I am a Coach not a Therapist

 

A few months ago I met a potential client. The HR person that asked me in to meet the potential client had told me that he had some personal issues that she thought an executive coach would be able to address.

The executive (Let’s call him Thomas) was already aware of the fact that I was coming to see him and he had prepared a list of things he wanted to address, he had it all figure it out. He thought, that if these matters were addressed, they would make a difference in his effectiveness as a leader.

In his list, he even had an item with the fact that he didn’t like to do laundry at home or eat leftovers. I politely listened and realized that a therapist, rather than me, would better serve this particular client.

As an executive coach, I work with executives and teams to develop leadership behaviors that directly impact the effectiveness of the leader or the team to key business indicators.

This particular client was emotionally unwell and in need of a therapist, not an executive coach.   I did find some leadership behaviors that he could have addressed, but it was my professional assessment that an executive coach wasn’t the right person to help him.

Many people believe that coaching is a magic wand to address and fix a wide range of poor performances and destructive behaviors. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the majority of executive coaches, including me, work with highly valued executives, who have shown an incredible potential and are motivated to achieve even greater success, personally and professionally. They are emotionally and psychologically healthy and want to become even better at what they do.

However as people get more successful, the more positive feedback about their performance is the more likely they are going to experience the “success delusion”, a term coined by Marshall Goldsmith, the number one executive coach in the country.

I behave this way. I am successful. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way.”

We tend to:

  • Overestimate our contribution to a project;
  • Have an elevated opinion of our professional skills and standing among our peers;
  • Exaggerate our project’s impact on profitability by discounting real and hidden costs.

We believe this because we are succeeding, not failing. Since we get positive reinforcement from our past successes, we think that they are predictive of great things to come in our future, not necessarily so. All of us, including successful executives, tend to have blind spots – unproductive behaviors that are invisible to us but glaringly obvious to everyone else, some call these “derailing behaviors”. The key to getting even better is in accepting rather than denying the existence of these blind spots and working to manage them.

Blind spots are often ignored, by the leader who has them (obviously), but they are present. In good times blind spots are annoying and frustrating; in tough times they can be lethal.  You can’t do much about yours until you can recognize that they are there.

Changing our way of thinking and acting is tough, even if you have support from others. Coaching works best when key people in the executive’s world stand solidly behind him and he is willing to go the distance; he wants to get even better.

When all the conditions are ripe, executive coaching can be one of the best people investments you’ll ever make for your executives. But it is not a panacea for every executive development problem; it wouldn’t definitely help Thomas, I kindly told the HR person that I wasn’t the right coach for him.

Luis Velasquez MBA, PhD

Luis is a leadership coach, employee engagement expert, and management trainer. Formerly a University professor and research scientist, Luis holds a dual Ph.D. from Michigan State University; and an MBA in Organizational Leadership.

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