Breaking Through 3 Common Business Coaching Myths

muddiedFor some time, I have been arguing that the essence of coaching for managers has been muddied by a variety of philosophies and theories.

The application of these abstract ideas has given rise to confusing and misleading methods of coaching.

It’s time to get back to the basics.

In order to help managers deliver solution-based, effective coaching, we have to dispel three common myths—often presented as an idealized process that don’t really meet the needs of managers—that can lead business coaches down a time-consuming, convoluted, and potentially destructive path.

Myth #1:  People have an innate knowledge of what, why, and how they need to improve.

Many coaching programs teach managers that people already know how to be great at their jobs. This myth operates on the notion that if the coach asks enough questions, the coachee will somehow access and unlock preexisting inner knowledge that he or she can use to improve performance and achieve success.

This questioning method suggests that rather than it being the coach’s job to communicate opportunities for improvement, it is actually the coachee’s responsibility to discover personal shortcomings on his or her own. If that were true, we wouldn’t need leaders to share their experience, wisdom, and insight.


Asking the right question in the right moment is a key part of great coaching, but digging around blindly for the answers is never as effective as coaching from the outside in.

After nearly four decades of studying and investigating top-performing employees, we have consistently discovered that those who excelled in their work had a coach who gave clear and constructive feedback, shared pointers, recounted their experience, and pushed them to rise to a greater level of performance.

This type of coach brings enthusiasm, energy, and candor to the process and builds a strong relationship with the coachee as a result. 

Myth #2:  People naturally want to change.

spinning wheelsSome of the so-called “new” coaching philosophies aren’t really new at all. Old ideas have been cleverly repackaged and marketed using a highly polished script.

This script often focuses on the idea that people want to change.

Granted, there are some bright, proactive employees who are open to change, but making the assumption that people generally want to change will cause you to spend a lot of time spinning your wheels.


Most people simply aren’t excited by change. Our research shows that effective coaches recognize this and thoughtfully propose a direction, soliciting input from coachees and working with them to move forward.

Great coaches recognize resistance and bring it to the surface, boldly calling it out. These coaches help their coachees see the need for change—the “what” and “why”—so they can create an internal desire for change.

They know that ultimately, change is never as bad as it seems and they help coachees make explicit plans and set solid goals to ease the transition.  They hold people accountable, give them honest feedback about their progress, and support them as they make the changes needed to keep the business and employee on top of their game.

Myth #3:  People should only focus on their strengths.

sling shotSome argue that people can achieve professional success if they focus all of their energy and attention on at the areas in which they already excel.

This idea is compelling. However, problems arise when this romanticized idea is used as an excuse to ignore weaknesses.

What would happen if we all disregarded opportunities for growth, skill development, and innovation?

How would any employer succeed if they failed to help employees add to their existing strengths by requiring them to stretch and expand their professional competencies?


In order for organizations to compete in this global and fast-moving world, they need people who can leverage their natural strengths and work on closing gaps and weaknesses in their knowledge, skills, and abilities. We have witnessed professionals who were brought down by two or three glaring inadequacies, even though they were good at 80% of their core job requirements.

A great coach can identify areas that may not come naturally but are critical to the employee achieving greater levels of professional success. Ignoring these issues is a disservice to the individual and the organization, especially when a caring, courageous, and collaborative coach can challenge these problem areas and provide the support and resources necessary for the employee to improve and meet expectations. Building on strengths and overcoming weaknesses is another key to coaching (and to organizational success).

slippery-warning-sign-180The slippery marketing rhetoric and pop psychology that tempt people to buy into these false ideas about coaching can be seductive. In the end, successful coaching takes bold and honest dialogue, clear guidance, sound advice, and the ability to inspire people.

In order for coachees to advance and add value to the business, coaches must have optimism, energy, and the desire to help others with their opportunities for improvement using a sound, time-tested coaching method. Click here to learn more about CMOE’s Coaching TIPS²™.

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About the Author

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth. Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries. Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans. The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.