Some say that the purpose of coaching is to optimise ‘performance’. This suggests a standard against which ‘performance’ will be measured. Understandable. Many traditional coaching models rely on sports-based analogies like that espoused by Gallwey Their approach is to match the coachee’s inner and outer games, as might an athlete in order to win his competition.
The presumption is that some aspect of current performance needs fixing but after that, all should be smooth sailing. Spinelli suggests that this expectation is unrealistic. He believes that the sum of human components is never engine led and so it will be impossible to fix one part and expect the rest to follow.
Nevertheless, performance optimisation models remain popular especially with executive coaching. Historically, fixing performance was a top reason why executive coaches were hired. More recently, the trend is to focus only on increasing executive strengths. Neither approach is without risk. Although everyone needs to be pushed out of his or her comfort zone, to press performance in line with standards set by another may force executives to choose between being fakes or failures.
Equally, maximized executive strengths may inspire false confidence and engender toxic behaviours. Further, neither approach is likely to address real workplace issues such as, for example, a disgruntled workforce who has lost faith in executive leadership.
Worse, sustained efforts toward self-actualisation will contribute, at least in part, to an increasingly worrying trend, summed up by Will Storr as the ‘selfie’.
In his book by the same name, Storr argues that constant measurement against socially-imposed standards leads to chronic dissatisfaction as well as to increases in mental illness and suicide. This does not mean that self-actualisation is necessarily bad. But even the ancient Greeks, masters of the art, realised that obsessive perfectionism is the stuff of tragedy. Yet Western society not only continues to push toward that ‘narcissistic’ goal, but it labels those failing to join the bandwagon as losers.
Perversely, although Western society remains fascinated with the ideal of the ‘alpha-male’ success story, it cannot tolerate show-offs and eventually, finds a way to shoot these self-made heroes down. One only needs to consider the current flurry of sexual abuse charges to gain insight into how this might work.
Perhaps those coaches helping clients to strive for perfection might ultimately be doing everyone a disservice?