ALC English Journal Article Mar 2013

Isn’t Coaching a Waste of Time?

QUESTION: “My boss recommended that I get some professional development “coaching”.  Does that mean I’m doing something wrong?  If my boss thought I knew how to do my job properly would he really think I needed a coach?”

ANSWER: Coaching is not punishment for doing something wrong – it’s an investment in your future, and one of the most effective ways to accelerate your professional growth. Personally, I’ve paid my own money to hire coaches many times during my career, and it was never because I felt I was doing something wrong. The fact that your manager recommends coaching to you probably means they feel you have the potential to improve your performance in some way, and that you are worth the substantial financial investment required.

Nevertheless, many people share your confusion, so let’s clarify the exact meaning of coaching. It’s easier to start by explaining what coaching is NOT.

Mentoring is NOT coaching. Mentoring involves getting guidance and advice from someone who is knowledgeable in an area you want to learn about. In a typical mentoring relationship the mentor shares their knowledge, wisdom and experience on a topic, and the mentee learns from them as a student learns from a teacher.

Corrective action is NOT coaching. If you’re doing something wrong your manager, or some other authority figure, should advise you about what you need to change to correct your unacceptable performance. Together you should then implement a corrective action plan, and then track your status and progress against this plan until the issue is resolved.

Psychological counseling is NOT coaching. If you suffer from some kind of personality disorder, chronic anxiety, life trauma, or mental illness (and who doesn’t??!!), you should see a counselor, not a coach. Counselors can help you overcome various cognitive distortions and unproductive behaviors. And, if your difficulties can be relieved through pharmaceuticals, they can refer you to appropriate medical professionals.

Coaching helps you achieve your goals, not someone else’s. A true coach doesn’t try to advise you, fix you, or teach you anything. Like a mirror, they simply reflect back to you a clearer image of your possibilities, hopes, dreams and goals. After your goals are clear, a coach will help you define a plan to achieve these goals, then encourage you to take action to implement your plan. Coaching can help you avoid getting stuck in unproductive patterns, such as randomly wandering through life with unclear goals, or failing to take action on your goals.


The best athletes have a coach. Can you imagine an Olympic athlete going to the games without one? While their coach isn’t a better athlete, they do help Olympians become better athletes.

To understand the role of a coach, imagine a simple example. Try to see the back of your own head. You’ll find that you can’t do it without some kind of help, like a mirror, a photograph, or another person describing it to you. The outside perspective of a coach is like getting a look at the back of our head – providing useful insights inaccessible to us without some kind of support.

In all honestly, sometimes a manager will suggest coaching because they think someone’s doing something wrong. While that’s a misuse of coaching, it’s still an opportunity in disguise. Even if that’s your manager’s motivation, take advantage of this tremendous opportunity to learn, change and grow at your company’s expense!

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