Alessandro Bianchi

Marshall Goldsmith, nearly always introduced as “America’s foremost executive coach,” has written some fine books and helped many executives. My only complaint is that what he does, in my experience, is advising and consulting not executive coaching.

The vital difference is evident in his post today at the Harvard Business Review website, How to Spot the Uncoachables. Goldsmith describes his executive coaching clients in negative terms more appropriate to a particularly judgmental therapist than a respectful coach: “wrong direction,” “fix behavior,” and “It’s hard to help people who don’t think they have a problem.”

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one but the light bulb must truly want to change.

How many executive coaches does it take to change a light bulb?

Executive coaches know better than to change anyone. Clients don’t need more changes. They do want more and better choices.

The distinction between therapy and executive coaching was established early and is important to respect. The International Coach Federation states it clearly, “Coaching is forward moving and future focused. Therapy, on the other hand, deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an individual or a relationship between two or more individuals.” Therapists discover what’s wrong and fix it. Coaches nurture what’s right and unleash it. Fundamental to my executive coaching is, “The most powerful stance for effective action is: I’m fine and I choose to try something else.” As Carl Rogers emphasized, growth requires a safe environment. If the adviser’s job is to find the client’s flaws and errors, he must adopt an attitude of detachment and superiority. On the other hand, great executive coaches have so much respect and admiration for their clients that I can’t help loving mine.

The differences between fixing people and respecting them, between finding problems and generating possibilities, between change and choice, between labeling and loving, between consulting and coaching make all the difference in the world.