I'm relatively new to coaching as a profession, although in reality, I now realise that I've effectively been doing it all my life. In choosing my very first job as a criminal and matrimonial lawyer, I chose working with people over working with leases and contracts, exhibiting from a very early stage a fascination with what makes people tick. My fascination now is with what makes a great workplace and what motivates people to succeed, not only for themselves, but for the businesses they work in.
I love coaching - but the biggest issue I have with it is countering people's perceptions of what it is. "Oh, you're a coach" people say, whilst clearly implying that there might be something a bit lightweight about that. I explain that what I do is empower people to succeed more quickly and I help businesses to grow the bottom line by getting their key people up to speed and all pulling in the same direction. In a way, I do what they, as managers and leaders should be doing for their key people.
For me, coaching is anything but lightweight - it's all about the bottom line. In most businesses today, talent is the only asset that you have. If talent were a machine, you would service it, polish it, maintain it on a regular basis, rest it, review its capacities and upgrade it regularly. You would invest time in it as well as care and attention.
Where talent's concerned however, many businesses think that the investment is made as soon as you've made the hire (at senior level anyway). It's ironic that junior staff get training and personal development, but in my experience, once people are promoted into leadership roles at whatever level, the training and support, the investment in other words, slows or even stops completely.
Because people were good or great at their 'doing' jobs, people expect them to be good or great at their 'leading' jobs. That's a huge ask and that's where coaching comes in. New managers are often faced with an assumption that they'll just know how to behave at the EXCO and what the leadership will want to know. Assumptions are made that people will know what to spend their time on and that they'll know how to navigate the politics and challenging new relationships they have to build.
Making those assumptions leaves good, motivated people floundering. Not only that but it's a measurable risk for the business. You invested in them to get them to this point and now you're risking that investment by letting them decide that this is too tough, or this is not for them. Bang goes your ROI and you're back in the very expensive hiring cycle again.
I work with a lot of those new leaders in businesses which recognise that key people would benefit from some one-to-one support. They've often done some leadership training but for many reasons, it's not the place to share their own concerns or worries openly. Five 2 hour sessions of coaching, looking at the biggest challenges people are facing, their strengths and weaknesses and how they can put them to best use, explaining what boards and C-Suites expect, exploring where they can make the biggest impact and what they should be spending their time on and giving them some tools and tactics to employ usually makes a measurable impact and delivers return on investment, at a small fraction of total salary cost.
I wish I had had a coach in some of my tougher roles and I wish coaching was systematic for all new managers and leaders. It's honestly transformational for many people.
The next time someone asks me what I do, I think I might not mention coaching at all. I think I might say that I deliver return on investment on talent. Full stop.