3. Be a Coach, Not a Critic – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter Three

Be a Coach, Not a Critic

Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination. In other words, the more leaders commit to coaching and behavioral change because they believe in the value of the process, the more likely the process is to work. The more they feel that the change is being imposed upon them—or that they are just trying it out—the less likely the coaching process is to work.


Marshall Goldsmith and Kelly Goldsmith

Do you want to be a coach or a critic? Can there be a true coach who doesn’t criticize? Can there be a critic who doesn’t coach? In fact, people don’t appreciate coaches who criticize. They look for coaches who provide feedback while coaching and mentoring. There is a subtle difference between criticism and feedback, as criticism is individual-centric and sounds difficult to digest, while feedback is behaviour-centric and sounds sweeter; therefore, it is easier to accept to bring about behavioural changes. Hence, in this chapter we will discuss coaching, leadership and feedback that enables people to become good leaders.

Coaching and Leadership Development

Coaching can certainly help you strengthen your sense of self-worth, focus on your goals—and get there, fast.

The London Daily Telegraph1

Imagine that you were 80 years old and on your death bed. If you found that you had not shared your knowledge, experience and expertise with the next generation, how would you feel? Would you regret it? If yes, then avoid regrets in your later life by sharing your wealth of wisdom and experience with others from now onwards through coaching.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.

Timothy Gallwey2

The dictionary definition of coaching is to tutor, to train, or give hints to. Coaching involves the transfer of knowledge, skills and abilities from coach to coachee. It is an ongoing professional relationship between coach and coachee. It discovers the hidden talents of the coachees and develops certain competencies, capabilities, skills and abilities through continuous interaction, questioning and feedback. Finally, it aligns these skills and abilities with the talents of the coachees so that the latter can achieve all-round success. It is a smarter and wiser way of doing the hard work.

Coaching is a gift from God. If you get a good coach who is passionate enough to make a difference in your personal, professional and social life, you are really lucky. Coaches usually pay more attention to listening and observation, and then shoot open-ended questions at coachees. It helps to touch the coachees’ subconscious minds and come out with viable solutions and ideas.

Coaching Types and Methods

Coaching helps to develop the abilities and skills of the coachees. It makes sure of their personal and professional advancement. There are various types of coaching, such as personal coaching, performance coaching, sports coaching, skills coaching, career coaching, corporate coaching, executive coaching, life coaching, leadership coaching, etc. With the rapid growth in technology and mushrooming knowledge workers, there are specialized coaches for specific domains.

There are two methods of coaching: directive and non-directive coaching. In directive coaching, the coach teaches an extensive course for upgrading the skills and abilities of the coachees. However, in the non-directive method, the coach questions the coachees and moves them forward towards their goals. In this method, questioning is the key, and it emphasizes the Socratic Method.

Coaching Merits

No matter how strong a person mentally is, without proper mental nourishment he or she will crumble. Personal coaching is one of the best ways to help you get that nourishment and to keep you stay focused.


There is enormous excitement in turning ordinary individuals into extra-ordinary ones. The money you get out of coaching is temporary, but the satisfaction and pleasure you get from it is everlasting. You can taste success from the accomplishments of your coachees. It is beyond imagination and explanation.

  • Coaching helps coachees in introspection. It helps in realizing their ambitions. It helps them to achieve personal, professional and social success.
  • Coaching helps in challenging limitations, stretching horizons and empowering coachees with new values and principles.
  • Coaching helps to shape the next generation of knowledge workers into successful professionals.

Coaching vs. Mentoring

Coaching is different from mentoring. In mentoring, the mentors shape the attitudes, behaviour and personalities of the mentees. In contrast, in coaching, the coaches build the skills and abilities of coachees, thus widening their competencies and capabilities. In a nutshell, mentoring involves soft skills more than hard skills, while coaching involves more hard skills than soft skills. To put it succinctly, coaches accompany achievements and mentors ensure the shaping of the mentees.

Coaching helps in discovering the inherent competences and capabilities of the coachees, and in further shaping them into competent individuals. It helps to motivate and build confidence among the coachees through continuous support and guidance. However, mentoring helps to show mentees their inherent competencies, thereby grooming them further.

Coaching is a structured and formal approach, while mentoring is not. Coaching involves physical interaction and constant correction with the right feedback. However, mentoring is all about sharing advice and experiences.

Qualities of Coaches

Part therapist, part consultant, part motivational expert, part professional organizer, part friend, part nag—the personal coach seeks to do for your life what a personal trainer does for your body.

Kim Palmer, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune4

Coaches must be confidential, friendly, and must be psychologists. They must ask the right questions to get the best out of coachees. They must be good at giving objective feedback. Above all, they must be good listeners with the right reasoning and an analytical bent of mind.

Qualities of Coachees

The coachees must be good listeners and should have respect towards the coach. They must have a passion to learn and upgrade their skills and abilities, and must also have the ability to take feedback objectively and constructively.

Role of Coaches

A coach can play any number of roles—mentor, consultant, motivator, but one thing she [or he] is not a therapist [sic]. Coaching deals with the ‘how’: how you can move on from where you are and make change. It’s action-oriented, and concerned with the present and future….

