We cannot prove human nature; we can only form our own view. One of the most accessible pieces of theory on this point was provided by Douglas McGregor when he described the idea that managers view their people in two main categories. These he labelled Theory X and Theory Y.
- People are lazy and dislike work
- People must be coerced or threatened with punishment
- People avoid responsibility
- People are motivated mainly by money
- Work is a natural part of life
- People will exercise self direction
- People accept responsibility under the right conditions
- People are motivated by achievement, recognition, etc.
These two theories are really the extreme ends of the same spectrum and in truth, most of us would admit to feeling a mixture of these views about some people some of the time. It is important to recognize that neither of the views can be proven as right or wrong in absolute terms; they are simply beliefs about human nature based on experience. Our starting point as coaches therefore needs to be which set of views is more useful. Probably Theory Y. It seems to me that a coach is likely to be more helpful if his or her starting point is to believe that the coachee starts with the potential to achieve his or her aims. It is then the job of the coach is to play a part in realizing that potential.
Coaching takes a positive view of human nature and the capabilities of people and as such it is more closely aligned with Theory Y. In short, the best coaches have a simple philosophy:
“The brain with the problem, is the one with the solution”
and they work on this basis in the certain belief that people have vast reserves of potential which are rarely used and that the coach’s job is to draw it out.
This is important because our thoughts and feelings about people at work manifest in our behaviour whether we realism it or not. Approach your people as if Theory X is true and they’ll respond in kind and prove you right. The same holds true for Theory Y. Putting this into action requires a philosophy of coaching which recognizes that people are not empty vessels into which knowledge and skills must be poured, rather they are seedlings who require careful nurturing and support.
Only then can we go on to develop an approach to coaching that is entirely in keeping with these ideas.
Coaching in organizations is broadly similar to say, coaching in sport in that the primary concern is to perform better and develop people’s abilities.
Coaching can be interpreted in different ways and we need to be aware that some views of coaching may actually be confusing.
Coaching shares many characteristics with teaching, counselling, and training etc. but has some subtle yet important differences.
Effective coaching allows people to develop their sense of awareness so that they begin to see their problems and concerns with greater clarity.
This presents a platform on which the coaching practitioner can build in order to develop a deeper understanding and practical skills. Over time they can become excellent coaches and achieve great things both for the people whom they coach and for themselves.
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