Coaching is an art that must be learned mostly from experience. In the Inner Game approach, coaching can be defined as the facilitation of mobility. It is the art of creating an environment, through conversation and a way of being, that facilitates the process by which a person can move toward desired goals in a fulfilling manner. It requires one essential ingredient that cannot be taught: caring not only for external results but for the person being coached.
The Inner Game was born in the context of coaching, yet it is all about learning. The two go hand in hand. The coach facilitates learning. The role and practices of the coach were first established in the world of sports and have been proven indispensable in getting the best performance out of individuals and teams. Naturally, managers who appreciate the high levels of individual and team performance among athletes want to emulate what coaching provides.
The coach is not the problem solver. In sports, I had to learn how to teach less, so that more could be learned. The same holds true for a coach in business.
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Recently, Bill Blazek, the editor of a business journal called The Executive Coach, conducted an interview with me on the subject of Inner Game coaching in business. I’ve included several excerpts from this interview that highlight some of the aspects of coaching not yet covered and underscore others that bear repeating.
BB: Why, in your opinion, has coaching become such a hot topic in the business and corporate worlds?
TG: Because learning has become more important. In the so-called knowledge age of business, the critical competitive factor is how well and how rapidly you can grow your people.
Therefore, the first and constant task of the coach is to keep the responsibility for learning with the client. In the Inner Game approach to coaching, this means that the client not only is willing to learn from the coach, but has accepted personal responsibility for learning from his or her day-to-day experience.
BB: In your view, should managers be coaches?
TG: They should learn to coach. But that does not mean they should abdicate their primary commitment to produce business results through people. A manager/coach learns to wear different hats in different conversations. As a manager, he might tell the team, “Here’s what we must accomplish, these are the standards, this is the time line, and these are the available resources.” With his coaching hat on, he might say, “Now that you are clear about your performance goals, what are you going to need to learn in order to achieve them?” As coach, the primary commitment is to integrity of teamwork and the development of the skills necessary to accomplish the performance goals. The coach is someone with whom you have to feel safe to disclose your shortcomings, your mistakes and your personal aspirations. For this reason, in some environments, the coaching and managing functions are performed better if done by different people.
BB: So the manager is responsible for setting clear goals, while the coach helps the employee reach the goals?
TG: Yes. The coach also helps the individual or team make sure that individual, team, and corporate goals are as aligned as possible so there is minimal conflict among the three sets of goals.
BB: What kind of business problems do you see the Inner Game helping with?
TG: Those problems that involve the human dimension. There are more human problems than ever and they are usually solved by managers who are more used to solving the problems of systems and projects. In the past century, workers were molded and folded into business systems and processes. In this century, such a strategy won’t work. Business systems must harmonize with the processes of how human beings work best and grow best, not the other way around.