Coaching: Why ‘want’ is more important than ‘need’!

Hi, Elizabeth here this month. About eight years ago I completed an intensive modular programme which officially qualified me as a coach.  This programme was quite a journey for me and I experienced a whole host of different learning opportunities along the way.  In this blog however, I wanted to focus on one area in particular that really resonated for me and is also something very relevant to much of the work Martin and I do today.


It was a requirement of the coaching programme I attended that I also experienced how it felt to be coached.  So I was allocated a coach and told to have a minimum of 3 sessions with them.  On the face of it, it made perfect sense right – if you’re going to be an effective coach, you need to experience it from the ‘other seat’ so to speak.  However quite unexpectedly this experience highlighted a really key learn for me which has stuck with me ever since, and I thought it would be good to share.


If I’m honest I didn’t want to be coached, I was following a process that said in order to gain my qualification I had to be.  Please don’t get me wrong I wasn’t so arrogant to say I didn’t need coaching or indeed that I didn’t benefit from it, because I did.  But I do know I wasn’t totally committed to it and this impacted on its effectiveness for me.  This is in no way a reflection of my coach’s ability but merely a reflection of my own mind-set.


In the weeks when I had a coaching session booked in, I would find myself looking at the diary and thinking: I wish I didn’t have to go to that meeting, or I could really do without that session this week, I’ve got lots of more important stuff to do. More often than not I would be driving to meet my coach and be racking my brains for something to talk to her about; trying desperately to recall things that had happened since we’d last spoke that would be interesting enough to explore.  Of course I also had to remember what actions I had agreed to undertake at the end of our last session and ask myself if I had actually done them. One time my coach had to cancel one of our sessions because she was poorly and I remember the overwhelming feeling of relief I felt at not having to go. In short I saw the sessions as an inconvenience and a means to an end – namely my coaching certificate!  I think you’ll agree none of these thoughts were those of someone seeing the full value of the coaching relationship!


This experience had a profound impact on me and taught me probably my biggest lesson when it comes to coaching others.  Coaching only works when the individual been coached wants to be coached!


I know it sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people we’ve met that have been ‘given’ coaches as part of their development, not to mention the times we’ve been approached by HR departments to actually coach someone who hasn’t personally asked for any help and doesn’t see they need it. This is particularly prevalent the more senior you become in an organisation, as it seems to be something ‘given’ to senior managers, almost (although rarely packaged this way), as a reward.


For us the whole concept of coaching is about helping someone to resolve issues, or challenges they may be facing by having the time to think and be encouraged to find solutions they can implement.  It’s about taking personal responsibility for making things different.  Trouble is if the individual isn’t bought into being coached they are far less likely to want to take this level of responsibility.


Looking back, before my coaching programme, I can identify specific individuals I coached who really didn’t want to be there, some of them very senior managers.  At the time I missed all the tell-tale signs.  Just as I had done with my coach, they were simply going through the motions – turning up to the sessions, talking about things that had happened to them, but never really committing to making anything different or changing anything they were doing.  They were just ticking the box on their development plan that said – yes I have been coached!


When used appropriately, coaching is an amazingly powerful leadership tool.  But please, if you’re going to be coached by someone, first make sure you’re doing it because it’s something you want to do, not simply because your boss has told you it would be a good idea.  Only then will you get the full impact and benefit from it.


Speak to you again soon






  • Martin Bolton


    Hi Elizabeth,

    hope you and Martin are well.

    I really like this blog, and totally agree with what you say. I too have been in situations where I have been sat with a coach and not wanted to be there. I have also been sat with a coach or mentor when I needed help, but they were not really qualified, so added no value. Simply providing someone as a ‘coach’ because they are more senior or more experienced in a particular role does not qualify them, Coaching is not about simply providing the answer, it is about helping the individual, and I feel too many organisations do not understand this.

    And this leads me into another issue, one which was brought home in the Inspiring Leadership Development course you run, which is fantastic by the way. Individuals do not always know their development needs, or the support available to address those needs. Good leaders will help the individual identify their development needs and will also be able to suggest, with rationale that makes sense, why coaching or mentoring could help (Situation Leadership I recall). If the individual does not realise they have a need (as you covered in this blog) and do not appreciate the likely benefits of a coach or mentor, then the session will not be very beneficial. Also simply being provided with a coach will not necessarily be the best approach when a mentor would be more suited. I know this could be the same person, but that also needs to be clear of the situation so they can wear the correct hat.

    Looking forward to your next blog

    Martin Bolton

    August 3, 2017 at 11:02 am
    • Elizabeth Fox


      Hi Martin

      We are both very well thanks – hope things are good with you! Thanks for your comments on our blog and your kind words about out Inspiring Leadership programme. Totally agree too many organisations see coaching as a means of giving people answers, when in reality and as my coaching tutor emphasized to me – coaching is all about helping to make people more resourceful and able to find the solution for themselves. We also wholeheartedly agree with you, a critical element of any leader’s role is to help their people identify and understand their development needs. All the best.

      August 4, 2017 at 10:23 am

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