Although coaches are commonly seen as leaders, many leaders don’t feel they need to be coaches. But, as we move into the leadership challenges of the 21st Century, that perception is changing. In fact, internationally acclaimed leadership coach Christian Simpson flatly declares “you cannot lead if you cannot coach!” But wait, you say, the folks I lead have expertise that I don’t so how can I coach them? Relax. Contrary to popular belief, coaches don’t have to be subject matter experts. In fact, coaches with no background in the topic at hand are often the most effective!
Manly due to the sports coach stereotype, many people think that a coach needs to be an expert. But, according to the International Coach Federation and experts like Christian Simpson, the activity commonly called coaching in sports and other physical activities is more accurately described as teaching or mentoring, not coaching. Upon examination, the differences between teaching, mentoring, and coaching are actually quite clear. Teaching and mentoring are based upon providing knowledge or skills to an individual or, put another way, pouring into an individual. Conversely, coaching assumes that the individual is resource-full and needs no coach provided knowledge or skills. In other words, the well trained coach knows the client already has the answers within and that it is the coach’s job to ask insightful questions to bring those answers to the conscious realization of the client. This is why a coach that has no subject matter expertise is often better than a coach that is an expert. The non-expert coach can often access more insightful questions since they are not burdened with preconceived “expert” solutions. leadership coaching
So how does this coaching paradigm relate to leadership and why do experts like Simpson say that if you cannot coach you cannot lead? To answer this question we need but look at the foundational definition of leadership. Leadership guru John Maxwell, author of 75 books on leadership and personal development, sums up leadership quite succinctly, “leadership is influence.” Given this simple definition we can quickly see that those who are able to ask insightful questions that empower others and solve problems obviously exert influence which equates to leadership. Moreover, the skilled coach can lead from any position in an organization or group using coaching techniques to exert influence. On the other hand, one who is unable to coach will quickly find themselves limited to positional (level one), permission (level two), and production (level three) leadership roles. Without the ability to coach, these nascent leaders will never become fully functional and able to develop their people (level four) or develop and lead leaders (level five).