Is Your Coach a Bully?


I’ve had an interesting few months working with some smaller businesses who needed HR assistance. Three of the companies were already using business coaches, and in all three cases it became clear that the business coaches were really good at some aspects of business, but not so good at other aspects (as are we all). The tragedy was in none of the cases were the coaches willing to admit that.

I’ve been doing the HR thing for almost 30 years and know only too well that a company can have the best products and services; the best technology; the best and most beautiful offices, but if the people they employ don’t get on or have the wrong attitude, then the whole company is at risk.

One of the companies had been working with his coach for around 18 months and was staggered at the immediate results he saw when I started working with his people. Once I started getting them more involved in problem solving and working as a team the whole energy of the place lifted. His reaction was ‘why didn’t my coach do this?’ In fairness, I couldn’t have done what the coach did – he was a systems specialist and was actually doing a great job. But he just didn’t factor in people.

The second situation was where a group of medium sized businesses sign on for a 12 month coaching experience. I sat in on one of the sessions, and they are really good sessions. About 20 businesses attend, and they get great benefits from comparing notes and sharing thoughts and ideas. But the sessions did seem to be mostly ‘systems’ and ‘theories’. And when I asked what ‘people’ content they covered I was told they had one leadership module which incorporated ‘some’ people stuff!!

As the late  Dame Anita Roddick (founder of The Body shop) once said  ‘We went looking for employees but people showed up instead.’

And my third situation was actually quite sad. I was invited to present to 3 directors who had a great little engineering company but acknowledged they were seriously struggling with the people side of the business. They were not great recruiters, and were even worse communicators and so people problems were manifesting in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

They invited their coach/advisor to sit in on my presentation.

I knew the second this man walked in the room he did not want me there. He gave off waves of antagonistic energy and challenged much of what I was saying. Not a problem, I’ve met lots of bullies along my journey so I simply deflected much of what he said and continued with my presentation. But I knew that there was no way I would be invited to work with this company if he had anything to do with it. Sure enough I didn’t hear back, but followed up a while later only to find out that the coach was going to take over the HR function. Oh my goodness.

What was really going on in that session, and in the other cases I’ve mentioned, was that these coaches don’t want ANYONE butting into what they consider THEIR territory. Which is a tragedy, because these businesses were ultimately NOT getting the best all round advice.  In fact the coaches in each case, instead of being the reason the businesses go on to flourish could become the very reason they stall and flounder.

So these are MY tips if you have a coach, and you just have a feeling you are not getting what you need from them.

Ask what is their specialist area – and work with them ONLY in this area
Advise them that you will be working with other experts so you get a rounded business outcome
Don’t stay too long with ANY coach. I’ve had numerous coaches over the years and feel that around 18 months to 2 years is probably long enough to get their best advice. And then I usually look for my next coach – someone who can help me in a different area.
Never take on a coach who suggests he/she can cover everything in your business. In particular one who gives the impression of being territorial 

All business owners and managers need help. No-one is a master of everything. Being willing to ask for help and advice is the single most courageous thing any of us do. But if you have someone you don’t feel comfortable with; or that you feel is bullying you rather than asking you to be accountable, then change coaches. In particular, if you feel that your coach is preventing you from getting other advice, get rid of them!


Ann Andrews

MD The Corporate Toolbox


Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

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