Business leaders don’t need much convincing of the value of a great coach. Nearly every top leader has a coach, and many business icons, from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to top VC Ben Horowitz, have spoken about how transformative coaching has been for them. What many business leaders miss, however, is how much value everyone else can get from a great coach.
Coaching isn’t just for superstars. Nor is it just an intervention for problematic leaders or low performers in need of remedial help.
Coaching can and should be for everyone. It’s an investment that keeps on giving, delivering value in the moment and continuing to return benefits over a career and lifetime.
The world of sports understands this already. Of course, LeBron James, Tom Brady and other superstars are surrounded by coaches. But so is every school and Little League player from top college prospects down to a four year-old aiming a kick near the goal. Athletes understand that coaching is essential for improving performance up and down the experience scale. It’s just how humans get better at difficult skills.
The same is true of employees for at least four reasons.
1. Coaching maximizes growth
Many companies offer training and learning programs to employees at all levels. Why isn’t this sufficient? Most training is still pre-set content, even if it’s delivered on-demand. These one-size-fits-all programs may be pitched too high or low for a given employee’s skill level or simply irrelevant to his or her current work. Both the employees’ time and the company’s outlay is wasted.
Coaching meets the employee where they are, supporting the individual with guidance tailored to their specific context and challenges. It isn’t about delivering set how-to advice. Instead, a coach finds the highest leverage skill to work on for each individual, maximizing their growth to take on the next challenge. For some, that means improving personal effectiveness skills like focus and strategic planning. For others, the most relevant impact might come from developing inclusive leadership skills like building connections and creating alignment.
For those at the top of their game, the guidance of an objective outsider can be one of the only ways to identify and act on levers to achieve the next step-change in performance. But coaching can also be particularly powerful for people early in their careers who have substantial room to grow. Coaching can offer a mix of immediately beneficial development while also building the core mental and leadership skills for sustainable success. For example, in one study, coached sales managers improved their personal effectiveness while also seeing 20% increase in average deal size and 60% more of their team members attain quota.
2. Coaching addresses the needs of the whole person
Coaching is flexible enough to target the specific ways each person is ready to grow. But growth — and our motivations and challenges — is very personal. Coaching is expansive enough to dig into all the reasons that might be holding them back. Performance issues often spill over the boundary between work and home, and back to work again. We’re all human beings first. That means the root of a manager’s short temper could be her insomnia. A mediocre speaker might be held back by her lack of self-confidence rather than the limits of her presenting skills.
A coach is uniquely situated to address issues that stem from a combination of personal challenges and gaps in practice or technical expertise. Performance and well-being are deeply intertwined. This means that if you truly want to maximize the former, you need an approach that is simultaneously addressing the latter.
3. Coaching is the intervention for languishing
When it comes to dealing with particularly severe mental health challenges, we have therapists, but as Wharton professor Adam Grant recently pointed out, many of us struggle with our well-being without ever developing a clinical mental health issue. In a New York Times opinion piece, he termed this blah feeling as languishing. Based on the outpouring of responses to his article, many people are familiar with the feeling.
This gray area between thriving and suffering is coaching’s sweet spot. Coaches are best placed to get to know the root causes holding people back from well-being and offer effective interventions to help them develop their own practices and core mental resources, such as resilience and flow, to move from languishing to thriving. Our research found that individuals see a 38% decrease in languishing in the first three months of coaching. That improvement doesn’t just show up in their mood. It shows up in their engagement and performance at work.
4. Evidence-based coaching puts an expert in your corner
Finally, some leaders worry coaching is the Wild West, and indeed, if you just do a search for executive coach, you will find a host of options of questionable quality. Look past the noisy, self-appointed gurus offering up one answer. An expert coach helps you find the answer in yourself.
We are now several decades into the positive psychology revolution and a great deal of rigorous academic research has been done into how to maximize human flourishing. Bodies like the International Coaching Federation credential coaches who use evidence-based practice rooted in this science.
While it is important for those in the market for coaching to understand what signals to look for and shop wisely, many coaches offer effective, evidence-based help that is relevant at different levels and across industries.
The majority of work these days is done more with our minds than our hands, which makes reflection, self-evaluation and continual improvement essential for staying ahead in today’s workplace. Unfortunately, humans are not wired to be great at doing these things on our own. We all get tripped up by our blind spots, biases and unhelpful self-talk. A coach helps you get an accurate picture of where you stand and an actionable roadmap to move forward. That shouldn’t be a luxury for the few but a career basic offered to all.