“One Job of the Coach is to Correct,” says Randy – “I Don’t Agree,” says Cheryl… Time for Some Dialogue


a : a large usually closed four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage having doors in the sides and an elevated seat in front for the driver
a : a private tutor
b : one who instructs or trains <an acting coach>; especially : one who instructs players in the fundamentals of a competitive sport and directs team strategy <a football coach>

From Randy:
So, the other day at Take Your Brain to Lunch, I am in mid-presentation, and I say something like this:  “the purpose of a coach is to tell me what I am doing wrong.”  I referred to athletic coaches, people hired by the likes of Martina Navritilova and other “individual” stars.  I am convinced that such an athlete cannot watch himself/herself, and thus needs a coach to watch, find the flaws, and correct.  I used to play tennis (back in the days when rackets were made of wood, tennis balls were white, and the tiebreaker had not yet been adopted), and I know that’s what my coaches did for me.  They saw my flaws, pointed them out, and drilled correction into me.

And I got better. (I would have gotten much, much better if I had practiced they way my coach told me to.  But that’s another story).

Anyway, Cheryl Jensen, my blogging team member and the leader of Take Your Brain to Lunch, who is a personal coach, tells me I’m wrong.  She says that a coach should not look for areas to correct, but instead should… well, let her tell you.

By the way, I disagree with Cheryl.  Thus, this dialogue…

Cheryl, your turn.

From Cheryl:
As much as I try to avoid ever correcting people in public for fear of embarrassing them or damaging a relationship, I did indeed disagree publicly with Randy last week. When we traded time at the microphone, I offered a very different perspective. Randy is correct in that I am a professionally trained coach by The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and the International Coach Federation (ICF), the governing body of professional coaching. Our official definition of coaching is “Coaching is a partnership with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Another cornerstone idea from our CTI training is “People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.” This means coaching is not about fixing what’s broken. It is about helping the client look and find what’s already within and then directing that talent, energy, and focus towards their goals. There are 3 main reasons I coach: to facilitate learning, create movement towards client goals so they can improve their performance and enjoyment from life which of course includes work. So the whole idea of looking for what’s broken and then offering advice is totally counter culture from professional coaching to me. Rather than offer answers, we offer questions for the client to explore their areas of interest. Rather than offer advice, we ask questions to create options the client wants to implement. Rather than assign responsibility, we offer opportunities that will facilitate additional learning and new insights.

From Randy:
First, it is totally ok with me that you “corrected me” in public.  (Were you coaching me by pointing out my deficiency, rather than building on my strengths?)

So Cheryl, you’ve described your philosophy.  I’m sure you know more about coaching that I do.  (Although I have actually coached a few tennis players, many years ago).  And I understand the concept of the “strengths-based” approach.  Find their strengths, help them build on them.  That is all well and good.  But in the little bit of coaching that I have done in a business setting, I have been brought in for two reasons:  “fix this,” or, “train this.”  Especially in the “fix this” assignments, I have to discern what is broken, and then recommend/suggest/cajole toward remedies.

Recently, I was speaking to a group, and one of the participants said that his boss has admitted, to this person who reports to him, that he (the boss) is not a good leader/manager.  And he says that it is a morale squelcher, a real downer, to work in that department.

So, say that boss hired you.  And you know, and then see, these glaring deficiencies/mistakes.  Isn’t it your job as coach to point them out, to “correct.”  Building on strengths is fine, but when the issue is some actual, bad, even harmful behaviors, doesn’t that need to be addressed?  What is your role in that?  And, if it is not your job, then who can help someone deal with behaviors that are morale killing?

Back to my tennis analogy – Martina Navritilova hired a coach to watch her, discover what she was doing wrong, and help her correct it.  She personally paid for this kind of coaching.  Isn’t that the way to get better?

Geoff Colvin, in his book Talent is Overrated, calls this “deliberate practice.”
Consider these quotes from the book (notice what I underlined):

The factor that seems to explain the most about great performance is something the researchers call deliberate practice.  (This) definitely isn’t what most of us do on the job every day, which begins to explain the great mystery of the workplace – why we’re surrounded by so many people who have worked hard for decades but have never approached greatness.  Deliberate practice is hard.  It hurts.  But it works.  More of it equals better performance.  Tons of it equals great performance.
Across realms, the required concentration is so intense it’s exhausting.
Anyone who thinks they’ve outgrown the benefits of a teacher’s help should at least question that view. There’s a reason why the world’s best golfers still go to teachers.
One of those reasons goes beyond the teacher’s knowledge.  It’s his or her ability to see you in ways that you cannot see yourself. In sports the observation is literal: I cannot see myself hitting the golf ball and would benefit greatly from someone else’s perspective.
While the best methods of development are constantly changing, they’re always built around a central principle:  They’re meant to stretch the individual beyond his or her current abilities
Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration.  This is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in. Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one’s hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone’s mental abilities.

So if a person only builds on strengths, but does not have certain sets of skills (whether hard skills or soft skills) to do a job, and these skills are genuinely needed for that specific job, doesn’t that person have to develop such skills?

And wouldn’t a good coach find those areas to “correct” and help that person develop a plan to correct them?

Back to you, Cheryl.

