When other business owners ask me ‘what do you do?’, I usually say something like ‘I run a leadership & business coaching company’, which can quite often lead to the response ‘I know I want to work with a coach, but I am not sure what type of coach I need!’
These conversations have frequently spun off into tales of hard sales tactics, bordering on harassment, from some so-called ‘business coaches’, and I am then told that such firms can also routinely come across as suppliers of one-size-fits-all solutions.
It has genuinely surprised me just how common these stories are, especially among the micro end of the SME fraternity. That firms who behave these ways call themselves ‘business coaches’ is contrary to my fundamental understanding of coaching. According to Sir John Whitmore, ‘coaching is more about learning than teaching’, and it is about a certain attitude combined with a core set of very recognisable skills.
At its heart the attitude of a good coach is a belief in the potential of his/her client to find his/her own solutions, while the core skills are active & empathic listening plus asking effective questions, where effectiveness is determined by the potency of the questions asked to help the client find his/her own way to achieve a performance related goal.
It is because coaching puts the client’s agenda and interest at the centre of its attention that, by definition, a one-size-fits-all approach is not coaching.
And by the same rationale, neither can anything approaching hard selling. While tending to be either responsive to, or repulsed by, a hard sell is a matter of taste, from my point of view it’s not the way I choose to sell coaching. My preference is to explain to new prospective clients what coaching is and isn’t and to offer a no obligation / no charge ‘try coaching first’ session so that the client feels informed before buying.
As to the idea of buying another person’s solution or expert advice this may well suit some businesses at certain times. Clearly, most of us regularly seek out expert diagnosis and intervention from medical professionals when we’re ill. Indeed, we are likely to draw comfort from knowing that any procedure recommended to us has been performed successfully many times before. This is the doctor / patient model and it can also apply in a business context in the form of the consultant / client relationship. But – it’s not coaching!
The reason I say this is because at the heart of the business consultant / client relationship, just as with the medical profession, is the attitude that the consultant knows what’s best and implementing the expert’s solution becomes the focus of the intervention, often relying on a set of skills honed specifically for that purpose.
So, there you have it. If you’re a business owner who thinks you want to work with a business coach, it might be useful to first of all decide if what you need is a coach or a consultant.
In other words, if you want to rely on someone else’s subject matter expertise to diagnose what your business needs, who’ll then prescribe to you what they think is the best solution, which they may then implement for you before finally walking away and leaving you to live with the consequences – then hire a consultant.
On the other hand, if you are of the view that you and your people know your business best, and that the support of a skilled 3rd party professional could bring an even greater focus to your priorities and the drawing out of your potential, then look for a good business coach – but a proper one with the right skills and attitude.
Choosing the right type of business coach
See our interview with Business First TV where we discuss how business’ should think about whether they need a consultant or a coach – they are different.