Deciding to partner with a coach is a critical decision, at the same time it is advisable to enter into coaching with realistic expectations. Over the years coaches have expressed or alluded to some of these and at times I have even been surprised.
Here are a few coaching myths I bust and aim to clear the misconceptions around coaching.
Myth 1: A coach will show me and tell me my next steps.
Answer: Coaching that involves ‘showing you how to’ will be the kind where you may be told what to do for example some aspects of sports coaching. In Leadership coaching, we wish to understand the landscape in which a leader functions. We aspire to understand your goals and aspirations for work and life. This sets the tone for further explorations as we understand what a leader truly cares about right now and why those goals they stated are significant at this stage of life and career. So when a leader presents a specific issue together, the coach and leader explore the nuances and layers of it so they see it more clearly. The solution and way forward ‘emerge’ as an outcome of the coaching. Given this approach, a coach is never going to tell you what your next steps need to be.
A coach cannot make decisions for you. They can explore your thoughts and beliefs on an issue so they support you in arriving at a decision that fits the leader’s value system.
Watch this video of mine where I speak about how coaching can help you move to the next steps.
Myth 2: Coaching will help me be happy, confident, and motivated.
Answer: Happiness isn’t a destination or place we go to. It is often an outcome of being in alignment with what brings meaning and satisfaction to our life. Leaders who come to coaching soon discover this through the coaching process.
Secondly, happiness is also not a static experience we stay in. Resilience in leadership is often the capacity to be in acceptance of the low phases and road bumps in life. Coaching can be towards building one’s capacity for the tough side of life too. That is another way to look at confidence. Resilience helps us stay confident and move ahead instead of overwhelm and breakdowns.
Coaching has to be seen as a process that supports the long game of life and leading. In that journey, we work with understanding what motivates us and designing a life that is fulfilling and motivating in itself. Together with a coach one looks at what brings meaning and satisfaction while using the unique strengths one brings to the world. Many leaders also pay attention to purpose questions thus paving the way to their joy and fulfillment.
Myth 3: Coaching is mainly about goal achievement.
Answer: In some ways yes, in some ways no. In transition coaching or in performance coaching goals are an important focus. That is because it forms the crux of why the leader is seeking coaching. They intend to prepare themselves for a higher form of performance or a new way of showing up in their professional roles.
In their partnership together the coach and coachee use ideas, concepts, and tools that help them move ahead toward goals. However, a big part of coaching is ‘discovery’. A leader begins to clearly see why the goals they stated are significant. How does it tie into their value system or their life and career stage? The coach seeks to clarify for both sakes the leader’s motivation, drive, and context so that it is clear why the pursuit of the goal is both relevant and energizing.
Goals become those milestones that the coach and leader can track. It is a milestone and not the entire journey. The journey for a leader is deepened self-awareness, bringing their attention to what really matters, and building the muscle to show up in the manner that creates the impact they wish for.
Myth 4: A coach will give me advice
Answer: Advice sounds like this ‘ Here is what you can now do’ ‘ Do this and you will not encounter this issue again’. This is far from coaching. As coaches, we bring ideas, conceptual frameworks, and deep listening as part of our toolkit. We listen keenly and explore with a leader if they see any connections to some of the ideas and concepts we bring. Often it triggers some deeper thinking and processing leading to the insight that a leader ends with. It is possible that a leader uses those ideas to devise further next steps that are relevant to them. In a way, coaching can serve as a guidance space in which the leader makes the choice of what to change and how.
A coach is not your doctor. A leader is not given a prescription. Instead, a leader may write their own next steps of practice and small changes they wish to try out. A self-written prescription of sorts!
Myth 5: The coach holds accountability for goals
Answer: This is a myth that allows the coachee to rest in ease and sometimes do very little. Coaching is a partnership and collaboration between a leader and a coach. In fact, the leader owns the goals, not the coach. The coach can only agree if the goals are relevant or not and whether the coach can be of assistance in achieving those. However, finally, the leaders work on the goals through small steps and action contracts they make with the coach.
As a coach, I hold accountability with the leader to examine actions that worked or did not work. The coach supports the navigation of current issues so that the leader can move towards goals with ease. In fact, a leader who does their ‘homework’ brings insights and road bumps they face in implementation and they get tremendous value coaching because they show up with ownership of their goals.
Myth 6: Coaching is only a professional chat about things that bother us
Answer: In some ways, this is correct as we are spending time speaking and listening. Also, it is true to the extent that leaders do bring to coaching what is top of their minds and what they are stuck with. However, for the sake of what core interest are we communicating? For the sake of what is a coach listening to?
An important job of a coach is holding space and being a container. Into that container is placed an issue or an experience of the leader. The conversation is then about understanding the nuances of the situation, the leaders’ thoughts and emotions, and uncovering the leader’s own wisdom. From there emerges a certain focus on problem-solving where the leaders take their insight and can move it into action.
A-Ha moments are terrific for both coach and leader. However the question of ‘Now what?’ is a useful one that allows the leader to leverage the coaching conversations.
You can hear Abhay Singhal, Co-founder of Inmobi speak more about how the individual and the professional are not two separate entities in here.
Myth 7: Coaching is no different from Individual customized training for a leader
Answer: Training is about concept and skill building most of the time. Coaching is about deepening awareness and identifying actions that support the leader to show up differently. And this focus is the biggest difference.
A leader and coach spend time understanding goals and why they may be relevant. Then comes the layer of uncovering blocks and limiting patterns. In doing so motivation, drives, and past history are visited. All in the service of enabling the leader to have insight and design actions that support them in showing up in the way they wish to at this career stage. Building skills in language, feedback, and handling emotions are all part of the journey and not the end goal. So there is customizing the learning for sure. However, it is more than individual training because coaching is inherently a deep exploratory process and not one in which there is a teaching-learning relationship alone.
Myth 8: Coaching involves going into my personal history of my past
Answer: Coaching is not therapy. Psychotherapy is about going into our distant past and at times regressing to an early stage of our lives too. It is there that we will explore and explode into a bigger scene the nuances of an old childhood experience. We may explore pain and trauma. Coaching instead holds a certain boundary around doing that. Sometimes a leader may mention a painful aspect of their early life and it is definitely not coaching if a coach says “Now tell me when was the earliest time in your life when you felt like that and would you like to work with that memory?”
Coaching is a here-and-now adult process where the past serves to bring perspective. It helps the leader join some dots to uncover limiting beliefs and where they learnt how to be who they are. However, it is not a space for exploring deeper hurts or going to an old place to get closure. For that, a leader is referred to a therapist.
When I coach the ‘who’ of a leader exploring personal beliefs, values, and how they were shaped becomes a critical aspect to dive into. Some of our early experiences have shaped us and this influences how we show up today as a leader. In coaching these can be brought to awareness so the leader can attempt a new choice of how to ‘be’. If a leader continues to struggle with an old pattern despite visiting it in coaching it often points in the direction of therapy and coaching on that issue may need to pause.
Did these 8 myths around coaching change your perspective on coaching? I would love to hear from you.
Do you have any questions about coaching? I would be glad to answer them.