To Coach or Not To Coach…Is That the Question?

By Kevin Fleming, PH.D.

Reprinted with permission by Executive Decision magazine, March-April 2007

It has been said that any strength overused becomes a weakness, and that applies to even the ever-so-good techniques embedded inside the various helping orientations of coaching. It makes me think of some country and western song that talked about whether it could really be possible to have too much fun or too much money. Well, when it comes to executive coaching, doing too much of it or at least without having a realistic sense of the question prompting service, a coach or a client can end up in something more foolish than even subject matter in the worst country western song. In my practice, I have realized over time that not everyone wants to change, but everyone wants to think either they can or don't have to. Instead of answering the question of whether John Doe the VP is "coaching material or not," I guide an organizational leadership team into understanding natural laws of humanity (i.e., people will do what they want to do and not what they don't want to do) and take them through a lesson where they come face to face with accountability…where one realizes one can't be made to commit and instead one can only evaluate the ramifications of one's decisions. In this messiness of organizational life, it gets you wondering what do I, as an expert executive coach, see as the best of the best situations for the richness of executive coaching? Read on for my top five:

1. Your team is not underperforming, just getting comfortable with what it is performing. Many coaches go after the dysfunctional team as their prime candidate to coach, as if not being aligned actually hurts or has some overt pathology. However, I prefer the team that has come to the conclusion that they are doing just fine. What illusion are they colluding on? Where has the fear been displaced to?

2. Sudden unexplained positive shift in a business outcome critical to your company's success. To quote the well-known executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, there are factors of success that are best explained under the willful heading of "because" factors and those that are coined as the elusive "in spite" factors. When a success happens that is of a large scale nature, some leader is ready to step up and take credit. But what if the success happened in spite of someone's portfolio of "skills?"

3. Oversimplification of strategy. Beware of the leader who begins his sentences "all we have to do is just…" Typically some nuance is missed. No area is more susceptible to this then in the alignment area of business. "We just have to know who is on the bus and who isn't". Wish human nature was that binary. It just isn't. If you don't seek complexity in your decision making, it won't seek you.

4. Failing to see value trade offs. Next time you see an employee doing something you don't get, before you tell them what they did wrong, inquire about what value was underneath the decision that they made. In every moment we make a decision, we are operating from some value center. You will likely uncover a bind that is common in your organization…one that you unconsciously did not want to uncover through inquiry as it would put some self-interest component at jeopardy.

5. Fallibility of perception. Most of the work I do can be linked to being asked to join two perceptions into, hopefully, a more realistic indicator of human nature, and therefore organizational performance. When I meet a leader that has an illusion of invincibility, find a "maybe" or a "perhaps"-don't prove them wrong.

In essence, these top five areas have a "do not coach" side to them that is very tempting as a fault that is either imperceptible or a right that is so darn true, filling that person up to the brim. Don't lose faith. Coaching is not about motivationally enhancing the motivationally inclined people…it is about seeing the stage of change that people are in and inviting them to question from their value center-not yours.

About the Author
Dr. Kevin J. Fleming, Ph.D., author of the forthcoming book, The Inc. Shrink,TM is an executive coach, neuropsychologist and transformative change expert located in Jackson Hole, Wy. For more information or to request coaching services with Kevin J. Fleming, speak with a Client Relationship Manager by calling 800-824-2850.

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