A brilliant thought leader in the field of executive coaching calls it “the curse of mediocrity.” His contention is that ‘good enough’ pushes away the possibility of ‘insanely great.’ I’m an American, so I like the sound of that, but I’m not sure that it isn’t misleading in a way. There are many fields in which the aspiration to be “insanely great” (or to create products that are) is the most virtuous path. What they have in common, however, is that they are activities or products that demand admiration. The phrase “insanely great” comes, of course, from Steven Jobs who wanted a product to be transcendently desirable and got his fulfillment with the MacIntosh computer (and the iPod and the iPhone, etc.). The experience people have in our Leadership Development Program ought to be insanely great and it often is, evidenced by the impact it has on them and those they lead.
However, I think the wish for greatness in coaching may be misleading to the extent it stimulates our normal narcissism. The comparison with midwifery is instructive here. The coach is neither the mother nor the baby and though there may be enormous gratitude on the part of the mother for her services, she is not the star. She presides over and secures the process of birth.
The greatest coaching will not draw any attention to itself. The genius coach is not the one who sees the path forward clearly, but who sees the boundaries of thought, imagination, and emotion that may be limiting the person being coached, and who propels that person over them. She does this less through overt brilliance than through her own curiosity wrung through a realistic humility. She leaves the person being coached in charge of his choices and options and keeps the spotlight on him. Will coaches understand that standing in the shadows is the place of greatness as a coach?