Guest blog: The sporting beginnings of business coaching

5 October 2017: Business has been seeking to draw lessons from sport for over forty years. The word ‘coach’ has been used in sports since the 19th century, but it was only in the 1980s that it really began to enter the business lexicon.

John Whitmore, a former racing driver and pioneer of coaching as a means of driving performance, was one of the first to focus on the potential of this shift from sporting achievement to the board room. John, who died earlier this year, and others like Timothy Gallwey, drew on their passion for sport, and their knowledge of the importance and power of the ‘good’ coach. They created approaches that saw the ‘good’ coach help to unleash the potential of individuals in organisations.

Tim is best known for creating the concept of the ‘inner game’, highlighting the importance of self-belief, confidence, focus and emotional control. Although starting with tennis, Tim has adapted his approach to golf, music, skiing, work and, most recently, stress.

John’s most widely known contribution is his development and introduction of the GROW model. This simple and easy to follow approach, is based on four key questions:

  • What is your Goal?
  • What are the Realistic features of the current situation?
  • What Options do you have, what could you do?
  • What next, the actions that will be taken, what Will you do?

Using the GROW model helps novices and experienced coaches alike to bring structure to performance coaching, making it accessible, outcome-driven and flexible. It is very suitable for leaders and managers who have to deal with the complexity and competing priorities of life in organisations.

Kate Cooper MBA, head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership and Management

Kate Cooper MBA, of the Institute of Leadership and Management

Leaders and managers in non-sporting fields continue to look to learn from sport. Our white paper the Elusive X explores some of these potential lessons: about teamwork, clarity of expectation, performance metrics and timely feedback. The findings have been discussed and debated at events around the UK.

The key lessons that transfer very well for the leaders of organisations are the serious and focused attention they give to all aspects of performance: the importance of effort and the imperative to keep learning and improving. John and Timothy with their emphasis on coaching as a means of supporting and facilitating that learning and  improvement have contributed to the improved performance of individuals, better relationships and ultimately improved results.

Kate Cooper is Head of Research, Policy and Standards at the Institute of Leadership & Management. This guest blog is brought to you as part of the Association of Professional Sales’s partnership with the Institute of Leadership & Management. Read more here.