Coaching - the good, the bad... and the myths


Coaching is a powerful way of supporting people through challenge and change, but their understanding of it can be very different. Rupert Cornford and Sara Duxbury hunt down some stories to help bring some clarity to the debate

Coaching means different things to different people: is it help, mentoring, advice, support – strong arming people into action? Are you going to tell me what to do?

No… at least not all of the above.

A good coach will ask open questions, which will allow you to explore new insights that come from you. This could help you to resolve a problem or move towards a goal. Coaching will enable you to explore the tools you already have.

Coaches allow you to be heard and hear yourself.

And sometimes coaches will advise – become mentors – if they have experience that is useful to share. Most coaches move along this spectrum and as psychologists, we can use psychological tools and techniques which also lend perspective.

“Sometimes people don't know what they want - they say they want ‘more’ or ‘better’, but don't know how to get there,” says Hazel Carter Showell, managing director at Carter Corson.

“Coaching can help people gain clarity; it's not just about pursuing a goal. One myth to bust is that issues are not single points to be looked at, they are usually an interconnected web of small changes within a system. This can feel overwhelming and people don't know where to start.”

There is also fear of the coaching process as people explore what change will cost them. They might also bring perceptions of what it is and isn’t – and a bad experience might be skewing their view. Sometimes people have that vision of performance coaching, which is very goal focussed or takes place in a gym – and it all seems a bit effortful.

“That feeling of judgment can put people off,” says Carter-Showell. “But coaches are there to build on strengths and make people feel better. They challenge for the right reasons and are gritty when they need to be.”

There is an expectation of a quick fix, too; that everything is fast and achievable quickly. Mastery takes time and the real, deep work takes time - to take a long hard look at yourself and accept that you don't have to get it right all the time. Timing is also important - when you are open and ready to talk - is when coaching works best.

Coaching experience - the good

  • Being heard
  • Given space
  • Held to account
  • Holistic
  • Having someone believe in me when I didn’t (which is powerful)
  • Challenged
  • Safe

Coaching experience - the bad:

  • Like they swallowed a coaching book
  • Interrupted
  • Told what to do
  • Not challenged
  • Obvious suggestions
  • Not feeling seen

Coaching - the myths (the 'just plain wrong'):

  • Coaching is only for people who need to solve a problem
  • Your coach will have all the answers for you
  • Your coach will cry along with you (we are OK with tears by the way)
  • Your coach will tell you what to do
  • Just asking questions is coaching
  • Coaching is getting people to do what I want them to do, without them knowing it
  • Coaching takes a long time

 Thank you to everyone on LinkedIn who contributed their experiences of coaching for this blog

If you would like to get in touch to talk about coaching or have a story of your own to share, please email or