What is it that all good coaches essentially achieve?
Through the use of appreciative, enquiring questions, they move a coachee from impossible to possible.
Learned helplessness is a well-studied phenomenon. It can be observed in animals and humans.
Zig Ziglar recounted the story of training fleas not to jump out of the glass tank in which they perform. The flea trainer puts a glass lid on the top. The fleas repeatedly jump and hit the glass. In the end they stop jumping that high and keep their acrobatics to a level under the glass lid, thus avoiding the discomfort of the repeated impacts. As Zig told it, when the lid is removed the fleas keep jumping as though it were there. For humans the glass lid comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be an external set of factors or an internally generated set of beliefs, or a combination of the two. Whichever it is, the exposure to repeated pain or the fear of it moves the person into learned helplessness in that area of their life.
In a situation of learned helplessness mentoring can seem to be the best quick fix but it isn’t a long-term solution.
A mentor provides answers, guidance and strategies. It’s a quick fix if the person puts those into place. But what have they learnt? They have moved from learned helplessness to learned dependency. Their limiting beliefs about themselves have not changed because the key to success was not them but the mentor. Without changing the limiting beliefs the situation doesn’t fundamentally change and the learned helplessness returns as soon as the mentor is unavailable.
A good coach deals with the limiting beliefs by supporting the coachee in exploring their own resourcefulness.
In finding solutions and strategies through appreciative coaching the coachee is able to remove ‘I’m helpless’ as a factor. The coach has enabled them to take I’m from impossible, turning it into possible.