Everyone needs a coach

Image from Pixabay
Image from Pixabay

So says Bill Gates.  Organisations need a coaching culture. Managers need to be able to coach. The best teams have effective coaches.

All sensible advice. All relevant to our organisations. All best practice. All right?

What Bill Gates says next is more telling:

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.

Getting feedback from people isn’t necessarily coaching although coaching does generally include giving feedback. I wrote about this recently and said “the introduction/development of a coaching culture fills me with…dread”. This was picked up by Harriet Attwood who asked what I meant.

To create a coaching culture what do you need to have in place?  And are all coaching cultures the same?

First and foremost there needs to be an agreed strategy as to what coaching is aiming to do. In many cases it’s shorthand for ‘cheap learning’. Any coaching strategy needs to state what success will look like, how you know it’s been achieved, what needs to be in place for it to happen. Most importantly, EVERYONE needs to know what that strategy is, be signed up to it and committed to making it work.

Another part of developing the culture will rest with the relationships that need to be established in the organisation. Who has which responsibilities? Who is accountable for what actions? What inter-dependencies are we expecting people to understand with what they do now? Relationships outside the organisation need to be considered too; is the coaching which you’re developing an internal only function or is there scope to look outside the organisation?

There’s a need to consider your systems and processes. Creating new systems and processes won’t create a culture. What steps are you planning to add to already over worked managers? Any process change needs to consider what you can ask people to stop doing – it’s about devising efficient ways to make it happen, not creating layers of hierarchy and paper trails.

Finally, the biggest challenge will lay in the development of the skills required to coach. I  decided to have a quick trawl through Google to find out what the essential coaching skills are. It seems that effective coaching includes:

  • Listening
  • Questioning
  • A guiding role
  • Seeing different perspectives
  • Trust
  • Agreement
  • Feedback
  • Intuition
  • Goal setting
  • Structure

I like sitting in on coach development learning activity because there is always one question which the facilitator asks.

Who’s the best coach you can think of?

The answers come out and are stuck onto a flipchart and then someone, usually a man, will name the former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson. What does almost every facilitator do at this point? They smile and usually say something like:

That’s not the kind of person we’re after

I’m always troubled by this response. Why shouldn’t he be considered? Is it because he was aggressive character? Was his reputation for launching a ‘hairdryer‘ at players who were under-performing not suitable? Is it because he was inflexible? There is no doubt he was results focused and driven yet we insist on diminishing him as a coach.

What do you do if you have a manager who coaches like Ferguson? If they’re achieving success and people want to work for them is it reasonable to assume that they’re coaching? What do you think needs to be included in a coaching culture?  Let me know in the comments.

9 thoughts on “Everyone needs a coach

  1. Sometimes people use “coaching culture” as a way to articulate MacGregor theory Y management style as the destination in a journey from theory X.


  2. What do you do if you have a manager who coaches like Ferguson?
    I’m not sure – I never met Ferguson & know naff all about Football, but my assumption is on the support/ challenge scale, he hangs out at the more challenging end – broadly, if too much support leads to to weird dependency/ unable to think for self behaviours, Too much challenge leaves folk doubtful of their own decisions and having a sense of being deskilled…. There’s all that lovely power stuff in the mix there too…
    I have a sense of an older, more 70’s model of management and coaching in the mix here.. but I wonder if we have moved on?

    If they’re achieving success and people want to work for them is it reasonable to assume that they’re coaching?
    Nope… I’d say not in the “pure” sense of bringing out the best in someone and making them feel empowered, able and willing to come up with their own solutions? People can want to work for utter bastards, because if you are “in” you are treated well and protected – woe betide the “out” though…
    Each team & org is context specific, but there will be patterns & predictors… I guess my preference is to dig about a bit & find out what’s going on.

    What do you think needs to be included in a coaching culture?
    See above – understand the context you are working in, the capability and understanding of coaching in the culture. I actually think you have answered your own question rather eloquently. This stuff is nebulous and req
    The Mentoring scheme we ran at Scottish Government meant training Mentors AND Mentees – getting everyone clear about what this Mentor stuff was/ wasn’t and why. Some folk jumped out – that was OK.


  3. Two things needed to create a coaching culture are easy to say and difficult to do:

    1. Coaching needs to be seen as a core activity for managers and team leaders, and monitored and evaluated in some way. If it doesn’t get measured somehow it won’t get done in many larger organisations.

    2. The business needs to recognise that coaching is a time consuming activity and plan for it.

    Ferguson a coach? Speaking as a football agnostic, I’d say he wasn’t so much a coach as a manager and leader. Telling someone what you want them to do is I imagine something he was good at. Maybe not so good at asking people when they mess up “what do you think you could have done differently?”!


  4. I have a growing unease with the promotion of the phrase “coaching culture”… Coaching is a skill which you want within your organisation. Its value isn’t in dispute. It may be a part of your culture but I hope so are many other skills, facets, beliefs & values. So why do we particularly want a coaching culture? Why is a coaching culture promoted so heavily? What are the pitfalls in having a coaching culture?

    Perhaps a better ambition might be identifying the culture the organisation has and wants to have. What is really important & why…

    Perhaps define what coaching means in the organisation & how it is used – not a purest view but an informed & pragmatic perspective…

    That seems a better client agenda than serving coaching instead doesn’t it?


  5. Oh & any coach development learning activity should be delivered in the context of what coaching means to organisation… if you don’t know that and the reasons behind it then you’re probably not bringing the coach development learning activity that the organisation needs.


  6. Loving the comments here.

    Thanks Rae – is that what people mean? I wonder if people want a ‘coaching culture’ to hide that they’re staying in theory X style.

    The power thing is an interesting one Julie – in a coaching relationship who has the power? Are organisations prepared to give up power, or the semblance of power? We say it will make us innovative and inventive to have freedom but I’m not sure if that’s what organisations want.

    Thanks Michael – the time cost is often underestimated in the assumption it’s cheap and quick. The best coaching I’ve had has been paced and an investment.

    On Twitter you said we’re being sold coaching David and I think I agree. Is that wrong if it’s relevant and effective?


    1. If it’s relevant and effective, then no… providing the perspective is long term rather than short term. I sense that there is potential for language and expectations to create noise (at best?) with selling a “coaching culture”. If the selling starts with the real need, informed dialogue & a longer term view rather than just a “solution” then maybe it’s never an issue? So I guess I’m saying that it’s all in the approach & intent…


  7. Thanks for following up on my question Andrew, really enjoyed this post. I think the biggest factor for establishing a coaching culture is creating trust, particularly where it’s run internally. I’m also intrigued by the idea of it being a cheap option- I’m a firm believer in investing in training and where possible accrediting coaching, which is far from cheap, but hopefully a worthwhile investment. We’re at the start of setting up an internal coaching programme at the Brandon Trust so it’s going to be an interesting journey. Setting core objectives and agreeing the purpose has been fundamental, particularly in relation to how we evaluate the process.


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