Business coaching is one of the fastest-growing global industries — so why does it have a bad rep Down Under?

business coaching

Rhiannon Rees speaks on a Global Gurus Panel in Toronto with Marshall Goldsmith. Source: Supplied.

A fifth-generation sheep farmer facing severe drought and ongoing debt contemplates taking a job as a dozer driver for $40 dollars an hour. He and his wife see no way out.

A single mother recently separated from her husband, is left with three children with special needs, while struggling under the additional burden of a large debt. She has no income and cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel.

A successful chief executive officer of a multimillion-dollar enterprise wants to stretch her wings even further, yet views the business through a lens whose aperture has not changed in decades. She continues to work the old formula harder, but struggles to grow in an increasingly competitive, global market.

These are stories of typical business-owners and executives. They are ordinary people who have reached the point of no return, stuck in an endless cycle like little hamsters on a wheel. This is the point where I usually enter their lives. Yet, many Australian businesses cannot grasp how a business coach can change these unproductive, cyclical dynamics and bring tangible, positive business outcomes.

And a big reason for this is because the term ‘business coach’ is not well understood Down Under, and the field is therefore not yet mainstream.

Just take a look at Australian news articles that focus on whether business coaches are ‘trustworthy’ or ‘a waste of money’ or ‘unregulated and therefore unreliable’.

This is just not commonly the case in other markets across the world (such as the US, Canada, the UK and Europe) where business coaching is a topic covered frequently in publications such as Forbes, The Guardian and Harvard Business Review, and is regarded respectfully as one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.

Slow adopters

Australia is behind and businesses are missing out.


Let’s start with the term ‘coach’.

When you hear the word, what is the first thing that you automatically think of? Sports coaching, right? After all, successful sports stars would never have got to where they are now without a coach. We just take for granted that an elite athlete must be working with an elite sports coach.

Yet, this singular view of what coaches are and do is a serious underestimation of other great success stories involving coaches — particularly in the business world. In fact, for the small business or chief executive officer, business coaches are very much the transformative lifesavers of this era. 

Businesses in the US know this — after all, they have the most pronounced culture of coaching in the world. In certain cities in the US, it is natural for people to have a personal trainer, a therapist and a business coach.

But in Australia, it’s different. I’ve spent quite some time thinking about why that is, and I think it comes down to two things:

  1. We don’t like asking for help or even admitting we need help (we are Aussie battlers after all); and
  2. We subconsciously believe we should be happy with where we are in life, and it’s somehow gauche or un-Australian to reach past our peers and become the tallest poppy in the field.

Australia is behind and businesses are missing out.

These attitudes are slowly changing, particularly among millennials, but older, more traditional Australians have a lot to learn from their American peers (despite justified reservations about where the US might be heading as a country). 

What can coaches do for Australian businesses?

Let’s start with a definition. The Worldwide Association of Business Coaches defines a ‘business coach’ as someone who enables a client to understand their role in achieving business success, and to enhance that role in ways that are measurable and sustainable. The emphasis her is on ‘their role’.

Business coaching is therefore about helping a business owner or executive build the requisite capabilities for success themselves.

I’m more interested in helping someone get over their fear of water and then teaching them to swim well, rather than ‘seagull in’ a few times a year to focus on stroke correction.

I love sports analogies, so let me return to a couple that inspire me. When Serena Williams was under pressure at match point in one of her recent Grand Slams, one commentator said this moment in the match would put her under “immense pressure”, to which the second commentator deftly responded, “pressure for Serena is a vehicle for her to perform”.  I love this quote. It’s all about how you choose to see things.

When the great Tiger Woods was faltering in the sandpits and ranked in the 300th range for this type of stroke, he fired his ‘sandpit coach’ and hired a coach that focused only on his most powerful strokes (where he ranked between 1st and 3rd in the world). This investment in his strengths meant that his performance on the green was so good that he could leave the sandpits behind. His ball just simply never ended up there.

Simply put, this is what good business and performance coaches do. They focus on your talents, aptitudes and strengths and work on improving these in terms of trajectory, efficiency and efficacy. 

But sometimes there are deep obstacles that go well beyond economic circumstances, a set-back or even the drought.

My decades-long experience has shown that it all boils down to this: business owners will grow their business to the ceiling of their most powerful self-limiting belief. Self-limiting beliefs can be cultural, as I’ve discussed, and they can also be deep, unconscious and very personal. These two sets of self-limiting beliefs at play in Australia are challenging, but the good news is, they are reversible.

‘Releasing’ a business-owner from the things holding them back can have a powerful impact on their business. Such things often include fear — fear of failure and strangely, even its corollary, fear of success. It is also about a lack of resourcefulness or seeing the business from an unchanging perspective despite a rapidly changing environment. Sometimes it’s just about not asking the right questions of customers and teams and missing out on valuable data that could transform the business.  

So when I work with a client I am two things: a business expert and (equally importantly) I am a business therapist.

By harnessing a process that I have developed over decades of training and observation, I am able to find that self-limiting thread that weaves throughout the business owner’s narrative as well as through their business. Once this is unlocked and reversed, I can work in partnership with the business owner to produce radically different results.

It’s time Australians had a long, hard look at our cultural and personal self-limiting beliefs. Are you ready for the success it will bring?

NOW READ: Leading teams: Be the coach, not the star player

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Robert Gerrish
1 year ago

I believe that one contributory factor to the image business coaching has in Australia has to do with how the industry has evolved. Commencing in the late 1990s/early 2000s or thereabouts, its laudable start was somewhat overshadowed by our powerful entrepreneurial spirit – that’s to say coaching was seized upon as a ‘business opportunity’ and heavily marketed by dream sellers. The result was an influx of people more concerned to grow their own business than support the goals of their clients. As that focus shifts, hopefully so will the industry. And one day, perhaps it will indeed become a profession. That darned entrepreneurial drive getting in the way again!

Bottrell Coaching
Bottrell Coaching
4 months ago
Reply to  Robert Gerrish

business coaches & mentors in Australia