High-Performance Coaching

Achieving Full Potential

High-Performance Coaching - Achieving Full Potential

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Enable all your team members to give the performances of their lives.

You may think that "high-performance coaching" means coaching for high performers – in other words, people who, for whatever reason, have been identified as "star talent."

Actually, high-performance coaching is about helping all people reach their full potential, in any area of their lives. For the manager as coach, this means working with people to improve their performance at work.

High-performance coaching may also involve working with other people within your organization – collaborating with other managers and leaders to make the workplace a high-performance organization, one that helps everybody to perform at their best.

The approaches and techniques used in high-performance coaching borrow heavily from the worlds of sport and the military – areas where optimal performance is key. High-performance coaching conversations usually start with finding out people's "starting points" – their visions or life ambitions. Then, it moves on to explore the directions in which people need to move to achieve those visions, and the steps they need to take now to do so.

When to Use High-Performance Coaching

How often do we think we know what we want to achieve, only to discover that gaps in willpower and self-discipline hold us back?

High-performance coaching helps people explore their motivation, and overcome the blockers that hold them back. It's about both support and challenge. It's particularly useful for the following:

  • Long-range career or life planning – While some people may prefer not to have a "life plan," there's robust evidence that shows that people who have clear plans and goals are more likely to be successful in the long term.
  • Navigating career change points – An example of a career change point could be the transition from being primarily seen as a manager to being seen as a leader – someone who offers clear guidance and genuine inspiration. Coaching can help people navigate these change points more successfully.
  • Making fundamental changes to performance or behavior – This involves the equivalent of athletes breaking bad habits in their game, and relearning basic skills the right way.
  • Handling major life setbacks – High-performance coaching can help people recover from major business or personal setbacks. In particular, it can help people address work-life imbalances, or deal with major episodes of stress or burnout.


As our article What is Coaching? highlights, coaching typically works best when the coachee (person being coached) sets the agenda, and is prompted by the coach to develop their own solutions. However, you may find that you need to take a more direct approach with high-performance coaching.

High-Performance Coaching Skills and Tools

Here is a useful checklist of things that you should do when helping others to be their best:

  • Be respectful of the coachee as an individual.
  • Be respectful of the coachee's skills and goals in life.
  • Be honest in providing constructive and challenging feedback, and set high goals that the coachee is likely to achieve.
  • Be aware of your own ego and agenda, so that these don't get in the coachee's way.
  • Be comfortable with a variety of tools that help you explore the coachee's perspective. Examples include the GROW Model, the Flow Model, and a simple formula drawn from one of the most valuable books in coaching, "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey. The formula is:

    Performance = Potential - Interference

    We'll look at this formula, and the Flow Model, in more detail below.

The Flow Model

The Flow Model was introduced by positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his 1990 book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience."

This model shows the emotional state that we're likely to experience when trying to complete a task, depending on the perceived difficulty of the challenge, and our perceptions of our skill levels.

Part of the job of the high-performance coach is to help coachees acquire and be confident with the skills they need to achieve their goals. The coach then helps the coachee match these skills to the task at hand, setting "stretch goals" – goals that are challenging, but which are possible to achieve.

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Emotional Interference

Remember Gallwey's simple formula:

Performance = Potential - Interference

Here, "interference" generally means emotional interference. We may understand our true potential, but our performance suffers because our emotions get in the way. Some of the interfering emotions are fear, guilt, and worry.

Let's look at these more closely:

  • Fear – The most obvious and most inhibiting emotion is fear. While some fear has a basis in reality, many of our fears are unfounded. Our minds play negative tricks on us to keep us safe, but also keep us unchallenged and, probably, unfulfilled.

    It may take time to deal with a coachee's fear of a situation, event, or action, but it's hugely beneficial to do so. Once you identify and discuss people's fears, you weaken the power of those fears to hold back future activity and performance.

    Likewise, it can be useful to anticipate some worst-case scenarios – such as losing an important sales contract or even losing your job – because it lets you see what other options are available. Perhaps the sales contract wasn't as profitable as other contracts you could pursue if you had time to spend with new customers. Perhaps losing a job is the first step toward a new career, even within your current organization. Dealing with self-doubt and fear of failure is one of the most valuable areas to explore with a coachee.

  • Guilt – This is one of the key emotions driving inappropriate work-life balance. If someone routinely works later than other people, it's often evidence of not being able to say no – which, in turn, is typically based on some form of guilt for not having accomplished what was asked for.
  • Worry – This is another key emotion that gets in the way of good performance. Some people seem to worry about everything, including the fact that they're worrying! Worry can lead to physical problems such as poor sleep, bad eating habits, and ultimately, exhaustion. We can't be effective for very long if we have these problems.

Coaches can help coachees see their true potential and eliminate the effect of interfering emotions. Talking about emotions during coaching will help. Also, try these tips:

  • Think of coachees as athletes who want to move to the next level in their game. Half of the coaching job is listening and understanding what drives people, and appreciating what emotions they're feeling. The other half of the job is working with coachees to stretch their performance and explore the skills they need to be their very best.
  • Remember that high-performance coaching can and should be fun. So look for issues, and help people imagine what could be possible, as part of the process.

Key Points

High-performance coaching is about helping people to achieve their very best. It's particularly useful for long-range career or life planning, for dealing with career change points, for making changes to performance or behavior, and for dealing with major life setbacks.

High-performance coaching conversations usually start with finding out people's "starting points" - their visions or life ambitions. You can then look at helping the coachee obtain a balanced set of skills, while looking at emotional interferences such as their worries and fears.

Overall, high-performance coaching involves challenging coachees as well as supporting them, so that they can build their skills and improve their performance in a balanced way.

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Comments (3)
  • Over a month ago Sharon wrote
    Hello supasta. It's a good question you pose here.
    When we coach people we really want them to succeed and reach their potential but sometimes we want their success more for ourselves than for them.

    We have invested a lot of time and energy into working with them and still they don't move forward. This seems to be the case with your client and I would ask you to consider the fact that you have done all you can and that the responsibility now lies with them.
    You have been 'hand holding for 3 weeks' so now step back and let the client know that you are waitng and watching in the sidelines, wishing them well, but that they need to take the next step. If they choose not to then perhaps they're not as ready as they thought they were or there are deeper reasons that hold them back. These reasons could then be investigated instead of trying to push forward against a barrier of resistance.

    Perhaps they're not moving forward because they want you to do if for them? Again, that issue needs to be addressed if it is true.

    Support is necessary but as coaches we also need to know when to allow the person to take more responsibility and be less dependent.

    I hope this makes sense. Do let me know what you think.

    Best wishes
  • Over a month ago supastar wrote
    I agree with your approach of adding support to the equation. My present experience is that I keep supporting in hopes that the individual would pick up the pace on learning. I have been hand holding for 3 weeks on the same tasks. How does one who at this point is emotionally affected, try to keep this situation positive and keep the coachee inspired??
  • Over a month ago heresjohnny wrote
    Hi Clive,

    I really liked the article.

    I use the formula you mentioned : Performance = Potential - Interferences

    Over the years I have amended it slightly.

    Performance = Potential - Interferences (+ Support)

    From a coaching perspective, I feel that our role is to help the learner to identify the interferences, develop a strategy to minimise/remove them if possible. Sometimes the results we are looking for and the learner expects would be a little slow in coming, which is where the support element can provide the necessary impetus/drive/momentum to get some quick wins.

    Once the leaner has become more self aware and feels more confident in moving forward without so much 'hand-holding' then some of the support can be removed.