Sometimes, Coaching Isn’t All That…Useful

[Insert name of famous athlete] has a coach.  If you want to be at the top of your game, you’d better get one, too.


Do you need a coach?  Let’s get to that in about 30 seconds.  First, some history, as I understand it.

Executive coaching arose around 40-ish years ago — the idea that you might receive formal coaching from someone other than your boss.

Some of the first coaches were therapists, who found themselves working with executives who did not have standard therapeutic issues – they had business issues.

Early coaching clients were people at the top of the large and established corporations.  It was very rarefied stuff.

Around the turn of the century, coaching expanded, as a field.  Among other things:

  • Mid-career executives were being cut loose from Corporate America, and were not particularly welcome to return.  People who weren’t therapists started to become coaches, and the supply of coaches expanded.
  • Universities started to run coach-training programs, as did experienced coaches; organizations arose to certify and train coaches.  This continued to grow the supply of coaches.
  • Investors started funding more ventures led by people who didn’t have significant  experience leading organizations.  Larger organizations increasingly used coaching with people outside of the C-suite.  This grew the demand for coaches.


  • Emotional intelligence came to be seen as a key leadership attribute.  Respected coaches began to emphasize EQ and its components, like “self awareness.”

Coaching for EQ is valid.  That said, EQ is not a patch for the software at the interface between your personality and your behavior.

It. Takes. Time.

(I recently described myself, early in my career, as having had the EQ of a potato.  Working on it.)

When you’re running a startup, you’re building an invisible airplane at the same time you’re trying to fly it.

EQ is not a ticket to a smoothly running organization; it’s a piece of the puzzle that enables you to see that things aren’t smooth.

Fixing the bumps in the road requires a separate set of actions, more than just EQ.

There’s a lot about organizational intelligence (OQ, lol) that’s non-intuitive.  It’s wisdom around structure, process, and how people behave when they’re in a group.

This wisdom doesn’t naturally arise from self awareness.  You can level up by surrounding yourself with people who have relevant expertise, and by listening to them.  With time and practice, EQ and self awareness will enable you to listen well.

Do you need a coach?  I don’t know.  If you’re new to leading people, EQ and OQ are both important.

Will you get that from coaching?  I don’t know.  Coaching is not a silver bullet.

It’s a process.  Coaching engagements must include goals, and ways to measure progress.  Your coach should talk with your team members and other stakeholders.

The engagement and the coach should fit you, and what you need.

And being coached is work — work you have to do yourself.   You’ve got to want to put in that work.   (Also, while many coaches are therapists, coaching is not therapy.)

If you’re being coached and not making progress, you should take a hard look at what you’re doing.  And why.

Very few people will talk about negative experiences with coaching.  I’ve seen the aftermath of a few coaching engagements that didn’t go well.

It’s a real waste of time.  And heart.

Photo:  wocintech stock – 64, via WOCinTechChat, via Flickr under CC2.0 license

(This is the last of my follow ups to What You Disregard, You Accept: Red Flags for CEOs.  It’s also cross-posted at Medium.  The series:

Positional Power is a Thing

A few years back, I was in a discussion with a group of emerging managers. One expressed concern: their company was about to publish their first org chart, ever. How would people react?

Another participant had been through it before and offered comfort.   They observed that once a company has managers, there’s already an org chart:  it’s just not on paper yet.

A newer manager — and yes, this may mean a newer CEO —  may naively deny the power inherent in their position.

You may not understand the weight your words and actions assume because you’re the boss.  It may seem easier, nicer, or just more reasonable to approach people as though you’re their peer.

You’re not their peer.

I’ve written before about an early lesson learned.  I asked a junior staffer an innocent question, and noticed that he looked like he wanted to cry.  (I wish I could say that this was in my first management role, sigh.)

While you may wish to be friendly with people, you’ll find that it’s tough to actually be friends.  Even if you brought an existing friendship to the venture with you, it can be difficult.

When you’re the boss, your incentives are different.  And everyone knows it.

It has (thankfully) become less fashionable to believe that your organization can redistribute power by disrupting the traditional organization.   A company’s rewards and liabilities belong to its owners — and even with generous options, most of your team members probably aren’t truly your partners.

I’ve also written about the weaksauce way we sometimes use the word empowerment.   tl;dr, just don’t.

I’m not here to be power’s cheerleader.  I can’t balance the equation between good and devastatingly wrong uses of power.

It is a wrong view, though, to deny power as an element of humanity in your workplace.  Or to try to wish it away.

When you can acknowledge power, and how it operates, you’re better positioned to be a good leader, ally, and citizen.

This goes especially for your own power.

Photo: 76075 Wonder Woman Warrior Battle by Brickset, via Flickr under CC2.0 license.

This is one of a series of follow ups to What You Disregard, You Accept:  Red Flags for CEOs.  I’ve also posted this over at Medium.  The series: