Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

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Coaching The Coach To Boost Business Development Results

From its origins in sports, coaching is now all the rage in the business world. Executive coaches are springing up all over. There is a Coach U on the Internet for training coaches. Up and coming executives commonly seek out coaches for themselves, if coaches are not provided by their companies, to assure development of the skills they will need to lead and manage.

Coaching has become so widespread because people need assistance in learning many skills that may be beyond what they went to school to learn. Natural mentoring systems have broken down, and the obvious mentors are too busy, or they don't have the requisite skills for some of today's demands. This is clearly the situation in the legal and accounting professions, and among the most needed areas for coaching are client development, client service, and practice group leadership. Many marketing directors think that coaching is the next big thing in professional services marketing.


Using marketing or professional development professionals to do coaching makes good economic sense. It minimizes the time senior professionals need to spend on training the next generation for marketing and client service

Using trained marketing professionals either inside or outside the firm as coaches takes the burden off attorneys who would prefer to be billing and may not have suitable coaching skills anyway. It is useful to have practice group leaders develop coaching skills, as that should be part of their role. However, in many instances, they are not interested, and the task is better accomplished by marketing or professional development professionals.

Making a coach available to your attorneys not only helps them to develop skills and achieve goals better and faster, but also it signals to them that the firm cares about their success and therefore it engenders loyalty and boosts morale. Bottom line: the outcome of instituting a coaching initiative is obtaining bigger and faster business generation results.


I have found when I do programs to train people who need to fulfill the role of coach in their firm that many people often do not fully understand the distinction between coaching and training and use the two terms almost interchangeably. Here is an explanation of the differences .

Training is generally thematic; it has a beginning, middle and end. There is a course of study, and it is usually done in a group, which can be small or large. Training frequently offers immediate, or almost immediate answers to the learner. In a training session, it is the trainer's responsibility to engage the learners with the content of the course and make them participants. The learners' responsibility is to participate. The trainer may not be the only expert in the room, and adult learners can learn from the other participants' experiences. The training activities may involve case studies, role plays, hands-on exercises, group activities, and other interactive activities as well as lecture.

Coaching is done on a more personal basis; one-on-one, or in small teams. It is often “big picture,” can be very open-ended, and it often helps a person deal with organizational issues and behavioral issues, even if these were not the primary focus initially. Coaching is evolutionary. It can be and often is transformational.

A coach serves as a champion for the person being coached and works in a cooperative effort with the “coachee” to discover unique or particular talents and make the most of them. A coach observes, questions, challenges and can also be a sort of “partner” to help identify vision and goals and the actions needed to achieve them. The coachee shares a good deal of feelings, desires, and fears with the coach in order to be able to receive help. Coaches need to get themselves and their egos out of the way. They need to focus on one-on-one relationship building and trust-building.

Despite the intimacy of the relationship, coaching can be done to a large extent by phone and e-mail, so you don't have to be in the same room. Once the solid rapport is established, coaching can occur by way of a variety of media. That makes it possible for a coach in one office of a firm to provide coaching to people in branch offices or for outside coaches to be available to provide coaching from remote locations as the need arises.

A coaching relationship is more than a transactional one with ongoing psychic as well as tangible rewards.


To understand the successful coaching dynamic, let's look at it from each side.

What the coaching relationship looks like to the coach

How do you know when the coaching relationship is right? The coaching relationship needs to be looked at from two perspectives: that of the coach and that of the person being coached. If the firm is sponsoring the coaching program, how it looks to the members of management and the partners is important too.

When the coaching relationship is going well, the coach will observe the following:

  • A continually developing and deepening understanding on the coach's part of what the coachee cares about.
  • An ongoing dialogue on the issues the coachee cares about
  • A feeling that the coachee is confiding in the coach
  • The coachee may refer the coach to others or at least convey the value he or she is receiving
  • It feels like a relationship unlike most others because of the level or intensity of rapport and effort
  • These observations are the coach's feedback and a way to gauge how the coaching is going. Of course, the coach should also be asking periodically and directly how satisfying the relationship is.

What a great coaching relationship looks like to the coaching “client”

More important is the viewpoint of the person being coached. He or she should be thinking and feeling the following. My coach:

  • Comes to me with new ideas
  • Helps me identify and understand my options, makes recommendations, and then lets me decide
  • Helps me articulate my sub-surface thoughts
  • Listens carefully
  • Sees situations affecting me objectively
  • Provides an independent mind and voice
  • Makes a great effort to and understands my perceptions
  • Makes me think by asking penetrating questions
  • Provides constructive feedback, positive and negative
  • Understands what touches me emotionally, and earns my trust
  • Cares; goes the extra mile for me
  • Is a person I know I can count on

What's in it for each side of the relationship?

Given the extraordinary nature of the coach-coachee relationship (not a mentor or subordinate relationship), it is important that each party recognize the non-tangible rewards they are each getting as both people and professionals. As long as the relationship is filling these needs, it will continue to strengthen and produce tangible results. Here are some of the things a sample of coaches to professionals like best:

  • When we make a breakthrough or the client achieves something that had evaded them in the past, it is a great feeling
  • Hearing their confidence build and knowing how they feel as their skill grows in a matter of moments is an awesome privilege
  • Coming up with a solution to a knotty problem together
  • We get to see our clients grow, learn, change and become more effective with their client development skills
  • I love to see that light in someone's eyes when they “get it” and start to get excited about the possibilities
  • I really enjoy watching a young associate's career develop and sharing in the joy of success

For the individual being coached, the motivations and benefits are even more obvious: fulfillment of the desire to identify and achieve career and personal goals, overcome fears and obstacles, and be more content with themselves.


First they need to understand what coaching entails and what it is not. Coaching is not therapy or consulting. However, when a marketing professional does business development coaching, a tricky dual role is often required.

A coach in a professional services firm must be not only sensitive to the needs and personality of the coachees, but also to the culture of the organization – usually a partnership culture, often with strong pockets of self-autonomy rather than a collaborative environment.

Coaches need to understand themselves – their behavioral styles, how they tend to react in various situations, their preferences, strengths in building rapport – so they can be objective in advising and coaching a person with a different style and preferences. They also must be adept at reading other people's styles.

Coaches can benefit from a candid assessment of their coaching skills by an experienced coach.


The marketing and professional development or recruiting managers in professional firms tend to be energetic, highly motivated, creative, people-oriented individuals. Many have virtually trained themselves on-the-job to hone the skills required for the tasks they have been asked to perform, and many try to push the envelope as far as innovations that firms are slow to adopt.

Many firms have engaged outside coaches/consultants to work with a few or all of their professionals and benefit from their expertise and objectivity. However, many more have not and are reluctant to bear the expense of an outside coach. Yet coaching is arguably the type of assistance most valuable to individuals and teams and the effort that most directly affects the bottom line. Many in-house marketing directors, professional development or associate relations professionals can become good coaches if they have the interest to do it and get coaching for themselves. A firm's investment in training their in-house professionals to coach can bring notable, tangible, economic results.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2002. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in Of Counsel, December, 2002.