The Uber driver asked, “What do you do?” There was dead silence. Why were two erudite executive coaches silent? During our ensuing conversation that evening, Gary Ranker and I both confessed to feeling embarrassed about introducing ourselves as coaches. What’s this about? Gary is well known as a coach for leaders with global responsibilities and I run a highly regarded evidence-based coaching practice in Australia. Why are we reticent?
The experience really got Gary and myself talking about the future of executive coaching.
Are we reluctant because the answer is complex? We are not the only professionals who practise coaching. In organisations, managers use coaching skills and many HR and OD professionals provide coaching and share intended purpose and processes.
Is it a kind of embarrassment about doing something that seems like common sense? Part of what coaches do is very much the basic ingredients of good quality, courteous dialogue.
Is the bad press about obscene fees another deterrent to saying I’m an executive coach? Purchasers of coaching are market savvy professionals who choose a particular service, just as they choose one consultant or lawyer over another.
Is it because coaching is informed from many disciplines and is as much of an art (as it is a science) that we struggle to describe what we do? Gary describes himself as a behavioural sculptor. Similarly, just as an artist works with paint or clay, I work with people to help them shape themselves and their organisations to be the masterpieces they want.
Or is part of the problem that we are still having our own debate about coaching? A recent survey in the UK magazine Coaching at Work, confirmed that views amongst coaches and their associations, remain split into two broad camps: coaching as a profession and coaching as an area of professional practice. Gary and I explored leadership as an analogy for coaching, proposing that both are arenas of professional practice, sharing many of the same characteristics. Recent Australian research (Tooth, 2014) also highlighted coaching as an emerging area of practice, with at its core a special form of developmental relationship co-created between the coach and coachee.
But the story does not end here. I shared it with other coaches, most of who always introduce themselves as executive coaches. One such coach shared how they then ‘worked hard’ for the 35-minute ride as the driver made good use of her skills. At the end of the ride the Uber driver said, “I’m so glad I got you, you’re my first customer and I feel so much more confident about doing this now after speaking with you”.
What are your thoughts on the future of coaching?
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