Debunking, for good, the three most common coaching myths.

60 second summary

Coaching continues to grow, both as a market offering and industry as well as a place of confusion. Whilst coaching, executed well, can help bring about amazing results for individuals, teams and organisations (which you can measure … See BONUS at the end of this feature) the speed of growth has led to much of the coaching narrative being inaccurate. If you are a purchaser of coaching, you’ll want to make sure every penny is well invested in what, until now at least, has been an expensive resource to provide. This article helps you – whether you are a change leader, heading up a team, the HRD/CPO or COO – to better understand your buying decisions by clarifying some outmoded myths of coaching.

Many coaches I know have stopped referring to themselves as a “coach.” I’m not quite there myself yet. Partly because I’m not certain about the best alternative title that describes what I do and partly because I invested heavily in getting both a Masters and a Doctorate in coaching and so it would seem odd for me to drop coaching from my job description.  The growing shift away from “coach” reflects an industry in a state of flux and confusion, which is not great for you as a potential customer. 

Before I offer some thoughts that will help you get clearer on why and how to choose effective coaching, I thought it helpful briefly to offer my own insights gleaned from recent conversations, about why so many are coming up with creative alternatives to ‘coaching.’ 

In part it appears to be a function of differentiation: The market is crowded and growing evermore so. A logical response is to separate in order to “be seen” by busy customers. It’s an attention-seeker. The other reason I think is because it is a confused industry with no over-arching framework determining what good looks like. That can leave all coaches in a very large, shared bucket or what an amended quotation from Pine and Gilmore would refer to as the commoditised state of, “Coaching-is coaching-is coaching.” Uncertainty and ambiguity for customers like you can lead to confusion and relying perhaps too heavily on word-of-mouth from others who may have been equally unclear. It can promote best-guess decisions rather than fully informed ones. That’s not a great place to make investment in your people, when you just wanted to find the best solutions for helping individual leaders, teams and the wider organisation deliver key impacts, change behaviours or raise the performance of the organisation. 

In this post I’m going to share three things you may hear about coaching which will not be helpful in you finding what you need. They are long-standing doctrines, which are either out-dated or designed to protect the interests of certain parties. None of which serve you as a customer nor is ultimately a good thing for your users of coaching. I want to help correct that and ensure you are armed with the information you need to make the best decisions around whether coaching is a good solution for what you need – at least in relation to these three myths of coaching. 

Myth 1: There is one common and agreed definition of coaching

Ask 10 people what the definition of coaching is and you will probably get three ‘don’t knows;’ two references to Sir Alex Ferguson or Jurgen Klopp and then a range of ideas from the remainder. Worse, if you ask 10 academics researching coaching to define the term, you’ll certainly get answers (and those responses won’t mention iconic football managers) but you will still get variation. 

The variation is not a problem in itself. Indeed, I would argue that diversity of approaches, and specialisms is a really good thing, for you as a customer and for your leaders and managers. The challenge comes when politics affects accuracy. Some schools of coaching or industry bodies (they are not ‘professional bodies’) try to persuade you that there is a singular, definitive way to describe both what coaching is and how it should be done. Neither is true.

When you are seeking a coaching provider, you may well be better off avoiding such inflexibility. Coaching is a broad church, or at least it should be. Awesome coaching is done both by coaches who want to unpick key moments of your childhood and by coaches who will seek to connect your inner thoughts to your external behaviours and a wide range between and beyond these. Some coaches avoid providing any advice and some offer a more pragmatic approach. 

As a customer perhaps the most helpful thing for you to find is a coaching provider who has a clear understanding of their approach and the changes it can facilitate, whilst acknowledging that other ways of working successfully exist. Dogmatism is rarely a foundation for a great coaching experience for your leaders and managers. 

Myth 2: Coaching works best for under-performers 

Back in the early 1980s when coaching started to become more popular within organisations, it was often, primarily perhaps, used to support under-performing leaders. Occasionally, it was (wrongly) used as a way to exit toxic individuals from the organisation, as if the insights from the coach in some way legitimised the organisation making the decision to let someone go. That was forty years ago. Today coaching has a quite different profile. 

Over the last twenty plus years coaching has become more developmental in focus. Those receiving coaching – be that team, individuals or large cohorts of managers – are now being supported in transforming “from good to great.” Yes, there is still some important work being done when leaders or managers are struggling but the centre of gravity has shifted towards greater added value for those who invest in coaching.  

There are a lot of reasons for that change happening, one of which is down to organisations getting better at exiting highly toxic people and/or those who persistently under-perform. Another reason the focus of coaching has changed is that now rather than being a reactionary intervention, it is used more proactively to support and develop key talent, retain awesome, critical employees and systemically develop the strength of the organisation’s leadership bench. The wider benefits of great coaching are recognised by organisations who seek competitive advantage. 

Myth 3: Coaching is the preserve of the most senior leaders in an organisation. 

Executive coaching is a brilliant way to support senior leaders. Those leaders often have wide and deep influence on the organisation, so it makes sense that they are the highest quality possible. If they have gaps, were a technical founder or have recently moved up to Partner or the ExCo, then they may well need high quality support to aid that development. Coaching is great for that. So is mentoring. And executive development via a business school. 

The challenge with the model is that according to some research, only around 4% of an organisation have had access to this kind of coaching. Lucky them. Not so great for the remaining 96%. The great news for you as someone looking to help larger cohorts of leaders and managers across your organisation, is that there are now several companies providing coaching that scales. This means you can provide help for overwhelmed, traditionally under-supported, managers who were in that 96%. It gives culture change, transformation and hyper-growth a much greater chance of succeeding than was previously the case. 

You can even go a step further: AI coaching is a real thing. For a relatively small investment you can provide the benefits of coaching to your entire organisation at a very low investment per person. This is a sector that is set to grow dramatically over the coming three to five years as the technology advances. 

BONUS Myth 4: It is impossible to measure the ROI of L&D programmes

Measuring ROI has long been held as the Nirvana of people development. It was viewed as great to be able to report but impossible to do. The good news is that it can be done reliably. It takes some effort but with the knowledge around how to undertake the process, it is possible to produce a financial return on the development investment. My own Master’s research (you can read it here if there is nothing on TV or your life is devoid of any fun!) looked into this very topic and you can read more about that here. 

One key question to ask before you head down that route is whether that is the key measure you want data on or if there are sufficient other data points you can gather which will justify the investment. The best coaching suppliers you work with will be confident in the changes they can facilitate with you. ROI is just one of those measures. I hope debunking these particular myths of coaching help you make more informed decisions. I’m neither deluded nor a coaching evangelist: Coaching is not the best solution for every situation but it is so incredibly flexible that you can benefit from applying it to a number of the contexts outlined in this post and many more. The key is getting clear on what you want to achieve and then considering how best to deliver those outcomes. 

Exigence works with organisations to deliver full-stack HR leadership development solutions, from Executive and senior team coaching to group and AI coaching. If you would like to discuss how we can help you deliver quantifiable impacts for your organisation, we’d love to hear from you – just  contact us here.