Coaching tax – the movie version

I thought this was about coaching tax

Last week I wrote about “coaching tax” from the perspective of being in a coaching conversation (time on task) versus not being in a coaching conversation. This week I thought I would write an article about “coaching tax” from the perspective of the coach who is already engaged in a coaching conversation.

Once we are “on task” we are actually coaching someone. This is the moment that we yearned for, where the insights and the self-motivated call to action comes out and the coach can sit back an marvel at the transformation that they are witnessing (and I hope facilitating it too).

Time on task involves enabling a good conversation as well as having it

At it’s best, every coaching session will lead to either a new insight or a next step that is clear to the one being coached (who I will refer to as “The Hero of the Story” or “The Hero”).

The same conversation will also lead to a feeling of fulfilment or joy for the one doing the coaching, as they watch the Hero gain new insights and take meaningful action (I will refer to the coach as “the Coach” or “the Supporting Character.”

However, in my experience, a lot of my coaching does not attain this ideal. Instead I find myself frustrated by people not gaining the insights that I want to force down their throat or explaining to them that they are the Hero and that they do not need me to tell them what to do, since I am just the supporting character in the story.

That sounds a bit vague, but I believe that I have been able to make more sense of it recently. Not all coaching (even when “on task”) is about unleashing insights. Much of it can be about creating the relationship, environment and conversation that enables the insights to occur.

That is where I thought movies about coaches might help me explain.

Movies about coaches

To understand this at an abstract level, I decided to see if there are any good movies or TV series about good coaches.

There are quite a few movies about coaches in sporting contexts (See https://www.ranker.com/crowdranked-list/best-sports-movies-about-coaches).

This is great, but I think they are a bit misleading if you want to learn about how to coach in a work context (like I do). They include such things as coaches struggling to get teams to believe in themselves and the coach also being imperfect, but by having the coach as the hero, they can trick coaches into acting as the hero.

In sports coaching (the movie version) there are a clear set of goals (win games without cheating, being happy while also winning a lot). But this is actually a problem in the workplace.

Yes – we need to build trust and yes, an agile coach should know about what agile is and have valuable insights to how to “play the game.” But this is really about consulting or teaching the team, rather than what I see as coaching.

What can we learn from these mythical sports coaches?

What I take away from these movies is that coaching is a journey for the coach as well as the team. I also think it is valuable to understand the importance of the team trusting the coach.

Both these topics touch on the concept of “coaching tax” because they consume effort that could otherwise be directly applied to helping people improve. I will try to explain that properly in my next article.

What else can we take away from these coaching guides (err – fictional dramas). One thing I like is that the coach celebrates the winning of their client or team, which is part of the joy of coaching.

One movie, “Eddie the Eagle” is good in that the coaches journey is not actually the same as the hero’s journey, but this is where there is a danger in learning from these movies.

Just like an agile coach, the supporting character (coach) has been there before and is imparting wisdom. He does a great job of stretching Eddie and of teaching him basic skills. Unfortunately both his ego and his prior experience actually get in the way.

Based on this detailed assessment (watching the movie a while ago) then I would differentiate teaching basic skills (ski jumping, Shu Ha Ri, teaching agile practices) from the actual coaching conversations where the ego of the coach is a major tax on the conversation.

There is nothing wrong with teaching basic skills and I am sure the story of Eddie the Eagle would have been less inspiring if he never learned to take off (or more importantly land with some hope of safety, I guess).

This is where I think the myths portrayed in coaching movies distract us coaches from doing our jobs properly. For the supporting character (coach), the journey should be the heroes journey of the actual hero of the story.

This means that, like a movie coach, we should demand accountability from the hero. I mean demand specifically because coaching someone who is not willing to commit to the journey is actually doing them a disservice – it leads to a lame movie and a wasted series of conversations.

But the problem is that the hero is often not (knowingly) aware of their readiness and need to go on the journey. So a valid role for the supporting character (coach) is that he/she should help the hero realise both their potential and their motivation to leave their comfort zone (or current dilemma). This is core to coaching but often involves work to enable growth rather than to realise it. Again I will discuss this in the context of coaching “tax”.

