The Coaching Relationship

by Chris Newham

Not everyone would feel comfortable with the idea they could use a coach. Some would be worried that others knew they had one, fewer would even seriously consider the idea. For these and other reasons, a coach is not a commonly discussed concept in business, and so low is the profile of the role, that its commonality is probably underestimated.

Often we are fortunate to have among our business relationships a kitchen cabinet, or a mentor or confidante. Our lives would be particularly hard without those who we can trust deeply, where there's no feeling of competition, and with whom we can be open around significant matters. Often our friendships develop according to their potential to satisfy these needs, and we find ourselves referring to specific people on specific, personal matters like finance and health. Sometimes we chose neighbors or old friends, and sometimes we chose a work colleague or other professional, and we highly value these relationships.

I can now identify an occasion, possibly the first, in which I had the role of coach. I did not seek the role, it was more like I was adopted. Many years ago, in the process of changing employers, I got to know the senior manager of the large organization I was joining. Perhaps it was because he was also rather new to his position, and the circumstances surrounding our work were highly changeable, but in any case we established a relationship that was broader than that directly required for me to do my work in his organization. Over the years we would increasingly help each other, each using his separate experiences and perspectives to extend the perspective of the other. Questions were asked, opinions given, positions explored, plans developed, and actions taken. This relationship was rare. There was no political intrigue. We had no need to present ourselves to each other in any way other than as we were. It was driven by principles like honesty, and fairness. Our interactions enriched each other as we were learned from each other, a mutuality that appears to be the primary pattern in a coaching relationship.

As a management consultant, I've found my capacity to contribute depends completely on the quality of the relationship I develop with my client. My technical contribution usually concerns business performance, and is around strategies and their execution. I could develop reports and recommendations, but these don't produce results. Instead I start new conversations and offer alternate perspectives to help others discover their possibilities and potentialities. When we co-create a strategy, our learning is accelerated and his/her initiative is retained. I learn a lot about his reality and he discovers how he can learn a lot about others'. With new perspectives on the strategies and the relationships to bring about change, my client discovers for himself a new potential for action, even to the extent of the CEO who courageously told me his discovery that his knowledge had been getting in his way! Coaching is a relationship building processes that increase the client's capacity to resolve problems and achieve objectives.

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