In my work, I meet a lot of coaches and consultants. I meet them both as professional peers and as participants in the programmes that I run. There is one thing however, which is a pattern I see in many, which is the tendency to compulsively coach.
What I mean by this is that they have no choice around it – it is a compulsion which comes out of them, whenever someone says something where they perceive coaching may be useful. Now why is this a problem, you might ask. They are only seeking to be helpful, which is often their defence.
There are however many layers to what is going on in that moment. When we coach someone we engage in a helping relationship. Some writers critique the helping relationship as an arrogant fantasy on behalf of the helper, and I can see the logic in this – really, who are we to help another? Yet, a helping relationship can be helpful, so what do we do?
Embedded in the helping relationship are two roles – the helper and the person being helped. Instantly a power dynamic is created and the helper is the more powerful in that relationship. Often in coaching they will appear as the wise one, with good questions, who seems to be in control. A good coaching relationship will initially utilise this power dynamic to make early progress, but will over time break down this power dynamic so that the helper and the person being helped end the relationship as equals. If this doesn’t happen the helper is holding on to power, and you have to ask what need of theirs this is serving.
This power dynamic is contracted and has boundaries. If I am coaching you, then we have both agreed that I will coach you for a set duration of time to work on some specific issues, in return for which you will pay me. It also means that we have set time together – perhaps we meet twice a month to work together, or perhaps you’re in a 5-day programme that I am running and I will coach you there. It also means that if I later see you on the street in London and we stop for a chat, or we end up at the same dinner party, I will not coach you. There are limits and boundaries to the relationship – I will not be your coach forever or at any time that I see you. To do so would be presumptive, potentially unhelpful, and reinforces the power dynamic mentioned above.
And yet, I meet many coaches who will attempt to coach me, or someone else without permission, contracting or boundaries – this is what I refer to as compulsive coaching. It’s justified through the rationalisation that, “I’m only trying to help…” but in fact it seems to me that this is about serving the needs of that coach rather than the person they are attempting to help.
Some coaches seem to have difficulty relating to others outside of the coaching relationship, where they are the wise one who helps others. Others are on a more blatant power trip. Some have an inner need to help others, which is driven by their own feelings of helplessness, which they haven’t fully addressed and worked through. And there may be a whole range of other variations for why people end up coaching compulsively.
From my perspective, if you’re a coach and you find yourself coaching compulsively, then there is something you need to deal with. When I, or others, want coaching allow us to ask for it from those to whom we consciously give that permission. If you perceive that we might benefit from some coaching, then by all means tell us. We will then have the opportunity to reflect on this, and make our own choices – please don’t try and make them for us.
If you are coaching compulsively there’s another reason you should address this compulsive need to help in yourself – you might just discover than when you deal with this need, real career and life satisfaction lies elsewhere. True satisfaction is never achieved trying to fulfil a compulsion from within.
If you’re thinking of hiring a coach, my belief is that you should look for a coach with clear boundaries and a clear contract. If someone coaches you compulsively, it’s may be their needs they are serving, not yours.