I have been a coach for some time now, and I’ve been doing Performance Cafe for over two years, but I recently realised that I have never actually stopped to properly explain what coaching is, and a lot of people seem to have the wrong idea.

As with all discussions of what something is, let’s start with what it isn’t.

Brené Brown is known for highlighting the impact of what she calls, “the stories we tell ourselves”. In her Netflix special, The Call to Courage, she recounts how while swimming with her husband he did not respond as expected to a statement from her. She started mulling over what culd be happening, thinking up a variety of scenarios – most of which she questioned herself in. After the swim she realised that he had in ear plugs and could not hear her and that is why he didn’t respond, and not the myriad of other reasons she had imagined. Hence she knows how the stories we tell ourselves can harm us. But where do these stories come from?

Management and coaching are generally treated as entirely separate disciplines with vastly different facets. I find the most significant difference is in how each discipline works with others; where managers tell, coaches guide. I think a lot of problems could be solved if people did a little less telling and a little more guiding, and that is where management can lean on coaching techniques.

Something I started discussing recently was how peoples’ personalities play into how they experience and take accountability. Demonstrating how accountability takes different forms for different people is one thing, coming up with solutions and adaptations for this is another thing entirely.

Where the Enneagram groups people into 9 types, CliftonStrengths is far more dynamic; a list of thirty-four strengths, reported on a personal preference basis, meaning the ranking changes depending on who is taking the test.

The theory of transactional analysis states that when two people speak to one another, there are actually six people involved in the conversation because each of us has three modes through which we converse, the Parent, the Child, and the Adult.
The Parent judges, nurtures, and tells others what to do; the Child either plays to the needs of others or is rebellious; the Adult comes through when we speak to one another as equals.

I have said a lot about accountability in recent months – how to hold yourself and others accountable, the benefits of accountability, etc – but something I haven’t really discussed is the impact of personality on accountability.
As mentioned in the past, accountability requires clear expectations, but people have different standards when it comes to a concept such as clarity. A ‘thinker’ will need measurable targets, specific instructions and a set workflow, but a more creative person will perform best when given wiggle room, space and time to understand a given task on a deeper level and the flexibility to approach it from different angles.

In our discussions of accountability, I recently touched on entitlement and its impact on the workplace, but when managing someone else’s entitlement by holding them accountable, we need to be wary not to act entitled ourselves. An example of this is the response “Because I said so”, under no circumstance does that phrase ever improve a conversation. The reason for that is that entitlement destroys any sense of psychological safety.

On the road to accountability, entitlement is often encountered, but rarely is it properly acknowledged and discussed. Entitlement is, in its simplest form, a sense of being inherently deserving of something – privileges, benefits, special treatment, higher status, etc – without necessarily having earned or worked for it.

It is one thing to hold someone accountable; a task or project can be handed to someone, they can be briefed, given a due date, and that’s that; but before we can hold others accountable, and before they can even hold themselves accountable, they must first take ownership.

Accountability is a two-way street, when you hold someone accountable, they need to hold themselves accountable too. Recently, we discussed what it is to take ownership of a given task or project, more just about ticking boxes, taking ownership of a task is about responsible autonomy.

Taking on autonomy is often more difficult than it may first seem, we don’t know what we don’t know – a given task might have steps we are unaware of or don’t know how to complete, or it may require a working knowledge of tools and workflows that we don’t have, or, far more commonly, we don’t know what the common pitfalls and issues are and where we will encounter them, kneecapping our ability to solve or avoid them.