Kate Leto
Kate Leto
Jan 9, 2018 · 7 min read

“Everyone needs a coach.” These are the words Bill Gates chose to open his TED Talk with impact. Interestingly the point he highlights — and the one characteristic common to all high performing individuals, from executives to athletes — is the fact that they all have a coach. Yet, surprisingly in business nearly two-thirds of executives outside the leading-edge innovators of the world don’t. In fact the majority of individuals over 60% are embarrassed to consider, let alone ask for coaching. “Why do you need coaching? What’s wrong with you?”

In our experience the people that seek coaching aren’t the ones with something wrong with them. To the contrary, there’s something very right about them — and it’s enabling them to leap ahead.


In speaking with clients, colleagues and friends on the topic of coaching a lot of the hesitancy to work with a coach comes from a lack of understanding of what coaching actually is. Our industries are overloaded with ambiguity around coaching’s purpose, its objectives and the results.

Good coaching provides actionable insight and opportunity for growth based on specific areas you wish to improve; be it better decision-making, problem-solving, or conflict management and negotiation. Its purpose must be clear and the success criteria are set. But not by a coach, by you.

Coaching is the mechanism to help you achieve the success you define for yourself, the coach is the ally that helps get you there. But in a world where roles and responsibilities from manager to mentor to consultant are common day, conflated, and often confused, where does a coach fit in?


  • Coaches facilitate the development of personal or professional objectives. The coach doesn’t provide you with the answers to a challenge or even tell you what to do. Instead the coach acts as a facilitator to help you ask better questions, and explore your own answers. They serve as a guide while you create a plan, define outcomes, and experiments to move your thinking forward. Think “facilitator” and “action-oriented.”


By creating a clearer understanding of what coaching is, and isn’t, we can start to break apart the taboo that surrounds it. Let’s not kid ourselves, though, changing the way the working world thinks and feels about coaching isn’t going to be easy. A lot of the stigma is supported by outdated practices and policies now institutionalised in our organisations and our own mindsets and behaviors.

Working with organisations across sector, size and geography there are a few key assumptions around coaching that consistently appear and create challenges. Here’s our top two to debunk.


The stigma around coaching can exist at any level or in any type of organisation. From experience, it seems the reluctance to embrace coaching can be stronger in those in more senior positions. After all, with years of experience and a place of responsibility in an organisation, there’s a sense of “I don’t need coaching … What would they know about my industry? … I’m the expert!”

This again is where the confusion around what coaching really is and what benefits it has to offer exist. A coach is often not an expert in your field. In fact, we constantly tell executives we work with that we don’t have the same level of expertise they do in their field. But we can help them discover how to endlessly improve any skill, capability or challenge they want to tackle for themselves. This disarms their ego and ignites their curiosity.

We set expectations that coaching is there to help them facilitate finding the answers to your own questions and challenges. Remember a coach is not a mentor — she or he is not there to give you the answers. You are the expert in your field, the coach is there to help you get to your next level of what you have identified you wish to achieve.

How? By challenging your thinking, making you considering better questions or different world views, and helping you understand your own blockers to success. Coaching helps you break through these barriers, empowering you to be the expert of your own success.

As Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and chairman of Alphabet recounts; the best advice he ever got, initially resented but now always gives is to have a coach. A great coach is somebody who looks at something with another set of eyes, they give you perspective, the one thing you can’t give yourself, and a system to tackle future challenges and succeed.


For many others the idea of coaching conjures feelings of failure, punishment and even incompetence.

A good friend was recently promoted to a senior management position in her company. Soon afterward she was told by her manager that she was not meeting certain requirements for her new role and as part of her performance improvement program, she would be assigned a coach.

She was embarrassed and ashamed that she had to work with a coach. She had just recently been promoted and was now being told — and so was the rest of the organisation — she wasn’t good enough. It was the equivalent to being sent to sit in the corner with the dunce hat on.

It’s a common scenario in today’s organisation — coaching is positioned as a performance management tool for underperformers instead of an opportunity for growth and progression for everyone. If we are going to break the taboo that surrounds coaching, then decision makers and leaders within organisations need to rethink how they position coaching: is it a punishment for underperformers or a benefit to unlock potential? We know which side high-performance organisations and leaders see it.

In the end, she was so happy with the results, and enjoyed the experience so much she is now paying someone to help her reach and achieve higher career aspirations and goals. It’s her company that may yet end up the one sitting in the corner wearing in the dunce hat.


Bill Gates was right: the reality is everyone does need a coach. And those who can recognise when they need help, how to ask for it, and where to get it power ahead in pursuit of their personal and professional development objectives.

When you are passionate about improvement and growth, asking for help is rarely the blocker. The challenge is knowing where to go and how to get started. Here are our tips:

  • Clarify your purpose for coaching. Be accountable to why coaching matters to you, not something else. It’s your personal and professional development — own it.

This article was co-authored with Barry O’Reilly. Share it with your network!


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