Tackling the Coaching Conundrum (Part I)

This is the first post in a two-part series. Here, I’ll introduce the weaknesses of the modern business coaching paradigm. In the next post, I’ll provide a pathway to finding the right coach and setting up a superior coaching relationship. UPDATE: Here’s Part II

The business coaching industry in the US is a greater than 1 billion dollar industry. In the past decade it has grown from a niche market to a behemoth. There are a lot of reasons for this, but if you believe that people seek coaches to achieve growth, and that growth is part of leading a more fulfilled life, then I’d say this is a positive trend. We live in a business environment where the pursuit of becoming better and staying accountable is increasingly the norm.

The rapid growth of the coaching industry means there are a lot of coaching companies out there, each hawking their own offering. And when a market becomes saturated, there is a tendency for the offering, whatever it may be, to become commoditized. We see this clearly happening in the coaching industry. Even though this commoditized version of a coach is the last thing we want, this is essentially what the coaching paradigm has become: a half hour weekly call with a person who has already coached five other people that day in the same format.

Very few coaches are talented or disciplined or – as we will see – invested in the client’s growth enough to be consistently effective in the half hour per week format. Sure, you may have a breakthrough call every four or five conversations, but for the most part, are you really getting your money’s worth?

Coaching is a two-way street. Like any relationship, both parties have to be invested for the relationship to bear fruit. But we live in an age where we are conditioned to expect “inputs” without the investment of ourselves; without our own expenditure.

Great relationships are hard won by both parties. A great coaching relationship is no different. I can get great input by reading books and listening to podcasts. In reading, listening to good material and coaching, the goal is personal growth. However, my posture needs to be different toward a coach than it is toward a book. In order to be really effective, a coaching relationship has to be more than just the input received from these mediums. Naturally, the difference between a coach and a great book is the disposition of the one receiving the advice.

We look too often for the charismatic coach who inspires or who entertains. There is no real relationship, they are expendable, a commodity… Yes, they can give you cool ideas, but they are not in deep relationship with you.

My first coach was my father. He was (and whether he realizes it or not, still is in many ways) a life coach, a spiritual coach, a business coach and an athletic coach. Without Dad’s advice, I would not have become an entrepreneur, I would have likely not married the caliber of woman I am blessed to have been attracted to and I almost certainly would not have much depth to my faith. Because of the natural depth of our relationship, because of the authentic trust I have in Dad, I show up differently to conversations with him than I do toward others. Breaking this down a bit more, it’s clear that his coaching has been massively effective for two reasons, principally: 1) Because I show up willing to receive advice, criticism, insights, and with at least some degree of humility and 2) Because he desperately wants to invest himself into me. (This is the vocation a father has, after all.) This is the foundation of a great coach/player relationship.

I’ve had other great mentors and coaches in my life whose example and wisdom has radically affected my growth and development. These have not been men and women who are certified coaches, they have simply been profoundly interested in investing in me. For my part, I have been willing to receive their investment. Why? Because I trust them. This willingness to trust stems from a natural assessment of the person’s character. In thinking about all of these relationships, the “coach” has always been someone whose human virtues have been attractive to me. These virtues – which are the foundation of character – have laid the foundation for deep trust and thus a willingness to be open to their input in my life.

With paid-for, coaches this degree of trust and the resulting human connectivity is a rarity. It could be that the coaches do possess excellent human virtues, but the paradigm is set up for a short lived, commoditized coaching relationship: “I pay you for your input. When you have expended your ability to give strong inputs, I’ll find a new coach.” On the part of the coach, the equation is something like: “I will bring my experience to the table, invest it, and if you choose to leave, I’ll just find someone else to invest into.” Add to this the fact that the coach is paid regardless of the value brought to the conversation (until they get fired). There is no skin in the game. The business coaching paradigm has been set up without a correlation between the success of the player and the efficacy of the coach. When this is the case, real trust is exceptionally hard to establish. This lack of a win-win scenario is, perhaps the greatest achilles heel to an authentic relationship between the coach and the player.

It does exist, though. I know a few coaches of immense human qualities who have amazingly deep client relationships. They are masterful, and mastery at something so intricate as coaching is rare.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this two-part series on coaching. In the next post, I’ll tackle the steps you should take to find the right coach and set the right expectations for your coaching relationship

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