Is coaching about fixing people?
I’ve had a number of enquiries recently from new, prospective or returning coaching clients. What I notice is that the reasons for getting in touch are changing a little over time.
A few years ago, when I was delivering stress management training programmes and workshops, and doing some one to one work to support those, there seemed to be a tendency to wait until something was clearly going wrong before any help would be sought. I have had people “sent” to me by their manager as being increasingly dysfunctional in their role and I’ve essentially been asked to fix them. I have always been uncomfortable about that, have only engaged with one or two, after careful conversation with the person and manager concerned, and I no longer accept clients on that basis.
It often meant there was a reluctance from the organisation to engage with or address the underlying issues – whether they be stress, performance, or inherent organisational issues (bad line management practices, unworkable structure or targets for instance). Sending one person to be coached as a remedial measure usually puts the blame on that one person and even if that person could be described as “the weakest link”, there are better ways to address what the organisation sees as their shortcomings.
But now, I rarely even get a whiff of this kind of approach. I suspect this is more to do with me and the kind of clients I appeal to rather than it no longer goes on – but I also think that there is a level of recognition in some organisations that this “fix a person (or team) whether they like it or not” approach doesn’t actually work.
So why do people seek out coaching?
The people I am working with and getting enquiries from seem to me to show a much more positive approach. Their reasons are usually about finding a committed space in their diary to explore new approaches to old habits or issues, and where they can be both supported and challenged. It might be about recognising that they have a great deal on their plate and it can be difficult to prioritise effectively alone. Sometimes articulating their situation to a fresh pair of eyes and ears can lead to some new insight and decisions about what’s most important. It could be that someone is taking on a new role or challenge and recognises that regular independent coaching can help them to work out what this entails as well as face some of the more daunting aspects in a constructive way.
I don’t have the answers to any of those presenting reasons for coming to be coached. I can’t usually advise them even if I thought that would be a good idea – I simply don’t know the best way forward for them. I can of course think about what I would do in their situation but that is very rarely a helpful thing for me to say – I’m me and they are them. My role is to help them unearth their own solutions which are usually buried in there somewhere.
I sometimes (frequently. In fact, usually) listen with awe as people describe to me the complex nature of their lives, the challenges they face and the aspirations they have. Some of you may know that I love a good jigsaw, on high days and holidays – and coaching often feels very similar to doing a jigsaw alongside someone. It’s their picture, but together we can sometimes piece together more of it than they might have been able to on their own.
We are all fumbling around trying to make sense of things in one way or another, of that I am sure, although not everyone is happy to admit that. The people who come for coaching are the ones who not only admit it but who are brave enough to stare it in the face. Even braver in many ways are the managers in organisations who are prepared to pay for their (willing) staff to do this, before something goes wrong. It’s nothing much at all to do with being fixed.