Do we really understand what coaching is all about?


A recent interview with Andre Agassi in the latest Harvard Business review has a beautiful comment on coaching.

The interviewer asks what sets the best coaches apart. Andre’s answer is spot on:

“Coaching is not about what you know. It’s what your student learns. And for the student to learn, you have to learn him/her. The great coaches spend a lot of time understanding where the player they are coaching is. The day they stop learning is the day they should stop teaching.”  

It still surprises me how few managers and leaders truly understand what coaching is, never mind how to coach. This despite all the talk about creating coaching cultures, learning cultures and teaching cultures.

Many people’s reference point for coaching is often sport, either when they were a youngster, or them coaching youngsters. And in many sports at an early age coaching is not coaching in the sense that we want it to be in organisations. It’s about imparting knowledge, wisdom, technique. It’s about drills to build skills and discipline. It’s mostly about telling.

In organisations, if we want to develop a true coaching culture, we have to get away from a “tells” style and move to an “asking” style. After a meeting with a client to review how things went. Much better to ask the person “How did you think that went?”, than provide a download of feedback and what needs to be done.

When someone comes with a problem they are unsure how to solve, much better to help them figure out the answer than simply tell them the answer.

We all live in a world where people want the quick fix because we’re moving fast and need decisions made. But we’re not doing ourselves any favours by spoon feeding answers and solutions.

It’s not about what you know. It’s what the learner learns and can do for themselves the next time.

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