We all benefit from having someone to share and compare perceptions and interpretations of situations. For most, this need is met with family, friends, colleagues and peers. While such resources can be deep and profound, there are often limitations, or even liabilities from such sources. Some business issues are sensitive such that it is inappropriate or counter-productive to share them with colleagues, direct reports, bosses, board members and partners. Some business situations are so complex that spouses, family and friends may not have the experience and perspective to offer anything more than support and good wishes. Sometimes the people you most want to confide in have interests and concerns that are at odds with your own. These and other factors help substantiate the old adage that “It’s lonely at the top.”
A good coach holds your concerns as paramount. As organizational outsiders, they are not embroiled in traditional office politics and turf battles. The coach has your back and nobody else’s.
A good coach is a trustworthy confidante in whom you can entrust both your light and your dark pieces, your fears and ambitions, your assessments of others. While many coaches are not steeped in psychology, the relationship can have the intimacy and depth that one associates with a therapist.
A good coach draws from experience that is relevant to your situation, roles and responsibilities. Academic, conceptual knowledge might provide useful frameworks, but most organizational leaders are in need of pragmatic, action-oriented support.
A good coach helps clarify and focus by asking penetrating questions and not necessarily settling for the first answer. Peeling the onion may reveal deeper insights and useful alternatives, or help in the endless process of sorting and sifting among the overwhelming demands on an executive’s time.
A good coach sees and interprets differently. Such differences are not necessarily superior, but with multiple perspectives come greater options and choices on how to think and move in a given situation.
A good coach has the courage to bring “bad news” for the sake of whatever the client declares as the goal. Negative assessments are not shared in a mood of harsh criticism, but rather as “tough love”. Only rarely is an owner or executive surrounded by people who are willing to provide such important, essential, constructive assessments.
A good coach knows and owns his limitations, being careful not to offer advice or consultation outside areas of relative expertise.
A good coach fosters interdependent thinking and acting, unlike some consultants who seek to be indispensable. In the framework of interdependence, all parties know and accept their own strengths and experiences with an openness to hearing what others have to say and allowing those perspectives to impact them. This model is more powerful than the isolation that comes with independence, and the disempowerment that comes from dependence.