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Give your company a sporting chance

Chris Webbley is an executive coach at Rivercalm

In the old days a coach was something on wheels that transported people from A to B, or an expert to help athletes reach their professional zenith. Nowadays, it is an integral part of business language and a key to added value and success, writes Chris Webbley

Coaching usually takes the form of a series of confidential, one to two-hour conversations on agreed topics every two to four weeks. Executive coaching may aim to help the business person solve problems and resolve issues, enhance performance, develop the business or build their career.
Clients experience direct and indirect benefits. Direct benefits come from the agenda under discussion, include the resolution of issues and the development of skills. For example, an entrepreneur may need to develop a more strategic mindset as their business moves out of start-up. Indirect benefits emerge from experiencing the coaching process. The client may feel more resourceful in the face of change, develop greater self-awareness or self-belief, or be able to apply coaching skills to benefit others in the business.
So, why do leaders and business owners use a coach? The precise answer will depend on each individual but the most fundamental reason is to use the wider perspective and feedback offered by another person. Other reasons include access to a wider range of skills, taking advantage of the confidentiality and trust which underlie the coaching relationship and increased self-awareness through practising and testing changes in style, skills or goals.

Does everyone need a coach? In our view, no, and not all the time. Coaching should not come across as a solution looking for a problem, and no good coach will offer it in that way. But people experience different needs as they journey through life, build and run their enterprises and live in their families. Coaching can help meet some of these needs. For example:

- past ways of working may be holding back the thinking needed for today and tomorrow;
- the current situation facing the business may require a change in approach, clarification, or a wider range of options;
- the future may start to look more like a threat than an opportunity, as new market and social trends signal themselves.
Working with the coach, the executive can clarify these issues and create and test out fresh options to address them with greater chance of success.
Coaching emphasises the value of learning, but it is "inside-out" learning to develop the capability that already resides in the person being coached, not an "outside-in" transference of knowledge or skill. Some people are concerned that the coach may set the agenda and even create dependency. Coaching does not work like that. The client's goals and needs form the framework for coaching, and an ethical and skilled coach will always be alert to head off dependency. Finally, successful people may perceive that any consideration of coaching implies weakness in the person being coached. Yet some of the most powerful and successful leaders and entrepreneurs throughout history have valued the insights and challenges of trusted advisers, assistants and others.

There are other reasons why people may not have entertained the idea of coaching. The business person may have benefited from coaching but under a different name – helpful conversations with a trusted colleague or family member, for example. The mistaken view of coaching as an occasional conversation misses the value from linking those conversations into a series. Such a programme builds rapport, gives the client time between sessions to practise changes to behaviour, and enables ongoing learning based on review.
Another reason why people may not have considered using a coach is that they do not know how to choose one. Here, the growth in the coaching market is having a beneficial effect, by prompting business associations and professional institutions to develop and publish objective and dependable guides to choosing and using a coach. Top of the criteria for a successful coaching relationship are the coach's personal style, rapport with the client,  and the cultural fit with the business in which the coaching is taking place.
Whether business people simply want to be better informed in conversation, or to take personal advantage of coaching, understanding coaching is a worthwhile addition to their personal portfolio.

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