As I move into the organizational and executive coaching world, I see so many parallels with the high performance sport world I’ve been immersed in for almost 20 years. The most recent similarity is the abundance of coaches selling pre-designed coaching packages online, promising to deliver results in leadership development, transition management, or other areas. While these may be easy to sell, it makes me wonder… “What question are you answering?”

As an applied scientist the most important part of my job was to get the question right. What did the coach and athlete(s) really need to know to make the performance better? Bringing a fully formed answer to the coach and athlete that doesn’t address and actual issue, but fulfils your own need to be useful as a scientist, is just counterproductive.

There are some useful tools and assessments out there that can help bring insight and open up lines of communication about difficult topics, but these need to be used in situations where they are the best tool for the job. Just as I wouldn’t do body composition measures on an athlete that came in with questions about their lung function, I wouldn’t do an emotional intelligence assessment on someone who wanted to work on time management.

If you are looking to work with a coach, I would encourage you to spend some time before meeting with potential providers in order to figure out what you’d like to work on an achieve. The difference between coaching and a normal conversation is that coaching starts with a very clear definition of what you’d like to achieve, why that’s important to you, and how you would like the coach to work with you to meet your goals. Look for a coach that goes through this process with you before they offer you ideas for approaches to try. If they come to you selling a pre-formed package that promises improved leadership skills or change management, make sure that whatever is in the package really meets your needs.

It’s much easier to “sell” people something concrete and well-defined, rather than a vague “I’ll partner with you to achieve the goals that you set for yourself”. Coaching really does sound like the opposite of what a good sales person would recommend! Having said that, “What’s your pain point?” is still the question being asked. It’s all about the question. Just like in math, you can’t solve a formula without knowing the variables.

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