Is coaching elitist?

May 29th, 2017

Whilst at an event last week I got chatting to a fellow attendee about what we each did for a living. “Hmmm…executive coaching,” he said “what exactly is that?” I’ve had plenty of time and opportunity to reflect on how I describe what I do and so was able to give a succinct answer, which did the job in that moment. But it got me thinking about the title I use, why I choose to use it and what message it conveys to other people.

Coaches use a plethora of job titles to try to identify what they do or specialise in, adding various prefixes to coaching including life, business, performance, team, development, career…the list goes on. So what does the label ‘Executive coaching’ say to people? It’s this that got me thinking about how and where coaching operates in the business world and whether it has indeed become somewhat elitist.

The use of external coaches has developed exponentially over the last 25 years as an effective tool for businesses to deploy to support and develop their senior managers and executives. There are numerous studies that now exist to support its effectiveness and show a genuine ROI. So the question I’ve been reflecting on is, “If coaching is proven to be such an effective tool for raising self-efficacy levels in business, why is it seemingly only the preserve of senior managers and the Exec’?”

As a former Sales and Marketing Director I had the fortunate benefit of having an external coach and I remember thinking at the time, “If only I’d had this ten years earlier.” I’ve lost count of the number of talented frontline and middle managers I’ve come into contact with in my current role, who would love to have the opportunity to be coached externally, and can see the benefit, but their business wouldn’t sponsor them to have it because of their lack of seniority. I think businesses are really missing a trick here, the value and impact that coaching could add to managers in the early part of their careers could be significantly higher than for their senior executive counterparts. Cost is always thrown up as the main barrier to coaching more junior managers, but perhaps both businesses and coaches alike should be looking at more innovative and flexible ways of structuring coaching to make it more available.

I now make it my mission to find creative and innovative ways of making businesses widen the accessibility to external coaching in their organisation as well as cultivating a genuine internal coaching culture so that coaching is not reserved simply for the privileged elite at the top.

By Neil Kimberley