Business coaching has never been in more demand.  And 18 years of working with employees and managers tells me it’s never been more scarce.

Coaching is usually the best way to help someone to learn, even in something like learning how to drive.Why’s it in such demand?  Because coaching is the number one support employees are looking for in their manager.  Google carried out extensive research into this in 2013 through Project Oxygen.  The research also concluded that the last thing on the list of 8 qualities of an effective manager was technical skills that help him or her advise the team, please note.  Those of you who think that to be an effective manager you have to be the expert: think again.

Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” survey 2017 produced the usual depressing results, with 51% of employees neither engaged nor disengaged with their organisation: in effect just showing up.

In his executive summary, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton has a list of recommendations for changing the workplace culture and trying to address this malaise.  Guess what’s at the top of his list:

 “Commit to transforming your workplace from old command-and-control to one of high development and ongoing coaching conversations.”

Hopefully we recognise that business coaching is an essential tool in the effective management toolkit, and yet it is a rarity.  Why do I say that?  Because coaching skills are a regular component in the leadership development programmes I run, and my face to face experience with thousands of middle managers tells me that a typical manager believes:

  • I don’t have time to do it
  • It doesn’t get measured and therefore it doesn’t get done
  • It’s not written into my job description and so I don’t see it as a core activity
  • I’ve had little experience of being coached
  • I can guess what good coaching looks like.  (Unfortunately that guess is usually wildly wrong)
  • Being coached is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness.

Most pernicious of all, the default coaching style I observe when we run coaching sessions on my programmes is to INSTRUCT.  Whilst there is a time and a place for this style, in the majority of cases I believe this does more harm than good.  Here’s why.

Louise Walsh uses a coaching style to instruct drivers

“So what will happen if you release the handbrake before you start the engine?”

A few years ago I met Louise and Blaine Walsh, who provide training and development support for Driving Instructors in the UK.  Louise is a passionate advocate for teaching people how to drive by using a coaching style.  This is unusual, and I think an absolutely fascinating way to help drivers to learn.

Her mantra, which I think should be tattooed across all managers’ foreheads, is:

“Coach, coach, coach, coach some more and then instruct”.

I love it.  Back in 2012 she wrote an article about her coaching approach to driving instruction.

“I once coached a young girl who had had a  couple of lessons before and talked about how she’d been ‘instructed’ previously and what she had done so far. We then went for a drive knowing that I would NOT be telling her what to do or where to go. She couldn’t do it! She was a classic product of a pupil who has learnt nothing other than how to follow instructions. She may have been doing junctions beautifully for a couple of lessons but take away the full talk through and her brain is empty…..what has she really learnt??

To then coach her takes time. Time to give her permission to experiment without being judged or lead, time to feel like a novice but without embarrassment or criticism. Time to learn for herself….and by that I mean really learning.

“Yes there are occasional situations where I revert to instruction for a particular situation when I know I have exhausted their own brains or if the road situation indicates the need to take over and the pupil needs something extra.  For example this particular girl I have on film * stalls at a junction on a hill with a car behind us, close and impatient. She stalls again. I tell her I am going to instruct her, follow my voice and we will move off due to the car being behind us. It’s very interesting watching her face. She goes into ‘receive mode’: – robotic; follows instructions and becomes a passive driver. I didn’t notice this until I watched the video back and I then realised that this brain mode is what 99% of learners go into when being instructed! Two lessons later she is driving independently, choosing her route, coming to situations not dealt with before but as long as her brain is activated and she is coached in a way that stimulates her own problem finding solutions she works it out.  Very empowering, and wonderful to watch!”

* Note:  video buried somewhere in thousands of hours of footage.  

I think this translates perfectly into business coaching.  Tell people what to do (Instruct) and you disempower them, undermine their self belief and ultimately turn them into what Louise calls robots and what I would call Children:  waiting for the next instruction.  It’s the last thing people want, particularly the high performers.  They want their manager to coach, and she’d better be a good coach.  They want an Adult to Adult transaction so that they can learn.

I’d urge anyone reading this to think about how they could develop more of a coaching culture within their team.  If enough people get hold of the idea it can begin to build a coaching culture.  Think about who in the team could make a great coach (it certainly doesn’t have to be just the boss who does the coaching.)  What about some of those people who have tons of experience but are a bit bored?  Get them to share some of their insights through some new coaching relationships.  Think about partnering with another team, and swapping coaching resource.  Sometimes it helps not to know too much detail (in fact in my experience knowing NOTHING about the topic can sometimes be really helpful.)  And find out what good looks like.  Get yourself a good coach, and learn how it should be done.

For a final bit of fun on this topic, here’s a video of me DELIBERATELY messing up a coaching session.  There are at least 20 easy to spot “gaffes”:  see how many you can identify.  Password is HN2Coach.  Have fun!


Oh, nearly forgot.  One of my offerings is one on one business coaching.  If you’d like to know more about it, click here.