From Cheryl:
First of all, let me acknowledge one key item in coaching. Someone who isn’t interested in changing is not going to be receptive to coaching, regardless of the current impact a particular behavior is having. Only those who seek change will benefit from working with a coach. The agenda originates with the client, not the coach. The coach does act as a mirror at times, reflecting back what it being observed. The real trick in being a good coach is self management; the ability to reflect back without judgment.  Sometimes creating a space to reflect without the fear of being judged is the greatest motivator for the client. The client can assess what impact they are having with their current approach, and if they seek a different impact, they can begin to think about how they can create the impact they seek. Maybe they need to do more, or less, or even a totally different tactic. The coach asks the questions that allows the client to ponder for themselves what the potential is for each, then choose. And what comes next is practice, deliberate practice of what the client has chosen to try and change. The coach will challenge the client to focus on the change and pay particular attention to the results, both on themselves and the others involved. That way the client receives immediate feedback about the effectiveness of their deliberate practice.

Here’s where we might differ or we might even be in agreement. In the HBR article, “The Neuroscience of Leadership” by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, they explain why it feels like “change is pain.” When people encounter something new (think I’m trying something deliberately different to see if I can have a different impact) we engage the prefrontal cortex, via the working memory of the brain. The working memory portion of the brain can only hold a limited amount of information and tires easily. By contrast, when we do something out of habit, we use the basal ganglia which functions by routine, using much less energy. “In fact the basal ganglia can function exceedingly well without conscious thought in any routine activity.” So changing something engages a part of the brain that will indeed make us feel more tired than if we keep repeating an old behavior.

A second brain function which may influence one to believe coaching is about “fixing” is the particularly strong capacity of the brain to detect what neuroscientists call “errors”; perceived differences between expectation and reality. This part of the brain is called the orbital frontal cortex. To quote the article “We now know that the brain changes as a function of where an individual puts their attention. The power is in the focus.”

So, a coach’s job is to help the client recognize where to redirect their attention, or focus, in order to get what they desire. We do this through questions rather than through telling the client what to do. When the client learns through experience, through connecting their own data points by thinking things through then deliberately practicing all guided by well-crafted questions, then the client retains the knowledge because it is theirs, not the coach’s.  If the client wants to assign the language of “correction” a coach will likely not take issue with it. As a coach, my job is to get the client where they want to go; not worry about how it is labeled.

And one more thing – most coaches agree to various activities such as shadowing, providing assessments and feedback sessions, and working onsite with the client if that’s what the client requests. We are in the coaching relationship to get the client to their goal and we are usually flexible enough in our approach to accommodate additional activities if that’s what is needed. We are more focused on the results than on what it’s called.

From Randy:
OK – so if the person discovers a weakness/deficiency on his or her own, then it becomes a focus of the coach.  I like the idea.  And I certainly buy in to the concept of such ownership of the problem.

However, to go back to the athletic realm – a player usually cannot see his or her own deficiencies.  A coach has to “point them out.”  Admittedly, if the person does not agree with the assessment of the coach, not much progress will be made…  But the coach is the one who can see the deficiency when the athlete cannot.

I suspect this is the same in the business realm.  I have met my share of people who are literally blind to their own deficiencies – and even well-crafted questioning does not seem to lead them to a more enlightened understanding…

But…this has been fun.

We may add more to it later.

2 thoughts on ““One Job of the Coach is to Correct,” says Randy – “I Don’t Agree,” says Cheryl… Time for Some Dialogue

  1. Dani Ticktin Koplik

    Cheryl is 100% spot on and the dialogue points out a huge problem in the coaching industry, namely that there are tons of people calling themselves coaches who have not been trained in the process. By way of full disclosure, I studied under David Rock and found his thinking to be game changing in this area. Neuroscience is a new frontier and David has done an amazing job in immersing himself in it and creating a construct for coaching that works.
    while Randy’s “fixes” may work in the short term, chances are that they won’t ever make it into long term memory, or unconscious competence. The only kind of change that sticks is the kind that is from the inside out. Adult learning theory tells us we can’t make another adult do anything they don’t want to do or learn anything they don’t want to learn.
    Sports does offer a lot to the coaching field (as well as to business), including the concept of committing a new skill to muscle memory but with sports, we’re talking mechanics not behavior. Big difference. The desire to win or to get past behavioral or psychological tics that hold athletes back is another story but in this case, I think Randy is referring to the mechanical.
    Also, the idea of remediation is anathema to all but the most secure of employees and generally, if they sense a criticism coming, they shut down. What works better is mirroring back to them the patterns a coach sees and finding out how the client thinks they serve him.
    Having made a case for the science behind coaching it’s also true that there’s a lot of “art” involved and by art, I mean emotional intelligence. If Randy is interested in upping his game, I suggest he read anything by David Rock, Emotional Intelligence by David Goleman and Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart by Mary Beth O’Neill.

  2. Randy Mayeux Post author

    which is why I do not call myself a coach, nor do I do much coaching of any kind. The coaching I do is mainly related to two specific areas: presentation skills, and time management practices.

    It sounds like you and Cheryl are on the same page — but, I’m still baffled by the problems of people who get into positions of leadership with deficiencies that they never seem to overcome — even after they hire a well-trainerd coaches.

    In other words — it is tough work to keep getting better.


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