Coaching from the Other Side of the Desk

Webster’s Dictionary defines experience as direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge. In executive and leadership coaching this definition often translates simply into having coached many executives over a long period of time. However, there is another way of understanding experience in coaching, namely having spent time in the shoes of the client responsible for the daily decisions of management and leadership. It is my contention that coaches who arise from a career of management and leadership bring special insights to their coaching that can be used to form supportive and fruitful relationship with their clients. Therefore, the title of this blog: “Coaching from the Other Side of the Desk”.

Let me be clear, I am not talking about mentoring which is becoming more frequent as an on boarding exercise or as a prelude to career development and succession planning. I am talking about coaching by trained coaches who also have had careers as leaders and managers in organizations. These individuals may have been the recipients of professional coaching as various points in their career and often this experience has been influential in their decision to pursue coaching as a profession. Coaches with experience on the other side of the desk bring practices and insights into their coaching that cannot be taught absent the experience. They can bring a rhythm to their coaching that often allows them to frame the issues and delve deep into the crux of the problems through similar experiences in their prior careers.

Nevertheless, I have sensed in my years as a coach some aversion to coaching from the other side of the desk. Such aversion arises often from a misguided belief that such coaching blurs the line between coaching and consulting. I believe nothing could be further from the truth; rather than repeat the old dictum about the differences between coaching and consulting let me say that nobody coaches in a vacuum. All coaches at some point must gain a practical understanding of what their clients do for a living and how this affects their behavior. In my case the first thing I want to know about a client is what she does and how it fits into the organization. Therefore, to some degree successful coaching uses knowledge of the context and background of the client as well as the theory and practical techniques that coaches employ to help their clients. What I am arguing for is that the experience which leaders and managers bring to the coaching profession should be recognized and leveraged whenever possible in the service of the client.

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