Shape Magazine5

The roles and responsibilities of coaches go beyond coaching. However, let us briefly mention that they must be the same as those of a facilitator, catalyst, learner, domain expert, and, above all, mentor. They must facilitate learning through constant questioning, interaction, reflection and feedback. The feedback must be sandwich and issues-oriented rather than individuals-oriented. This means that it must emphasize on attacking the behaviour of the individuals, not the individuals themselves. It must bring out the necessary behavioural changes as well as be results-driven. They must act as catalysts where they need to bring about changes in the levels of thinking, behaviour and performance. They must be able to build confidence among the coachees and transform them. They must be very strong in their domain so that they can gain respect and win the trust of the coachees. Above all, they must also act as mentors and consultants by sharing their knowledge, experiences and providing advice to the coachees.

Coaching Strategy

Vision without action is a daydream and action without vision is a nightmare.

Japanese proverb

A coach must have a clear strategy complete with a blueprint detailing the execution of the coaching process, which must be aligned with the goals of the coachees. Both coach and coachee must set SMART strategies to achieve the desired results. They must set their strategies specifically to avoid deviation and ensure clarity. The duration of the coaching must be measurable and clear to enhance seriousness. The strategies must be achievable so that both coach and coachee are motivated to take it forward. Besides, the coaching strategy must be realistic, and should not be a mere daydream. Finally, the strategy must be trackable and time-bound to stay focused as well as ensure takeaways.

Coaching Stages

Coaching consists of various stages, such as direction, relationship, development, execution and feedback. First, it is vital to set the direction with the clear outcomes expected from coaching. Second, it is necessary to build a relationship between the coach and coachees. This relationship paves the way for better communication, resulting in bridging barriers by looking at the commonalities. Third, emphasize developmental activities to stay focused on the coaching process. Fourth, execution is the key to effective and successful coaching. Remove the stumbling blocks, if any, during the coaching process by minimizing both internal and external threats and maximizing both strengths and opportunities. The final stage of coaching is feedback, which measures the takeaways from coaching. Kirkpatrick evaluation is an ideal and useful tool to find out the coaching outcomes.

Coaching and Questioning

Coaches must use several tools during the coaching process, such as the usage of inquiry, interaction, reflection and requests to get the best out of the coachees. In addition, they must learn the art of questioning, as questioning is an integral part of coaching. They must ask open-ended questions that will help their coachees to think broadly and come out with solutions. Coachees will be able to think and come up with answers when faced with broad questions, as people are usually committed more to their ideas than to those of others.

Coaching Questions

Here are the great coaching questions to ask your coachees—or even yourself!

  • What do you want to learn?
  • What skills and abilities would you like to acquire?
  • What action will you take to improve your abilities and skills?
  • What are your professional goals, and how much time do you take to reach them?
  • What do you mean by success? Does success have anything to do with coaching? How do you think coaching will help you to achieve success?
  • What are the current challenges you have and how will you overcome them?

The above are openended coaching questions that grill the coachees and dig deep to align their efforts and energies with their goals.

Myths and Truths about Coaching

It is a myth that coaches provide quick-fix solutions to coachees. The coachees must not expect tailor-made solutions for their problems from coaches. What the coach does is spot the potential and passion of the coachees, and develop their competencies and capabilities.

Another prevailing myth is that coaches are superhuman beings. The truth is that coaches are ordinary individuals with extraordinary mindsets, skill sets and tool sets with which to shape the coachees. They are passionate about making a difference in the lives of the coachees.

What is Feedback?

Coaching is incomplete without feedback. It is rightly said that feedback is the breakfast of champions. Continuous feedback helps in the continuous improvement of your employee. Hence, provide honest and constructive feedback so that the employee gets corrected, and feels gratefully towards you. While giving feedback, never attack the individual. Always attack the behaviour of the individual. Depersonalize your feedback. Provide sandwich feedback. Do not criticize in the presence of others.

What is Sandwich Feedback?

Sandwich feedback is a polished way of giving feedback to others. It starts by praising the strengths, then suggesting improvements, and concludes with further praise. Put precisely, it places tough news between two positive pieces of feedback. Coaches must adopt this tool as it helps to bring out the desired changes among coachees. It doesn’t hurt the receivers as the criticism is well-sandwiched. The receivers take what is really needed and develop gratitude towards the coach.

As a reviewer of various international journals, I adopt the sandwich feedback where I start with the strengths of the manuscript, then move on to the corrections to be made, and finally conclude with the efforts made to create the manuscript. Every author puts in enormous effort in writing an article. If it is rejected outright only through criticism, the author gets demoralized. Hence, I adopt sandwich feedback both as a reviewer of manuscripts and also vis-à-vis my students, whose strengths should be encouraged and weaknesses corrected so that they can become better.

Sandwich Feedback for Susan

Adam Bryant writes in The Corner Office:6

Employees know if their boss is rooting for them to succeed, and they’re much more open to feedback if they sense the manager’s goal is to make them better.

