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  • Richard Spilg

The coaching conundrum

In the gym recently, trying to maintain dignity while struggling to regain my breath, I noticed something about the way the (relatively) young and (relatively) old go about their training. When I was young, I don’t remember having to worry that my glutes had stopped working. Fast forward some 30 years and I learn that these “stabilisers” had slipped into premature retirement somewhere along the line. Therefore, the focus of my training (with the help of a very patient personal trainer) is to get these muscles working again so that I can at least try to rediscover my passion for a sport, like tennis, that I loved playing as a youngster.


By contrast, the younger crowd - in their 20’s and 30’s – seem to focus on building the specific muscle strength they’ll need to realise their potential in their chosen sport. Their trainers push them to the point of exhaustion through repetition, so that the required physical action is hardwired into their systems. Roger Federer doesn’t have time to tell his body what to do when trying to hit a crosscourt winner off a 250 km/h Milos Raonic serve.


This got me thinking about the parallels with executive coaching. Substitute the mental for the physical, and the role of an executive coach is akin to that of a personal trainer. About helping a client rediscover his/her passion for something, or helping a client realise his/her full potential in their chosen career. However, the very term “executive coaching” steers our thinking to working with people who are already operating at senior levels in an organisation – CEO, CFO, Executive director, Partner, etc. As a general rule, given cost considerations, organisations thinking about an investment in executive coaching tend to focus on their most senior employees, typically those in the over 40 age bracket. But what about those younger stars who are likely to be key to the future success of NZ business?

We talk about the benefits of executive coaching in the following terms:

  • it provides a safe place for clients to identify what is and what is not working, try new behaviours, and learn from new experiences [NASA]

  • it provides a safe place for reflection and feedback

  • it helps clients achieve congruence between their values, beliefs and personal/business goals

  • it results in sustainable behavioural change

  • it helps clients achieve their true potential

Coaching is a very effective intervention for senior people and there is no doubt that achieving potential remains one of the key coaching outcomes for this category of client. However, in a lot of instances, it’s more about clients rediscovering what they were once passionate about, and how they re-integrate that passion into their future plans. Just like the older crowd at the gym – except that they are rediscovering how to use their minds as opposed to their bodies.

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