Debunk Coaching Myths

The executive coaching field has grown significantly over the last decade as leaders greatly benefit by having a personal coach. Yet despite numerous resources and successes, the advantages of executive coaching remain elusive: misnomers, misunderstandings and myths block the full truth.

Of course, coaches tout the advantages, but some messages are interpreted as simply self-promoting. Due to the personal and confidential nature of coaching, leaders aren’t prone to proclaim its advantages. Thus, the business world receives incomplete information about coaching, where unfortunate myths taint its significance.

When case studies, testimonials and statistical research debunk common coaching myths, skeptical leaders often shift their perspective and agree to give coaching a fair shake. Those who do are pleasantly surprised and wonder why they went so long without the assistance of an executive coach.

I Don’t Need a Coach

A common mindset causes leaders to believe they don’t need help. They feel their skills and knowledge are sufficient to do their jobs. After all, they’ve been doing their jobs all along, and things seem to be alright; stuff is getting done.

This kind of perspective represents an “iceberg outlook” where only a surface-oriented assessment is made. What lies below the surface is either unknown or ignored. If a leader’s experience or skill level prevent seeing what lurks under the surface, their ship is in danger.

Sometimes leaders are so inundated with day-to-day crises they are robbed of the opportunities to step back and evaluate what might be hiding below the waves. Alternatively, if dangers are suspected down there, some leaders aren’t willing to face them; exploration is postponed until a more “opportune” time arrives.

It’s not uncommon for leaders to envision the most positive outlook. They reason that they can manage their challenges, and coaching won’t be of much benefit. This myth is unfounded, as proven by many leadership stories and case studies.

Human behavior experts agree our self-assessments are flawed because we generally see what we want to see.  The Psychology Today article,“Metaperceptions: How Do You See Yourself? describes how we paint ourselves in the most positive light. But the best source of objective information about a leader’s abilities and tendencies is from another set of eyes. This is where a trained executive coach is invaluable.

Executive coaches have the skills to assess circumstances without the influence of personal or emotional ties, or organizational tradition. They are trained to diagnose issues from observation, discussions and experience. When a leader sees the truth about their situation, their coach can guide them through the process to address issues with fresh perspectives, thinking and behaviors.

The best leaders learn that there’s nothing wrong with having blind spots. Everyone does. The key is to identify and overcome them. More and more leaders credit the added viewpoint of a qualified executive coach who leads them to see what they never saw themselves. They are also thankful for a coach’s ability to guide them through a process to discover their own solutions.

Being Coached is Too Awkward

Some leaders believe the myth that having a coach is an awkward admission of inadequacy; there’s something wrong with them, and they need serious help. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, there is nothing wrong with needing help. Everyone needs help from time to time, and leadership doesn’t elevate a person to a royal level above this human trait.

Being true to oneself is a key aspect to humility, openness and transparency—traits that leadership experts describe as essential to effective management. Employees trust leaders who are humble, transparent, and willing to learn. They distrust leaders who pridefully separate themselves from their people.    

Secondly, the thrust of executive coaching is not to expose grievous shortcomings in the leader. Effective coaching is designed to build upon the skills a leader already has, and to maximize their potential. Certainly, this involves addressing a blind spot or areas that need improving, but the emphasis is to get even better at leading.

Coaches inject perspectives and pose questions to help a leader gain clarity in what their people need and how best to provide it. This strengthens an organization, often with subtle adjustments. Leaders are not torn down by their coaches, rather, they are built up—similar to how a good athletic coach guides an athlete to be the best they can be.

Some leaders reject vulnerability in the presence of an executive coach as seeming weak or unknowledgeable, further explained by Vik Kapoor in Forbes. The myth is that the leader is inferior to the coach and must bear their soul to them, forcing the leader to deal with insecurities, weaknesses or failures.

Many executive coaches are not psychologists. Their process does not include intensive analysis, nor do they dive in to a client’s past, personal life or private matters. Leaders are not put in vulnerable positions.

The best leaders have learned that while hard skills such as  decision-making, analysis, delegating and control are certainly part of effective management (in the proper proportions), the most powerful leadership tools are softer skills: transparency, humility, empathy, honesty and personal engagement. Leaders unfamiliar with soft skills may feel vulnerable with an executive coach who emphasizes these as part of the coaching process. Great leaders grasp these opportunities to learn and grow their skills in order to become even better at leading.

