Everybody is talking about executive coaching these days. Unfortunately, a lot of the talk is misinformed. For every executive who takes advantage of what coaching has to offer, it seems, several more refuse to be coached.
Why? Because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what coaching is, and a belief that asking for coaching will be seen as a sign of weakness or incompetence.
Let’s do a little debunking on that.
First, let’s address what coaching really is. Coaching is more than just training, and more than just a process of teaching you what you don’t know. Instead, coaching is more often a means of acquiring perspective: of seeing something in a way you hadn’t seen it before. Coaching is a conversation between you and your coach, who pushes you to break through any barriers you’ve set for yourself. And in doing so, you often acquire the new perspective — and find new answers — yourself.
Given that fact, is asking for coaching an indictment on your knowledge and competence? We hardly think so. Asking for a coach is simply asking for new insight and perspective on what you’re doing. It’s not an admission that you don’t know how to perform your job. Instead, it’s a means of doing your job better. And that may mean doing your job better than someone who isn’t receiving the same input.
That’s because executive coaching gets you to go above and beyond the point at which you might otherwise stop. Think of it in athletic terms. If you decide to run a marathon, you might be fine preparing on your own for a couple of months. But what happens if you have a minor injury or if the weather becomes inclement, dampening your spirit for training? A coach might get you beyond that by helping you see reasons to continue and ways to get beyond the stumbling blocks.
That’s one of the reasons the best athletes in the world have coaches. In team sports, the coach’s influence is often obvious. Jim Harbaugh took the San Francisco 49ers from a last-place team to the Super Bowl just two years after he was hired to coach there. In individual sports, coaches can have a similar, though less celebrated influence. In tennis, Great Britain’s Andy Murray, who has been ranked among the top players in the world for several years, finally won a Grand Slam tournament last year. Who did he credit for the breakthrough? His new coach, who Murray said gave him a new perspective on how to handle big moments in major matches.
Apply Murray’s situation to yourself. Murray didn’t hire that coach, Ivan Lendl, because he lacked talent. He was already one of the best players on the planet. Similarly, you’re not going to ask for coaching because you’re not good at your job. You’re going to ask because you want to be better in a specific respect, because you want to achieve a breakthrough. And there’s nothing weak about that.