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Added by Craig Steel
Commercial coaching

For a number of years now the business world has embraced the analogy of ‘coaching’.

Two women in hi vis vests in a factory discussing a machine

For a number of years now the business world has embraced the analogy of ‘coaching’ because it assumed the approach taken by sports coaches is likely to be more effective in regards to ‘leveraging capability’ and ‘developing potential’ than the traditional approach used by commercial managers.


While the concept offered (and continues to offer) great promise, very few companies who have pursued the idea have realised the gains they expected. The reason I believe this disappointing trend has occurred is that the coaching philosophy endorsed by the majority of our commercial coaches is short of essential substance – as opposed to it being difficult to apply to business.

Why this is the case is the focus of this article.

Firstly, we need to consider the role of a sports coach to ensure we understand why most are getting it wrong. In my opinion, the vast majority of the world’s sporting coaches act as:

  1. Technical and tactical advisors to their athletes and
  2. Selectors for or on behalf of a team i.e. they advise their athletes on what to do, when to do it, and how to do it – and assuming the athletes concerned develop the skills to be ‘able’ to do it, they are likely to select them for the team.

While this may seem acceptable, it misses the most vital aspect of a coach’s role (and therefore the primary factor that will ultimately govern their success) and that is their ability to equip athletes with the psychological tools to excel.

For example, we need only look at the recent results of some of our most talented athletes to appreciate this point i.e. why are the likes of our best netballers, cricketers, and rugby league players failing to live up to expectations? Is it because they are worse than their fellow competitors or are their performances indicative of something else? I for one do not believe they are ‘inferior’ or less ‘physically’ skilled athletes; however, I do believe they are less equipped in the area of ‘mental skills’ than say their much talked about Australian rivals. Assuming others might agree, why are we not more willing as a nation to examine our method of coaching? Is it because we are eternally naive (i.e. will we continue to assume our problems can be fixed through skill development or refinement) and therefore see no reason to explore it or is it because it is endorsed by the nations ‘experts’ and therefore beyond the bounds of examination?


At the end of the day an athlete’s mind-set dictates their performance i.e. their ‘psychological capacity’ governs their ‘performance ability’ and so for this reason, a coach’s ability to increase their athlete’s capacity i.e. improve their state of mind and thus the ability to perform, will determine their success more than anything else and yet the majority of our elite coaches remain oblivious to it.


The problem I observe in regard to business applied coaching is not dissimilar to the issues I see in sport in that its ineffectiveness is due to a poorly constructed and therefore difficult-to-execute framework. What I mean by this is the majority of the coaches our business trainers have studied to learn their craft are not only incompetent – in that they fail to understand the core responsibilities or purpose of their role and therefore offer little in regards to increasing capacity – but also because the outcomes businesses assume they should target are almost entirely focused on an improvement in one’s skill sets and commitment or quality of effort. As a result, our trainers have adopted a model that lacks substance meaning their ability to deliver profound change as intended is automatically compromised. If we believe a step change in performance will come about as a consequence of greater skills and commitment, we will miss the point entirely (something the coaching world is still grappling to understand). In other words, we could improve our skills and increase our commitment and yet still be unable to advance simply because we have failed to shift our mindset i.e. if we fail to increase our 'capacity', we cannot improve our performance 'ability'.


If you are serious about driving a step change in performance, and believe in the premise of ‘coaching’ as a key mechanism to help you achieve it, you need to ensure your leaders (coaches) understand the purpose behind it and are clear about the desired outcomes i.e. you need to ensure the outcomes you target are equally focused on building ‘capacity’ (i.e. creating appropriate high performance mind-sets) as they are on skill ‘development’ and ‘application’ or ‘effort’. While you may very well have unique challenges and/or requirements, the coaching framework I developed for elite coaches may be a useful starting point.



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