I Can’t Justify Coaching

Some leaders believe the myth that executive coaching is an unnecessary expense with little return on investment. Unfortunately, the current business culture seeks more short-term gains to justify expenditures. Part of this myth hinges on the belief that the benefits of executive coaching are short term.

Many of today’s top leaders who have executive coaches testify that they have gained better skills and mindsets from their coaching experiences. Their enhanced skillsets have long-term advantages that make them better leaders, and as they continue to apply what they’ve learned the effect only continues. Just as an athlete who is well coached advances in their accomplishments far beyond the current season, well coached leaders become better every year thereafter.

Misconceptions also lie in an underappreciation for what the leader will gain. Contrary to myth, well-coached leaders don’t gain skills in only practices or procedures. They don’t acquire greater expertise in only leadership theory. Leaders benefit from coaching by developing better mindsets, perspectives and attitudes about leading. They can apply themselves in areas they couldn’t before. The benefits touch every aspect of what they do, with long-lasting effects. They become more capable of tackling greater challenges with more effective results, and this makes for a more rewarding career.

But a disproportionate focus on how the leader benefits, rather than the organization as a whole, also fuels this coaching myth. Gallup’s extensive research demonstrates how organizations benefit when the leader’s skills and awareness grow. Employees are more satisfied and engaged. Their productivity and work ethic rise. Efficiency and profitability also rise. Turnover and absenteeism drop. Customer satisfaction is boosted, and that spells prosperity for everyone.

Organizations respond in significant ways when leaders enhance their capabilities through executive coaching. Statistically, the financial return of a well-coached leader can exceed the initial expense many-fold. Organizations that appreciate this extend coaching access to leaders beyond the front office. The potential gains are often immeasurable.

Don’t let myths prevent you and your leaders from becoming all they can be through the benefits of executive coaches!

Leaders Build Unity

Organizations run by leaders with traditional management mindsets lag behind their forward-thinking competitors in many areas: turnover, morale, productivity, market share, financial stability and profitability. The impact reaches far beyond the workplace and has a boomerang effect.

Unhappy employees bring work woes home with them. Their frustrations and stress trickle down to their families, neighbors and friends. As these relationships suffer, employees’ lives grow worse. Illness, depression, harmful habits and personality changes incubate, return to the workplace and hasten a downward trajectory. Some experts claim many of today’s current family and cultural problems originate in our workplaces.

Studies and surveys show a common cause: traditional management approaches that devalue people by regarding them as replaceable—nameless resources to be tolerated as long as numbers are met. Old-school leaders want goals achieved; if employees somehow benefit, then that’s a bonus.

Alternatively, leaders whose companies are thriving recognize the importance of people’s welfare. Simply put, companies grow when leaders help people feel fulfilled, individually and collectively. The process requires diligence, patience and passion.

Bringing People Together

People need to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they generally embrace opportunities to contribute to organizational success. They want to be part of a unified team. Relationships are the lifeblood of organizational dynamics—the fuel that makes things happen. When people are fulfilled, unity blossoms and companies profit.

Unified employees are validated with a sense of worth, knowing their team needs them and that they have a purpose. When leadership promotes unity, people know they’re cared for and valued. They know their leaders appreciate them and have their best interests in mind. When people’s lives matter, they’ll go to great lengths to succeed.

Unified employees also bring home far less baggage. They experience less work-related stress and irritation, which also benefits their companies. People’s need for fulfillment is paramount, and leaders must make every effort to provide it. Companies with the most unified people boast the greatest prosperity.

Initiating and maintaining a culture of unity may initially seem daunting. The process involves four basic components, note Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia in Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family (Portfolio, 2015):

  • Promoting value and purpose
  • Fixing the most compelling problems people face
  • Establishing teamwork and family
  • Connecting with people personally

Promoting Positives

People must understand their role in the company’s big picture, and leaders are responsible for conveying this to them.

Share your company’s vision by clearly explaining and discussing it, which unites people in a common cause. Everyone should work toward the same overall mission, depending on each other to achieve it. Leaders who create a vision of a brighter future elicit hope and anticipation. Always add value to people’s roles.

Employees with a higher sense of value have more pride and self-respect, which unlocks unforeseen potential. Value is often based on material assets, information or profit, but it’s legitimately found only in people, Chapman and Sisodia emphasize. When leaders ascribe value to all of their people, not just a select few, more pieces of the success puzzle find their place on the board.

