never tells a business leader (or anyone else) to do something. Coaching is a co-creative process where the coachee will make the decision himself/herself. There is no coercion and no influence. The coach is there to help uncover blind spots, point them out to the coachee, and the coachee will take those into consideration - or not - in their decision process. In the end, the coachee needs to own the decision, because it is HIS/HER decision and no one else's.

What do you do when your coachee decides to do something that you don't agree with?

There is nothing to agree nor disagree with, since the decision is not ours to make.

What if the outcome of that decision is bad?

Then it is. Coaching cannot influence outcome; nothing can. Outcome of a decision is independent of the process of decision making. One can use all the right inputs and processes in his decision and still have a poor outcome. Conversely, one can use all the wrong inputs and processes and still get a good outcome! None of these is the result of the coach - or the coachee! It just is.

If that is the case, then why should a business leader engage you? You cannot even guarantee the right decision!

What is the right decision? One that uses all the right inputs and decision processes, or one that gave the outcome that you want?