'Passionate professionals DO NOT NEED coaching' by Yvonne Thackray

Let me share a conversation I recently had with a leading expert in cybersecurity, together with their thoughts on coaching or, as they refer to it, mentoring. The definition used here to describe mentoring is key - as they’re also describing their coaching approach:

  • Enabling the recipient to grow and develop their potential,

  • Aligning their strengths as a leader, and

  • Being aware of where their weakness lies and finding those peers whose complementary strengths positively negates those deficits (a form of delegation, even).

This results in building a team that supports each other as they rely on each other delivering their responsibilities and collaboratively working together to deliver complex solutions to typically high-profile cyberattacks. This in turn meets the organisation's objectives.

They also shared their observations of the cultural differences on the professional services industry in the UK and USA. The one that strikes them most is the lip service paid to ‘human capital'.

Typically, company objectives are placed front and centre. Everyone who works at a company needs to align their professional objectives with that company. When a person is moving up the career ladder success is typically defined by the establishment rather than as a part of personal agency.

What they see in their field of cybersecurity, which is apparently something that is increasingly common rather than the exception, is a move away from traditional highly organised structures to a more radical and fluid organisational structure that meets the needs of their division. Yes, there are organisation objectives to be met and there is an individual who needs to be accountable to it all – however, how they achieve the objective should be left to each director overseeing the operation. 

In this particular case:

  • The director took a rigorous approach to selecting the right candidates for the role that started from how passionate they are about the field. Mistakes (many) are taken to be a given and expected to have occurred throughout their career. What the director is interested in is what the candidate learnt from their mistakes, how they’ve been able to apply those lessons in developing their role, and, through their experiences, how they’ve become better at managing them, which in turn reduces risk.
  • They took a radical approach to developing a half billion dollar service in two years. It involved creating a culture that focussed on the team members supporting each other where there wasn’t a separation into regional operations.
  • They found a way to externalise the internal politicking – that typically takes between 20-30 percent of their time – in finding new clients to work with that benefitted everyone, rather than a sub-group within the group.

The rigorous selection process – where passion is one of the key criteria – suggests recruiting an individual who is fairly confident and independent in their actions. They are more likely to find role models within the organisation who can mentor them into greater leadership roles rather than simply navigate promotion within the organisation's politics. In this way, they imply that leadership requires skills from coaching/mentoring. Context is key. Hence, those who do not seek mentoring and acquire external coaching are struggling within the organisation. It is possible to sign them up to attend a training course (internally/externally provided) to address what they’re struggling with. This is also an opportunity for networking, however it will not result in any long-term sustainable behavioural changes that will help them in their organisational role.

It’s encouraging listening to them share their experiences, passion and hard work in a field that wasn't even a field a decade ago. Hearing what they've been able to achieve and continue to achieve makes their organisation an absolutely amazing place for the right individuals with the right attitude to work. That they are rewarded accordingly is amazing too. If I wasn't doing what I'm currently doing and had the right skills, I think I would be working there too.

After what they've passionately shared, and their approach to adding value, let us ask the question of how or where coaching can really add value?

Unlocking Passion – what I’ve learnt so far

Passion seems to be the key word, and this is where I’d start in suggesting why coaching is valuable:

  • A 2014 report from Deloitte’s Center for the Edge "Passion at work: Cultivating worker passion as a cornerstone of talent development," up to 88 percent of America's workforce is unable to contribute to their full potential, which means only 12 percent really possess the attributes of worker passion. Furthermore, companies do not recognise this value and rather viewed it with suspicion [1].

  • The 2016 Gallup Daily: US Employee Engagement poll stated that 34.3 percent of employees are enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. According to their worldwide survey carried out in 2013 only 13 percent of employees are engaged at work [2].

  • 2016 Steelcase Global Report “Engagement and the Global Workplace” that explores the relationship between employee engagement and the work environment, found that only 13 percent of workers are highly engaged [3].

If coaching becomes defunct because individuals are passionate about their industry and have found an organisation that works with them to continually develop their potential through mentoring, as described in this blog (not the industry definition), then please fire me!

Why would you need a coach?

  • If you are passionate and know what you want and have a strategy in place.

  • If you are confident of how to get what you want from your work and you are proactively making those connections.

  • If you’re committed to trying – always willing to learn and grow from failures (which becomes fewer and infrequent over time) and continually delivering better success with each project/objective – within the organisational-market parameters.

  • If you have a sponsor/mentor who’s willing to personally support you to achieve your professional aspirations and continually become a better leader.

However, what the statistics show us, for better or worse, is that only 12-13% of the global workforce are passionate about what they do – they are the exception rather than the norm – although I wish that was the norm rather than the exception! Everyone works for their own reason.

To summarise

  • Coaching helps those who sit on the side lines uncertain and unsure of what it is they really want to do. Working through those key questions in a safe space allows the recipient to retain and regain a sense of control over their situation. They can have a coaching conversation with another who can emphasise with the context and provide that confidentiality and independent space needed for reflection, accountability, strategy and potential action.

  • Coaching and mentoring complement each other; choosing one or the other seems to be based more on the degrees of passion/engagement that the individual has for their work. Importantly, both apply in a coaching approach. You need both!

  • Coaching and Leadership are closely related. Building a strengths-based team that complements someone else’s weakness leverages, even multiplies, the expected results: 1+1=5!

Investing in a quality of attention that can personally and professionally support people to have an edge (whether it might be potential, happiness, satisfaction or competitive) should not be uncommon. Many parents provide that for their children to get ahead within the established educational system.

I think the idea that the individual has a modicum of control in their professional life is perhaps the most frightening idea for most. It is the hardest to challenge in a stable society with established rules, expectations and norms. What do you think? 

I’m also curious to ask and learn more from our good coach readers:

  • What was your instigator/motivator to get yourself a coach (externally/internally)?

  • What was the process like for you?

  • What was most challenging for you in picking a good coach for yourself?

  • Do you share with others that you work with a coach, or not?


[1] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-research-from-deloitte-suggests-that-organizations-need-to-tap-into-existing-passionate-workers-for-sustained-performance-improvement-278499361.html
[2] http://www.gallup.com/poll/165269/worldwide-employees-engaged-work.aspx
[3] http://info.steelcase.com/global-employee-engagement-workplace-report?utm_campaign=2016-WPR-Campaign-En&utm_medium=HomeHeaderImage&utm_source=Steelcase.com#about-the-report