What is coaching? Eminent coach Jeffrey T Sooey; President of JTS has categorically stated being a coach is NOT equivalent to being a consultant, guru, expert, psychologist or friend. This is important as coaching has been closely associated rightly or wrongly with psychotherapy, psychiatry or sanity.
This is important in Asia because in general, psychology, psychiatrist and sanity are viewed narrowly in a binary manner or either sane or insane instead of a continuum. To combat this, Institute of Mental Health in Singapore started an Early Psychosis Intervention Programme to overcome the stigma and get patients to seek help earlier for better outcomes. In the same vein, one should also seek coaching earlier as you never know how it can help unlock the potential in you.
In a nutshell, coaching is supportive in nature involving training, teaching and development to reach professional or personal goals. It is more developmental rather than therapeutic as described above.
The Chinese Experience
We shall examine how coaching was already in existence in ancient time by examining the famous “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” written by Liu GuanZhong around 14 century as a non-fiction. It was set against the backdrop around the end of Han Dynasty and start of Sui Dynasty. Between these two dynasties, China went through a period of disunity and the Three Kingdoms was a part of this chaotic era. Though it was written as a novel, it had a strong dose of historical fact embedded to qualify as one of the great four great writings of Chinese literature therefore reflective of the culture of that era. The significant characters of interest are advisors Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi together with their masters Liu Bei and Cao Cao respectively.
The plot is thick, complex and long but the important plots here were the four main castes. The two leaders by way of benevolent Liu Bei and villain Cao Cao and their advisers Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi. In today’s context we could equate both Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi as having played the role of coach to their leaders. It was very evident that the advisers were not part of the line of authority and served in staff role giving them a more objective perspective. In coaching lingua franca, we would put them as not belonging to the system. Their primary role was to ensure the success of their masters and they were trusted and highly regarded by their masters. They do not hold direct executive power in most instances save for short period of time when the situation was dire. This distinction is important as coaches that cross this line to be part of the system normally do so with non-optimal outcomes if not managed carefully.
“The Art of War” widely attributed to Sun Tzu is another prime example. Although the authorship is still highly debated amongst scholars in light of new archaeological findings. This discourse is not important to us as there is common agreement that it existed way before the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. This book has reached renowned status globally and has been translated into many languages and adopted by many modern management schools and practitioners. Sun Tzu was a military advisor and/or general to King Hule of Wu State and highly regarded as an advisor to the King. It is interesting that the legacy he left behind in this book has served as a virtual coach to the many readers of his book who internalized the dictum appropriately. In the contentious chapter 11 of his book, he states the leader must be “serene and inscrutable” and capable of comprehending “unfathomable plans” which was against many modern thinking that the leader must stay in touch with ground zero. This truism was most probably why a leader needs a coach. A coach can apply frameworks more independently being NOT a part of the system and therefore able to help the leader see the forest from the trees better as both aspects are equally important.
Modern US Government
In modern government like USA, the President is surrounded by many advisors specializing in different areas like homeland, security, economics etc, as well as secretaries. A key differentiator between these advisors and the secretaries surrounding him lies in the fact that the advisors are non-executive in nature whereas those of the secretaries are executive in nature either directly or by fiat. By doing so, these advisors are also playing the role of a coach being detached from the system itself and having less issues when it comes to conflict of interests.
The “realization of what you are lacking is the beginning of knowledge” and coaching might bridge that all important divide standing between you and your goals in both the corporate and/or personal arenas. So what is stopping you from calling a coach and examine what a difference coaching can make to you and your key men and make a difference in your organization.