Blog Post: Why External Coaching Rules

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Recently I had a coaching client share something surprising.  We were following up on a coaching relationship that had concluded nearly six months ago when she revealed, “If it hadn’t been for our coaching, I would have left the company.”

Did I mention that I was surprised? To be honest, during our coaching relationship (which only lasted three months), she gave zero indication that she was thinking of quitting. I told her that I didn’t know that and asked her how the coaching helped. What she said next wasn’t so surprising because I’ve heard similar sentiments from many, many coaching clients through the years – my own as well as clients who worked with other coaches.

Why did coaching make such a difference? Because the coaching relationship provided her a non-stakeholder.

My client needed to navigate toward a healthier and more life-giving role within the company. While plenty of her co-workers support her in this goal, it’s almost impossible for someone inside the company to create the appropriate space and hold the necessary conversations. The reason? Whatever path my client might choose to take would have consequences on each of her co-workers, and this reality makes it almost impossible to provide coaching support from within the company.

I’ve served as an internal coach, so I know that world pretty well. And while internal coaching can be beneficial in many ways, working with an external coach provides some real advantages. Here are a few:

Stronger confidentiality. When your coach is a fellow participant in the system, it’s very difficult for the coach to maintain the same rigorous confidentiality as an external coach. This is especially true when what’s shared has broader implications.
Distinct perspective. When you and your coach work for the same company, the two of you are going to have much more of a shared perspective than you will find when working with an external coach. The fresh perspective of an external coach means she will be able to ask questions and explore options without the limitations of having too much knowledge.
Coaching for the top. Very few high-level employees or company owners want to be coached by someone inside the company – someone who essentially works for the client. For many reasons, internal coaching tends to focus mostly on managers and lower level leaders who don’t have enterprise-wide responsibility.
Flexibility. While both internal and external coaches work for the party who’s paying the tab, external coaches tend to have greater flexibility in addressing topics that are not directly related to workplace performance in comparison to internal coaches.
Broader exposure. While coaches don’t give advice or offer solutions, sometimes we do help clients assess their situation by comparing it to what others have faced. An external coach can offer his clients access to the great thinking and experience of an expansive array of other clients.

This coin does have two sides. There are advantages to internal coaching, especially as it relates to creating a coaching culture and providing access to coaching for all employees. Internal coaches can also develop a distinct perspective on issues facing the company as they talk with a wide array of people from different departments and at different levels. No company is making a mistake if they choose to develop some internal coaches, but for my money, external coaching rules.

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