Presence and Cosmetics

When I started coaching 15 years ago in Spain, the problem was that no one knew what coaching was. They not only did not know what it was but the did not know how to pronounce the Anglo-Saxon word with its origin from sports. Now the problem that I have found is that everyone has already tried coaching, as if it were a task they could cross off their list and talk about later.

Our definition of leadership is intimately linked to this. Because of this, being a good leader consists of having the highest grade on a list of behaviors or skills defined by a company, so coaching has been converted into a service that helps increase that score across those behaviors. How? Well, as we watched the coach on the series “Billions,” scare the lady!

Western films with cowboys and Indians always reference the odd things that the primitive, loin-cloth wearing Indians did. They did not want written papers justifying if the land was theirs or someone else’s, and they did not measure a man’s strength by the size of his gun. What seems like ignorance in the eyes of the cowboys, however, was another more authentic way of measuring a person’s leadership. For them, leadership was presence.

And of course, as we drown in the collective madness of hyper-connectivity, it is hard for us to imagine what old wise people mean when they talk about really being present in a conversation. Instinctively, however, it is very easy to distinguish a present person from one who is not there, since that kind of presence it not understood, it is felt: a serene, warm look, and not a furtive one – that probably is directed at a phone or a smartwatch.

We clearly feel when we are with someone that does not hide anything about themselves, while others strive to impress us by hiding what they do not want us to know. The leader who is really present transmits stillness, confidence, and the desire to grow constantly, while others generate uncertainty and nervousness. They dance faster than the music, as they say in French – “plus vite que la musique.” We feel like the present leader helps us to better ourselves, while others squeeze us to our maximum performance until we are completely worn out.

But to become a present leader requires a long road of coaching, self-exploration, rest, and then more coaching. Never is focus of the effort a series of external measurements or a list of tasks to check off, but inside, like Carl Jung said, “those that look outside dream, those that look within wake up.” To be able to bring ourselves to the present with all of our mind and energy, to truly live in the present, we have to make peace with our past and stop asking for the future to save us.

What I found myself is that the majority of coaching that is done in businesses is cosmetic. you might say it is like putting management on a diet. While following this diet with your coach, pending that you do not break their prescribed habits and disciplines, your evaluation grade improves on the selected skills, very good. The coaching ends, the evaluations are positive, and everyone is happy. The coach charges the trainee and goes home even happier.

After finishing the diet, the lost kilos return in a few weeks, the improved behavior disappears as soon as the manager’s life gets complicated. And this is clear, “people do not change.” This is what I call cosmetic coaching. It only tricks the HR professional into coughing up an improvement in the valuations.

A diet and discipline are not a solution for losing weight, but rather a measure of shock for emergency situations that is difficult to sustain over time because it requires too much effort. And for me, if something requires a lot of effort it is a failure in the approach. The interesting question is why a person lost interest in eating healthy, taking care of themselves and staying in shape. If you find an answer- always emotional and thoughtless- to this question and the underlying problem is solved, it is no longer necessary to punish yourself with annoying diets and disciplines. People change their way of eating and exercising without thinking about it or having to discuss it with themselves. They do it because they want to, sorry.

It could be said that losing weight translates to communicating better in public, negotiating more valuable exchanges in the company, becoming more visible, or spending less energy on delegating work in a partonizing manner that. Behavior change is only a success when the person does it without having to think about it. When it has become something instinctive, normal. When someone is surprised after losing so many years doing things the hard way, he tells everyone while laughing at himself. Thus impacting its transparency and its presence.

People do change, everybody. And if not, do yourself a favor and change your coach.


Pino Bethencourt 
Coach y Founder of Club Comprometidos