Q: Why don’t dentists make good coaches? A: They don’t have coaching supervisors.

von Bill Crombie

‘I’m afraid there are some old fillings Mr. Crombie – all done around the same time from the looks of it – that are deteriorating. The one that has fallen out will be the first of several. I recommend that we replace them all over the next few weeks. And then there’s the question of the additional six crowns at the back on the right we talked about before ……’

I’d already had ceramic crowns done on six teeth in the left side of my mouth after one tooth shattered having been assaulted by my sister’s crispy Christmas turkey stuffing (overly crispy as it turned out). Cracks in the other five teeth were revealed during the inspection. 

Torture is a waste of time

During that first round of work I learned a valuable social lesson: Amnesty International is right – torture is a waste of time. Had a CIA operative entered the room mid-procedure and promised that it would all stop if I confirmed the names of people he read out as Al Qaeda bad guys I would immediately have done so even though I’d never heard of them.

But that (the fact that they are all - probably - sadists) is not why dentists don’t make good coaches. Indeed at least one of the most effective coaches I know is (I suspect) a sadist. No, it comes down to questioning and listening skills. 

‘So, did you have a nice holiday, Mr Crombie?’ I’m being asked that question with cotton wool cylinders stuffed between my cheeks and gums – giving me the appearance of a lopsided version of Vito Corleone in The Godfather, a saliva drainer hanging out the side of my mouth and a small plastic sheet with a hole cut in it to allow access to my mouth over my face. Given all of this, I could sort of tell that my dentist was not really interested in hearing the answer. He got a nod, and that seemed to satisfy him and he moved on to firing up his electric drill.

What’s my point? It is this – people can tell when they are asked a question if the questioner is going to be paying attention to and interested in the answer. The dentist has his procedure to get through. He or she knows what he / she wants to have done at the end of the appointment, and seems to feel obliged to ask a few standard questions along the way as part of the process. The patient kind of goes along with this as part of the process. A coaching conversation can, if the coach gets a bit complacent, quite easily go the same way. Why? Experienced coaches know what they are doing. They have seen it all before. They know what they want to have done by the end of the appointment. They maybe feel obliged to ask a few standard questions along the way as part of the process. The coachee kind of goes along with this as part of the process….

Am I slipping into any bad habits?

This is but one of many bad habits a coach can slip into without even realizing it – which is where coaching supervision comes in. A good supervisor will ask smart questions of the coach (and will be paying close attention to the answers) – helping the coach do a self-check on the ‘am I slipping into any bad habits?’ spectrum and, at the same time, showcase excellent questioning and listening skills that the coach can perhaps learn from.

That’s all very well, but finding the right supervisor can be difficult – not so long ago you needed to know someone who knows someone who they can recommend. Not so any more. Thanks to our good friend the internet you are now only a few clicks away from finding a supervisor - a properly qualified and checked-out one. 

For example : 

I tried to suggest to my dentist that he might benefit from a coaching supervisor to improve his questioning and listening skills, but I think it came out somewhat garbled due to the paraphernalia in my mouth and he simply replied ‘Oh, really?’ and reached for a bigger drill. Is it possible that a coach who is getting a little bit complacent does something similar?

So if you are a coach and you don’t have one already, please consider getting yourself a coaching supervisor. Less painful than going to the dentist.

Bill Crombie is a qualified Master Business Coach and one of the Managing Partners of Leadership Choices, an international consultancy focusing on leadership development at Top Management level. He is also Managing Director of Leadership Choices UK. He is used to working in challenging multi-cultural environments and he has carried out assignments in most European countries, the USA, the Middle East and the Far East.