Do I Know Enough To Coach Executives?

  • Do I Know Enough To Coach Executives?

    A question I am frequently asked as people prepare to coach in the business world, particularly with executives, is, how much do I need to know?


    The most common questions are:

    • I was never an executive, how can I coach someone who is?

    • I was an executive in finance, how can I coach an executive in marketing?

    • I have never worked in the corporate world, how can I coach there? 


    When I look at the theme of these questions, it seems to come down to a simple exploration of, who am I, and do I know enough about this person’s world to be helpful?  In short form, it is more like, do I know enough? or even, am I enough?


    What gives me the right and credibility to sit here and coach this person?


    Over the years I have found there are many sides to this answer.  First of all, there is the side of the coach who is looking for the confidence factors to work in these situations.  In each of our minds we hold a personal set of criteria, probably loosely defined, or even undefined, of what gives us the personal authority to do the work of coaching. After many discussions about this with various coaches I have found that the answer varies a great deal, with a common element of the individuals experience with the world of positional power and authority.


    The second side is that of the client.  Very often people who are looking for help hold the same sort of model of authority.  They need to believe that their coach will know enough to help them.  Often this means they are looking for technical expertise in their job, and are looking for more consulting than coaching.  Other times they think that their situation is so unique or complicated that others will not be able to understand it well enough to help them navigate.  There are as many reasons as there are clients, and the commonality is that they have to perceive some sort of credibility from a coach to work with them.


    The third side is from the process. When we are truly coaching we are focused on the client, approaching from a place of curiosity and inquiry, and working a process through which the client navigates through their own world of complexity and technical details.  After all, we are there to work with the person, not to do their job.


    After my decades in this field I have come to believe that we do not need to know very much at all about a client’s role or position or company to be a good coach.  In fact, I also believe that knowing less is often the most helpful.  Some of the best client results have been in situations where I knew essentially nothing about what they did.  In those cases it was my curiosity about what was going on for them that was the most useful.


    At the extreme end I have had clients in defense and highly classified roles, where I was not cleared to know anything about what they did.  Everything was in metaphors, and there was no content shared at all.  Ultimately, once I relaxed into that, it became some very clean coaching work.  No content or story to get in the way.


    It really all boils down to a coach knowing how to establish a personal credibility with a client through their presence.  From there, it is the ability to stay with inquiry and curiosity in order to support the process of self-discovery.


    All in all you need to know one essential thing; how to be a coach and be comfortable in not knowing more than your client does.


    To your success,


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