How come the importance of a coach on the performance of an Olympic athlete is often not reflected in the business world?

An athlete’s sheer determination undoubtedly contributes to victory but it’s important to remember they don’t do it alone. After being questioned about running 10.04 seconds in Ostrava in the run up to the London 2012, Usain Bolt laughed away concerns about his form. There was no hiding his faith in his coach, Glen Mills: “I’m confident that myself and my coach can put together a programme to be a champion. I will focus on that. My coach is the greatest coach ever and knows exactly what to do to get me to the top. I’m not worried.” (Usain went on to win 3 gold medals at the 2012 Olympic games)

Comparisons between the world of sport and business are commonplace. Sportsmen the world over embrace the virtues of their coaches, why does coaching and straightforward feedback still meet such resistance in the professional arena?

All too often coaching is seen by business people as something that is either ‘fluffy’ or is resorted to in order to ‘fix’ people. In my experience many managers are poor at giving feedback and enhancing performance – they would do well to look at the power of coaching in sport.

For most of us, giving honest feedback is uncomfortable. It’s hard to do. It takes precious time. Many people don’t know how to do it well because they have never experienced it themselves. Organisations don’t normally explicitly value feedback or hold people accountable for delivering it. Part of the problem may lie in the word straightforward. This is not mean-spirited criticism, nor is it exclusively negative feedback. Frankness is an open, respectful dialogue about an individual’s achievements, coupled with an insightful acknowledgement of challenges, or even failures, that stand between the individual and the next success. It’s an appropriate mix of constructive criticism and positive feedback. Underpinning it should be genuine caring for the individual’s growth and development.

Most managers gloss over or omit constructive criticism. They know it can be the start of a sometimes uncomfortable dialogue. When delivered with a genuine dose of caring, though, it can be received more openly. You can’t go soft on coaching and feedback, but you can intend and deliver it empathetically.

To ensure return on investment coaching needs to deliver recognisable results, such as an increase in profitability, performance and productivity as well as a decrease in internal conflicts and problems. No matter what the company’s size, or the athletes level, coaching does have its place if planned and procured correctly. It has the ability to provide Executives with the skills to be successful leaders and return on investment for the business that ultimately will drive business success.

Professional coaches are trained to help us find the answers within ourselves to tackle most problems. They offer us the space and opportunity in our busy lives to look at ourselves from an almost bird’s eye view. Caught in the crossfire of daily pressures, it is easy to lose track of our broader aspirations and goals. Asking key questions, challenging our assumptions, or what some refer to as ‘self-limiting beliefs’, coaches can help us to get clear about where it is we want to be. This helps us to think and act strategically, so that our behaviours tie in with where we want to be in terms of our careers, our teams or our business. Coaches can help us to help ourselves and keep us focused and confident about our abilities.

Choosing your coach is a very personal decision. Remember it is in your hands to ask for what you want. You play an active role in the whole process and you are investing your money, time and trust in this relationship.

Certainly raw talent and dedication will get you a long way, whether you want to run faster or achieve your career ambitions. But maybe it’s time business followed the Olympic example and acknowledged the benefits of the right-hand man or woman in offering a helping hand.

About the Author:

Alan Denton is MD of The Results Centre ( an executive coaching and leadership development company. Alan regularly coaches CEOs and senior executives across a range of areas including financial services, pharmaceuticals, the legal sector, property, recruitment and many others following his years working at Director and Chief Officer levels within the retail and the automotive industries.