Three Things You Should and Shouldn’t Expect From Your Coach

Posted 05.17.2010

Golf1 The Sports section of this morning’s New York Times featured an article titled, “To Top Golfers, A Trusted Coach Is Invaluable, But Expendable.”   Prompted by Tiger Woods’ breakup with Hank Haney, his swing coach for the past six years, the article shared the perspectives of a number of top golfers and coaches about what they expect from such a relationship. The expectations ran the gamut. On one end of the spectrum, Hank Haney reported that he spent 110 days a year with Woods and stayed over at his house 50 nights a year. Doesn’t sound like much of a life.

On the other end, coaching this year’s Masters champ, Phil Mickelson, sounds like a better gig for a couple of reasons. First, Mickelson seems pretty clear about his goals for working with a coach. When he hired short game coach Dave Pelz in 2003, Pelz asked him, “Phil, what in the world do you need me for?” Mickelson told him that he had a very clear goal of a one stroke improvement in the major tournaments. A year later, he won his first Masters by one stroke.

Mickelson also, I think, has the right expectations for working with a coach.  He says, “What has been important to me in working with my coaches… is that they give me all the information and advice from their years of experience and then help me blend it into my approach and the way I’ve been doing things.  And that’s what makes it work, because it is collaborative.”

Since I’ve been coaching executive leaders for the past 10 years, the article got me thinking about what prospective clients should and shouldn’t expect from their coach.  Here are three things I would put on each of those lists:

Three Things You Should Expect From Your Coach

Objective Perspective
– Your coach should do a great job of bringing an objective, outside-in perspective to the conversations.  One part of that is providing you with feedback on what others are thinking, seeing and expecting of you.  Another is enough personal detachment to ask you the objective questions you may not be asking yourself.

Reference Points
– Your coach should have experience coaching other executives that have been in situations similar to yours. That experience helps frame the coach’s point of view. That point of view can make the difference in creating an improvement plan that gets the results you’re looking for. It also helps focus the coaching work on the stuff that’s likely to make the most difference.

A Mirror to Yourself –  Your coach good should be good at holding up a mirror to help you self-observe and stay accountable to the plan that will get you the results you want.

Three Things You Shouldn’t Expect From Your Coach

Answers –  You probably know more about your job and organization than your coach does. You likely have the knowledge and experience to come up with the right answers on your own. Your coach’s job is to help you create enough mental and creative bandwidth to come up with them.

Total Immersion – A good coach has to keep perspective. They don’t spend so much time with the client that they start to go native.  You don’t want your coach to be so totally immersed in your organization that they run the risk of adopting your perspective and losing their own.

Sugarcoating – A good coach doesn’t sugarcoat reality. A good coach helps you define reality while supporting you in taking tangible steps to create a better future.

What’s your take? Leaders who have had coaches or are looking for a coach, what are your expectations?  Coaches, what would you add to the list of what clients should and shouldn’t expect from their coaches?