Challenge Your Assumptions Before Working with a Coach

Working with an executive coach can be a large investment of time and money; it seems a shame to waste either. If you’re considering coaching (or have, ahem, been asked to consider it), make sure you get the most out of the experience.

People sign up for coaching for all sorts of reasons — perhaps it was their own idea, and they genuinely want to improve. But often, coaching is not something an individual chooses willingly; someone senior to them, maybe even on the board of directors, has suggested it.

Someone in a position of authority may make it known that if the executive wants to be promoted, win a bonus, or even keep his job, he must change behaviors that hinder his performance, turn others way, or do not instill confidence in his abilities.

And so the coach arrives — the outsider, hired to speak truth to power — and can’t make any headway, because the person being coached doesn’t really want to be there. Or the person being coached doesn’t have a specific goal in mind, and so coach and coachee meet a bunch of times before parting ways, neither really knowing what they tried to accomplish.

As I was talking the other day with a colleague — Mark Goulston, M.D., author of Real Influence, which he co-authored with John Ullmen — it occurred to us that there were some things we wished executives knew about coaching before signing up for it.

Effective coaching is often a matter of challenging assumptions, and the biggest assumptions often reside in the mind of the person being coached. Challenge your own assumptions about what you need to improve so that you can lead your people in ways the organization demands and they expect.

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First posted on 3/15/13