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Smart Moves: Unlocking potential with the `Inner Game'

Managers scramble to be coaches, but often they are the ones who need advice, writes Roger Trapp
Business has used the terminology of sport for almost as long as it has borrowed the jargon of the military. So, in one sense, the current enthusiasm for coaching is merely the continuation of a trend.

However, much of what is currently called coaching has more to do with psychology than with the sports ground. Though organisations seek to link such efforts to business goals, they are often perceived to be rather self-indulgent "couch sessions".

It is a confused area, of course, since there are many sports - notably tennis and golf - where the individual takes precedence over the team and where the role of psychology has been long acknowledged.

And just to complicate matters further, Tim Gallwey, whose Inner Game... series of books is credited with creating the field of sports psychology, is urging a greater emphasis on the sport aspect.

Mr Gallwey, who has applied his thinking to business in his most recent book The Inner Game of Work, has joined a panel of experts in the field put together by the management consultancy Deloitte Consulting.

Pointing out that Mr Gallwey will be working alongside such prominent figures as the former athlete David Hemery and Tony Morgan, chief executive of the Industrial Society. John Everett, Deloitte's managing partner, said the firm was demonstrating its commitment to the concept by trying to "tap every organisation who we rate as being at the leading edge in this area".

Deloitte is backing the coaching initiative because it is seeking to differentiate itself in the increasingly competitive consultancy field through its emphasis on people. "Coaching is all about unlocking potential," says Mr Everett, adding that he sees it as a great motivator as well as an effective way of helping them to learn quickly and work with clients.

The link between coaching and learning is crucial to Mr Gallwey, too. "Managers' most common response to the growing demand for corporations to become learning organisations is to scramble to be the teacher, not the taught - the coach, not the coached," he says.

"But to be an effective coach, an individual must understand the nature of learning." And one of the things about learning is that it is a "double- edged sword," he says, adding that it can be satisfying while also revealing how little a person knows.

A further hurdle to the advancement of coaching has been the perception that it is a means of correcting behaviour, even though in sports it is quite normal for somebody at the top of their field - whether Tiger Woods in golf or Pete Sampras in tennis - to seek a coach. Moreover, it is widely accepted in sports that such a person need not have been as proficient as their charge.

Times are changing, though. Since The Inner Game of Tennis appeared 25 years ago, Mr Gallwey has found himself in increasing demand by businesses. And he thinks business is more receptive to this approach than it is to education.

He sees coaching as particularly effective in helping companies deal with what he terms "the tunnel vision of performance momentum". Work that focuses strictly on performance results does so at the expense of the other legs of the "work triangle" - learning and experience, he says. It "produces a kind of tunnel vision that prevents workers from being fully aware and focused".