Is “coaching” even relevant?

Dec 16, 2019

“The coach, if that is still the operative word, needs to be a mentor and consultant, perhaps facilitator and trainer.”

Ram Ramanathan

Founder, Coacharya

This blog has been triggered by a recent coaching-related survey that I chanced upon. The survey inquired into revenue made by coaches and how many clients coaches expect to grow to. Rather, an inquiry should be made into the value that coaches can add to clients and how to evidence that.

The biggest coaching-related issue that corporate clients see today is how coaching is getting increasingly expensive and less relevant to the needs of organizations as they struggle with changing culture and shift mindsets of teams and individuals. This shift requires coaching from a systemic and holistic view. It must involve collecting evidence of how the organization is being perceived in the present and then agreeing on how it wants to change. It requires a systemic team coaching approach, rather than a remedial or behavioral individual coaching approach.

ICF clearly states that the coach is responsible to discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve. Some years ago, the myth was that the coach couldn’t be held responsible for the client outcome. ICF has updated its coaching competencies recently with great emphasis on the coach’s mindset and awareness, as well as the involvement of stakeholders in the process. These are tremendously powerful client-centric shifts led by ICF as a globally responsible coach credentialing body. How close are coaches to this mindset? 

Some simple questions to ask coaches are: 

  1. Do you demand that coaching outcome agreements with clients and sponsors can evidence tangible results?
  2. Do you involve stakeholders in the agreement as well as the feedback process? 
  3. How would the sponsor know that the individual client’s coaching outcome adds value to the organization?
  4. In your experience, can you honestly claim that your coaching has helped the organization or system?

Transformational coaching is a myth. If transformation means that the coach creates some awareness in a client individually, in some issues, for some period, perhaps transformational coaching does exist. If, however, we expand this into a systemic context for sustained cultural changes, the honest answer is ‘no’. ‘Transformed’ clients either regress to past behavior or resign from the organization. In many cases, this is a reality unpalatable to both, coaches and sponsors. 

Another myth is that every coach coaches only CEOs. I know Marshall does. I don’t. CEOs want others to change. Rarely do they wish to change themselves. It is a mystery and a myth that a system can transform when the leadership does not wish to change. 

These days, when I am approached with a contract to coach executives, I suggest that I start at the top and coach the team. Not just a few individual leaders. I show them how this systemic process is cheaper and can be more effective and sustained in aligning organizational goals to teams and individuals. I have cases to show. Those who have experienced systemic coaching would not want it any other way. Those who haven’t, hesitate because of the myths told to them about transformational coaching. 

More and more organizations are disillusioned about the effectiveness of coaching individuals for behavioral shifts in making a difference in organizational culture. Return on investment calculation models to evidence coaching effectiveness makes far too many assumptions to relate the individual’s contribution to the company’s performance with no direct relevance to coaching. 

It is no wonder that in North America, arguably the biggest coaching market, sponsors are looking at coaches who are also mentors with senior corporate leadership experience, and who are also able to advise the company on steps to change culture. The coach, if that is still the operative word, needs to be a mentor and consultant, perhaps facilitator and trainer.  

Look at how ICF defines coaching now as, ‘Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment.’ 

There is no talk, rightly, of any transformation here. The coach needs to address pain points to maximize performance to the potential to manage change. Change can never be managed at the individual level. It is a systemic effort. What the organization should be concerned about, and coaches should be focusing on is how the entire system benefits by coaching not just a few stars with high potential, and a few observed limitations. 

Leader stars do not create great organizations. Dedicated, committed, motivated, culturally aligned followers do. The sooner the coaches and organizations adopt a systemic, team-based leadership approach to coaching, which would include multiple interventions of mentoring, consulting, training, facilitating, counseling along with coaching, the better they can lead change in performance.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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