The Coaching Paradox in Higher Education

Where there are top performers, there are coaches.  

Musicians, public speakers, athletes all have coaches.  It would be weird if we heard of someone on the stage or on the field who didn’t have one.  

In higher education, unless you are talking about student success, coaching is an exception.  

Part of the reason is that work feels like something we have done our entire lives.  Most of us have been checking things off of our to-do list and building our CVs since kindergarten. So we tell ourselves a story around work –  that we got this.  It’s a badge of honor.  

Managing people well, leading people-centric organizations, reclaiming your sanity at work is like an elite sport.  For most people, it doesn’t come naturally.  It’s not so much about closing a deficit as it is about maximizing strengths.  It’s about recognizing what you can control and managing your energy.  

Most people wouldn’t dream of going it alone if they took up a new sport, want to learn to act or even lose weight. Yet, intelligent, successful professionals regularly choose to navigate the world of work alone.  

Part of the reason for this, particularly in higher education, is that coaches make claims that stretch belief.  People aren’t sure what they do.  There aren’t specific credentials.  

And often, the people with the potential to benefit the most from a coach are the most hesitant precisely because of what coaching involves.

Talking about our challenges. Setting goals. Acknowledging that we can get better. Eagerly seeking responsibility.

Leaders in higher education are critical.  They hesitate.  Will having a coach be interpreted as a sign of weakness? What if we acknowledge our challenges but fail to overcome them? What if we can’t make change happen?  Or worst – what if we succeed?

Coaching is a significant investment that higher education leaders usually have to take on themselves. So, paying for a coach, throwing resources at outcomes that are hard to measure, taking on an experience that might be socially awkward, getting better at something that feels normal—combine that with a hesitancy to ask for help—it’s a wonder anyone has a coach.

The paradox is that the very things that hold us back are the reasons higher education should embrace coaching in the first place.


Meet Jessica

Leadership Coaching | Employee Experience Design | Internal Communications & Campaigns

I’ve spent 15+ years leading high-profile initiatives for c-suite leaders in higher education, non-profits, and foundations who want to create people-centric organizations. Most recently, I served as chief of staff to the president of Texas A&M, the largest public university in the country.

I give my clients practical tools to make their work lives work better and make higher education a workplace where people can thrive.