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What is coaching? Myth #1 Coaches fix people, don’t they?

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Coaching Myth #1: Coaches Fix People Don’t They?

Coaching Myth #1: Coaches Fix People Don’t They?

by Moyra Mackie on March 23, 2013

I was inspired to write this article after a recent conversation where I was told:

“I’m not like you.  You’re a coach and coaches think everyone can be fixed.”

This brought to mind an image of a mechanic in greasy overalls wrestling with the inner workings of a car engine.  Leave aside the fact that I’m not sure I look good in overalls, “fixing” is not a concept that professional coaches recognise as being in their remit.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as: “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

So whilst it’s undoubtedly work on both sides, overalls are not required.

When clients talk to me about the issues they have with their teams they quite often tell me that they tried coaching and “it didn’t work”.

And I reply:

“When you were coaching, what did you try?”

The responses I get back have led me to develop the following:

Five Clues You Are NOT Coaching

Click to tweet: Coaching Myth #1: Coaches Fix People Don’t They?

If you hear yourself say any of the following, stop, put down that wrench, take off those overalls and step away from the urge to “fix”.

Clue #1:   “This always works for me ….”

Clue #2:   “If I were you….”

Clue # 3:  “I’m not sure you understand ….”

Clue #4:   “Let me help you ….”

Clue# 5:  “That’s not the way we do it ….”

The intentions behind these statements are usually good.  The speaker wants to be helpful, wants to point to the quickest way, the right way.  THEIR way.

Effective coaching is about asking questions

Not questions that will lead the other person where YOU want them to go, but questions that will get the other person to think more deeply and more widely than he or she would have done without you.

Effective coaching is about paying attention

Focus on what the person you are coaching is saying and NOT saying.  What words are chosen, what emotions are shown or suppressed? Coaches pay attention to both the spoken and unspoken signals we all send, consciously or unconsciously.

Effective coaching is about learning

The ability to seize coaching moments throughout the work day is one of the hallmarks of an effective leader.  It is so easy and tempting to either sympathise or disagree with a colleague, direct report or boss.  But the very essence of “leading out” is to put that coach’s hat on, start asking questions and paying attention.

So why does it matter if some people still see coaches as organisational mechanics?

Well, in the majority of cases, organisations do not rely on external qualified coaches, they use line managers or internal coaches. That’s a lot of potential mechanics we have out there.

The CIPD identifies the latest trend in developing a healthy coaching culture:

“line managers are increasingly being used as the load- bearers and deliverers of coaching with external consultants fulfilling the role of architects and designers of coaching.”

So it is up to us architects to resist the call to put on overalls and to help our clients do the same. Whether we work as internal or external, formal or informal coaches, our coaching needs to be about building relationships that help others learn and change.

Do you agree that coaches don’t – or shouldn’t – fix people?  Have I missed anything?  It would be great to hear your experiences of either coaching or being coached.

Click to tweet:Coaching Myth #1: Coaches Fix People Don’t They?


Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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