Covert Coaching

Due to its confidential and opaque nature, workplace coaching tends to skulk under the radar, especially when compared to its far sexier precursor, sports coaching. It’s time for executive coaches to step out from the shadows.

No one in the sporting arena would consider performing without a coach. Imagine tennis star Roger Federer without Tony Roche, U.S. gymnastics without Márta Károlyi, AFL without Alistair Clarkson, or soccer without Ange Postecoglou. Imagine the under 10’s footy team without a dedicated parent coaching them diligently.

Yet in the workplace, where performance really counts, people are expected to perform at elite levels without a coach, or with their coach hiding in the background. And while the sports star is performing for fame and glory, our corporate leader has employees with families and mortgages; their very livelihoods relying on them.

Coaches fundamentally help us to reimagine ourselves and the futures we can create.

Elite sports stars and clubs recognise the value of this and budget accordingly. Elite workplace performance is less understood and leaders are reluctant to invest in something they don’t understand.

In his day my father was arguably one of Australia’s most talented golfers. As a young child he couldn’t afford a golf club, so he played with a stick. At the age of 13 a pro noticed him whacking his way around Melbourne’s Royal Park Golf Course. He gave him a 7 iron. Nearly 70 years on my dad still has that original club.

But my dear old dad didn’t go on to be a world class golfer. Not because he lacked talent. It was because he had no one in his life to say ‘go for it son!’ And it was beyond his own imagining.

I have no doubt that if my dad had been supported by a golf coach his life story would be dramatically different.

I also have no doubt if every workplace leader engaged a coach and received the same support as an elite athlete, our businesses would be much improved.

The sports coach is a hallowed figurehead who leads overtly from behind. The executive coach is a secretive figure, slipping in discretely for covert conversations. Unlike the sports coach, they rarely see their clients perform.

I experience reluctance in allowing me to observe my clients in board meetings. Yet in years of experience, leaders who gave me access to all avenues of their working world tended to perform better and have more successful businesses. Those who tried to protect or control their world too tightly missed the value to be gained from that magic of coaching at its very best.

Organisations prepared to change the way coaches interact with the business will maximise the benefit. Let’s put coaches on the sidelines, not leave them in the locker room.

There is a misunderstanding that coaching is akin to therapy. While it offers a degree of personal support, coaching is an elite professional development practice. The coach needs to see their client in action: in the boardroom, at meetings, with their team, peers and – yes – even customers and stakeholders.

I see leaders thrive when the coach can inject greater reality into the coaching conversations. But this can only happen if an organisation allows. Coaches and coachees, it’s time to ask for greater access and broader conversations. We require live action; not just replays.

The sports coach is there every step of the way; pregame, postgame and certainly during the game. Everyone knows what a sports coach does. Their role is clear, even to someone sitting at home watching them on the TV.

Unfortunately, coaching in the workplace is poorly understood and inadequately utilised. The workplace coach may be present pre- and post- a few key activities, but game day is every day, and all-year-round. And the coach is mostly absent.

In order to shift the confusion and waste, let’s start a reimagining of what workplace coaching is and what an elite coach does.

Thinking about my dear old dad; I know a coach would have helped. They would have had open and honest conversations about where he was at. They’d create visions of where he was headed. Coaching could have taken him from imagining to reality.

Imagine a world where executive coaching is understood and well-utilised. Where workplaces welcome high calibre coaches and the open and honest conversations they bring.

When corporate coaches are as visible as their sporting colleagues, we’ll know our business leaders are well-supported all year around.

Now that will be a goal worth celebrating!

Just because we fail to imagine

Does not make our destiny any less real

Just because we fail to imagine now

Does not mean the future is not upon us

Don’t look over your shoulder

It is you

The future

© Maree McKeown 2017

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