Along these lines, what we should NOT take from these movies is that the coach will be the hero, get the girl, conquer their demons and be admired by the team and the crowd. Good coaching leads to gratitude but must still leave the hero feeling like they won the victory.

Similarly – real coaching often involve the “Student becoming the master” or excelling to the point that they no longer need the coach. This is an important part of the relationship and is where the coach’s ego, need to receive an income and other issues can become an impediment.

Maybe tv shows are better

There is a TV show called “In Therapy” which is about a psychologist helping people. There are some good lessons about listening and not owning the client’s outcomes, but there are two problems with this show if you want to copy the approach of the main character (the therapist).

Most importantly, the show is about a psychologist helping people with serious psychological trauma and issues. Ie people who are in therapy. Because of this the most important lesson for coaches like me (and probably you) is DO NOT DO THAT.

Do not attempt therapy with your client, instead help them find a real psychologist who knows how to manage therapy. The best we can do with serious psychological issues, is, I think, Psychological First Aid and support to take the step of asking for help.

As a coach you can be a friend or colleague but not a therapist and if you are a friend then you will help someone find the right help, rather than trying to be the hero, reading your book on pop psychology and fumbling through someone’s real trauma.

There is a second lesson, not as important, but still worth learning. The Therapist in the show is on his own journey and tries to deal with it on his own. However (without giving away too much) he is a flawed person like the rest of us.

I am similar to the main character in that I like to solve my own problems and I often don’t think about asking for help. If you think about it though, if you are a coach and you really believe in the value of coaching, you would not only be open to being coached, but be eager to access it.

This is where you get to be the hero of the story and you can learn from others.

The best movies on coaching

The best movies on coaching are (I think) probably fantasy movies or martial arts movies. They have the coolest coaches and the coolest action scenes.

Unfortunately, the coach is never the main character and often, the coach/mentor dies so that the hero can rise up and engage in great acts of heroism.

I am not too keen on being the coach who is killed so the hero can rise up, but I am keen on being the witness who watches someone (or a team) grow and then get out of the way.

Sometimes the coach is a super-guru who is kind of the team leader (like in Mutant Ninja Turtles with some rat guy or X-men with Charles Xavier) but the coach is not the star. In fact their team often go against their advice or find themselves having to solve their own problems. I guess this is where the Leader as Coach can work, where the leader is off leading or teaching or managing budgets to pay the rent while the team are tackling the adventures.

My favourite coaching movies are

  • “Star Wars” with a hero (Luke and maybe his friends) and a couple of coaches who are right for the hero at the pivotal moment in their growth (Obi One and Yoda); and
  • Karate Kid (with LaRusso as the hero and Mr Miyagi as the coach)

In both of these movies (or series or platforms or entire enterprises) the coach is understanding and really believes in the hero, even though the hero is often hopelessly short of the mark.

The coach somehow manages to be cool while remaining a supporting character. More importantly they balance teaching with positive reinforcement and reality checks so that the hero can go on the journey.

The coach bathes in the hero’s glory and stresses at their challenges but never takes ownership of them and never loses sight of them.

These (admittedly fictional) coaches spend a lot of time enabling the hero to grow and appear at the right times to create a safe place where the hero can reflect, practice, be vulnerable and gain strength.

So what

There is a possibility that I got a little off track there, which is a “tax” that I have to manage when I coach. I have to fight myself sometimes to focus on letting the person I am coaching (the hero) have the conversation, while I help them make sense of it rather than telling my own war stories or talking about coaches in movies).

Unfortunately if I spend 40% of the time with a hero (coachee) talking about movies then there is only 60% of the time left to actually get to the insights and the next steps. It is like I am paying 40% tax on my time.

So that is where I should focus next – how do I minimise the “tax” I pay when coaching so that the maximum focus possible goes to growth, insights, courage to act and so forth.

Sadly our time is up and that is the end of the session. Hopefully I can remain on task a little more of the time on our next session.


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