Do professionals need coaches?

Last week at the first Icarus St. Louis session, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Adam Sachs, a St. Louis area coach. Our discussion about why people are so reluctant to hire coaches for non-athletic reasons for themselves, or for their kids, prompted me to revisit, and rework, some of my earlier thoughts on the question. Unfortunately, I still have only questions, no answers.
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A couple of years ago I was engaged in a discussion related to the question of work/life coaches, here is one of the responses:

Q: If you can’t afford a coach, what are you doing to support your professional growth?
A: I love (?) the assumptive nature of this question: that everyone needs a coach;…  Do professionals need coaches? No, certainly not.

“No, certainly not.” So definitive, as if the very question was insulting. And yet, if the question were adjusted just a little bit, to read, “Do professional athletes need coaches?”, I have a feeling the answer would be more along the lines of, “Of course they do.” I’ve often wondered why this is: why is it acceptable, expected even, that athletes have and need coaches but considered a luxury if someone has a work/life coach and actually a detriment – a sign of weakness – if someone wants or needs a work/life coach?

The answer I quote above was just one response in the discussion, but many (most?) of the answers tended to dismiss the idea that a professional coach is desirable or needed.  The alternatives range from talk with friends, study the success of others, and read and continue to develop your knowledge on the subject of your job.

Imagine if this approach were recommended to athletes, or to the owners of sports franchises. In most cases, such an approach would be a sure path to the loser’s circle, not to mention a quick way to get kicked out of the owner’s office for suggesting such a ridiculous idea.

If you ask a competitive athlete if they have / need a coach the answers will likely range from “Yes” to “Of course” to “Are you kidding?” More and more, if you ask a business executive the question, you will find that they believe a coach is worthwhile, possibly even necessary.

But if you ask the creative, the knowledge worker, the non-executive professional the same question the answers will likely range from “No” to “Huh?” to “Are you kidding?” (And the “Are you kidding” here means something completely different.)

What is it about our work as professionals in business that makes us so different from the work of professionals in sports that we don’t need a coach?

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