Business coaching versus corporate life-coaching

A little while ago Connemara invited clients to join us for breakfast and a talk by business coaching expert,  Marc Kahn. Marc spoke to us about ‘Coaching on the Axis’ – his new book about business coaching. It was such an educational morning – we learnt a lot, as did our clients who asked interesting questions and made some really good observations, too. We thought we’d take a little of what we learnt from Marc and share it with you.

Marc’s background

Marc’s background is in clinical psychology and, following what turned out to be a career-changing session (for Marc) with a client complaining of depression, he began getting requests from small businesses who had heard how he managed to help ‘people they know’. At this time, Marc was working from a psychological paradigm, which he now feels results in a disconnect with business culture. Marc is a Chartered Business Coach with the World Wide Association of Business Coaches, and is currently head of Human Resources and organisational development for Investec Ltd.

Common errors in business coaching

Who is the client?

In business coaching, one of the basic errors people make is often with regards to who the client is. In a traditional patient-therapist relationship, the patient is very clearly the client and, this mostly one-directional, one-on-one relationship encompasses client privilege. However, despite it being informed by psychology, this is one way in which the business-coaching relationship differs so fundamentally from therapy, or even life coaching.

In business coaching, both the organisation and the person being coached are the client at the same time. Neither party is primary, nor secondary, and coaching must benefit both parties. And this duality of client is closely linked to the purpose of business coaching: the person in their entirety is able, at the end of the relationship, to take up the role conceived by the organisation and deliver value.

A medical ethical system

Another mistake often made in business coaching is that coaching biases in favour of the individual over the organisation. Why? Because business coaching has its roots in counselling psychology, which follows a medical ethical system. In addition to this, the individual is often taken out of the business context in order for coaching to take place and may be surrounded by therapeutic artefacts: two chairs, a small coffee table, a box of tissues and a clock. All of this works together to create a disconnect between the organisation, the person being coached, and the coaching process.

This disconnect creates a skewed image of the organisation. Why? The person being coached presents their perception of the organisation and not an objective view. This is to be expected, but because the coach is so far removed from the situation, they cannot create a balanced picture for themselves. The coach must be attuned to the business culture so they can ask questions in the correct cultural context and in a way the person being coached is comfortable answering them.

A curative mind set

A curative or remedial mind set is another problem often associated with business coaching. Often a business coach sells life coaching at corporate rates. They are essentially selling therapy that isn’t linked to business outcomes. There should be a direct link between business coaching and business outcomes.



Leave a Reply