People also feel unified when leaders create a culture of high purpose, moving everyone toward a noble goal. Culture isn’t like a watch that’s wound and left to run on its own; it must be monitored, adjusted and rewound to keep working. Employees follow leaders who honor people with dignity and respect.

Trust is a valuable tool for creating unity and value. Leaders must earn it through authentic, dependable behavior. When trusting people are, in turn, trusted, morale and positivity soar. Employees ultimately feel better about themselves, suffer fewer frustrations, and feel better physically, emotionally and socially. Attitudes and work ethic improve. The big-picture impact is enormous.

Fixing Compelling Problems

Leaders owe their people a vibrant future, requiring them to lower the barricades that slow them down. Take note of what people struggle with, and attempt to make their lives easier by showing care and concern, which builds unity. Simply telling your people they matter without demonstrating it is the easiest way to destroy their trust and work ethic. Words must be accompanied by swift action; otherwise, trust falters.

Assess bottlenecks. Most employees want to be productive and proud of their work, yet the organizational environment may prevent them from feeling satisfied. Are your methods and procedures taxing or wasteful? What about working conditions? Are people crammed together, with no room to work and little privacy? Is their environment noisy or distracting enough to hamper their focus? Do they have ample light to see what they’re doing? Address any relevant issues to improve attitudes and unity.

Employees often complain about too much work and insufficient resources. Is each team member tackling the work of three or four people? Are people putting in relentlessly long workdays? Add or reallocate resources to increase unity. Saving money while your people burn out benefits no one in the long run. An oppressive environment kills unity.

Leaders who commit to solving problems forge even greater unity when they empower their people to be part of the solution. Employees feel valued when they’re trusted as experts and problem-solvers, knowing the company needs them to realize leadership’s vision. A culture built on collaboration and appreciation reaps the benefits of greater unity.

Establish multidisciplinary problem-solving teams to break down traditional silos, urge Chapman and Sisodia. Ask employees for feedback, ideas and solutions. Invite them to evaluate best options, formulate plans to implement fixes and participate in follow-up activities to continue improvement efforts. There’s no better way to obtain people’s buy-in and promote unity.

Establishing Teamwork

People want to be part of a winning team. When they’re engaged, they’ll contribute and feed off others’ energy. Establish a team mindset to get the best from employees. When practiced effectively, teamwork is a positive, encouraging and confidence-building process.

Teamwork involves diligent communication. Give your people the information that concerns them: company operations, issues and activities. This helps them know where they stand and where they may be headed. Communicating goals and progress inspires people to use their talents and discover capabilities they didn’t even realize they had, note Chapman and Sisodia. Place people in roles that make the most of their gifts.

Inspire positivity and innovation. Ask challenging questions, provoke opportunities, and put your people to the test. Give them a chance to learn through mentorships, training and workshops. When people are invested in their contributions, they become emissaries of influence. They sense they’ve found a home and work hard to protect, improve and tout it.

Leaders need to set the example and model desired behaviors. This takes patience and practice. Learn to avoid trust-damaging conduct and policies. Leaders who see the long view take time to develop their people and create unity through teamwork. People who are treated well will reciprocate. They’ll have more to be happy about, which improves attitudes, work ethic and effectiveness.

Connecting with People

The most successful leaders use their people skills to foster teamwork and unity. Relationships are foundational to unity, and leaders who are passionate about their people experience the greatest success.

Unity blossoms when employees know their leader cares about them and can relate to their situations. Connect with and engage your people. Talk with them transparently, and ask questions. Make every effort to understand what they care about, what concerns them and where they want to go.

Use your active listening skills to hear and fully comprehend what people have to say. Deep listening, as Chapman and Sisodia call it, involves sharing and understanding the feelings behind people’s words. Know what’s going on inside people’s heads, and show respect for who they are. Employees feel fulfilled when they know they matter and are being heard.

Listening often requires follow-up. Words are great, but action is even better. Show people you value them by addressing their difficulties and concerns, whenever possible. Provide resources to see difficulties through to resolution.

Celebrate with team members who overcome challenges or perform commendably. This personal touch shows you care. Chapman and Sisodia believe caring is absent in many leaders; old-school managers often consider it a weakness. But employees will reject unnecessary toughness, firmness and control. Caring puts you on the path to unity and prosperity.

A unified, engaged, motivated and inspired workforce is the greatest weapon any leader can have. There’s nothing a unified team cannot do.