People don’t like to be bossed. People don’t like to be ordered around. People don’t like to be micro-managed. People don’t like to be told what to do. People don’t like to be criticized. However, people like to be cared about, empowered, taught, guided and provided with feedback, and that too, sandwich feedback. When I was the judge of a paper presentation, I was asked to provide feedback to the students and shortlist the first three best categories. The process was completed. A girl named Susan asked for feedback on her presentation. I found something strange in her body language during her presentation. She stood as though she was inviting others. Many people do not realize that in any communication, body language plays 55 per cent of the role, while oral language plays 7 per cent. The remaining 38 per cent is made up by voice modulation. Hence, I asked her to meet me later in person to receive her feedback.

Susan met me separately in my office and insisted on her feedback. I decided to provide her with sandwich feedback so that she could bring out the necessary behavioural changes in her posture. Here goes the feedback:

Susan! Your presentation was amazing, covering all aspects of the topic. It contained a lot of depth with amazing research findings. It seems you have put in a lot of effort to prepare slides and the sequencing was good. However, what I noticed during your presentation was that the way you stood while delivering the presentation appeared awkward, and it appeared as though you were inviting others. The rest was okay, and especially the paralanguage and the enthusiasm you demonstrated were amazing.

From this sandwich feedback, Susan got the message about what needed correction. She realized her posture was awkward, and said that she would improve her body language, thanked me and left my office. Hence, while delivering feedback, it is essential to provide sandwich feedback by keeping positive messages on both sides, with the negative message sandwiched between the two.

Marshall Goldsmith—Executive Coaching Legend

When successful people write down goals, announce these goals to respected colleagues and involve the colleagues in helping them improve (in a supportive way), positive measurable change is much more likely to occur.

Marshall Goldsmith

Dr Marshall Goldsmith needs no introduction in leadership and executive coaching. He is The New York Times best-selling author of MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He is the number one coaching guru and has been ranked as the World’s Seventh Management Guru as per Thinkers 50. He is an executive coach who helps successful leaders become even more successful by bringing about behavioural changes.

There are specializations in coaching. For instance, the late C. K. Prahalad was a specialist in strategy-related coaching, and Richard Leiter is a specialist in life coaching. However, Marshall is specialized in interpersonal skills and behavioural skills.

It is true that behind the success of every leader stands someone who provided the ladder for his or her growth. That ladder is none other than the executive coach in the corporate world, who constantly grills, grinds, and makes leaders sharper and smarter through coaching and constructive feedback.

Coaches are like ladders who ensure the growth of coachees by becoming ladders for leaders. Leaders know how to climb and why to climb, but it is the coaches who know where these leaders should climb. There is a traditional cliche: that behind the success of every man, there is a woman. However, in the corporate world, behind the success of every leader there is a coach who placed the leader’s ladder on the right side of the wall. Marshall has placed the ladders of several leaders of Fortune 500 companies on the right side of the wall, thus ensuring their success.

A few cynics are of the opinion that coaching is a management fad. The fact is that coaching is going to survive and play a crucial role in the corporate world. Although the term ‘coaching’ is new, it has existed since time immemorial. Due to the growing complexities in the corporate world, there is a growing emphasis on coaching to enhance the performance of leaders.

According to Jim Collins, the level 5 leaders don’t mind who gets the credit. Their main job is to deliver the goods in the best way without looking for any rewards. Besides, the level 5 leaders have personal humility and professional will. Marshall Goldsmith is a Level 5 Leader in the language of Jim Collins, as he shaped several CEOs’ careers without taking any credit. He is humble at the core, down-to-earth, and a thorough professional who means business.

Is Leadership Development Incomplete Without Coaching?

Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of men and getting them to believe in you.

Eddie Robinson7

Leadership development is incomplete without referring to coaching and mentoring. Hence, coaching is included in the content plan of leadership development programmes (LDP) as it is considered the key to leadership development. The facilitators and consultants cover various concepts and aspects of coaching during their leadership development programmes. Hence, both coaching and leadership development are two sides of the same coin.

With the mushrooming of knowledge workers, there is huge potential for coaching, through which people can unlock and realize their hidden potential. People don’t hesitate to spend their money on personal and professional development. In addition, changing times and technologies have resulted in ambiguity and uncertainty, and that calls for coaching. Hence, there is a bright future ahead for all areas of coaching. As Fortune8 rightly puts it, ‘The hottest thing in management is the executive coach … Coaches are everywhere these days ….

Coaching is indeed a priceless gift. Coaching is an excellent career option when both coaches and coachees are passionate. It will exist as long as human civilization, as human beings crave continuous learning and growth.

Coaches must love their profession. As Eddie Robinson9 rightly said, ‘Coaching is a profession of love. You can’t coach people unless you love them.’ They must have the passion to make a difference in others. They must have love for their profession rather than love for money. They might not last, but their coaching lasts for several generations. In their later lives, they will never regret not coaching and guiding mankind if they provide timely coaching. Hence, start coaching from now onwards to make a difference in the lives of others.