Project Coaching: Nouns and Verbs

Lable Braun

In our
search for identity we often tend to confuse nouns and
verbs. Throughout the history of human existence the
argument has raged whether we are simply the things we do
(verbs) or if there is something intrinsic in us that forms
our identity irrespective of what we happen to do (nouns).

In the field of philosophy, for generations there was the
assumption that we possessed a soul which was a reflection
of God, the great “I AM” (noun). As the Enlightenment swept
through Europe, this assumption was examined and challenged,
culminating in Descartes’ famous statement, “I think
therefore I am.” In this Cartesian viewpoint, my noun-ness
(I AM) is only knowable through my verb-ness (I think). I
must DO something before even I myself can be aware of my

In the 1960s, this viewpoint was triumphant through the
psychology of Behaviorism. The Behaviorist, as best
exemplified by B.F. Skinner, was totally agnostic to a
person’s noun-ness. It didn’t matter if anything was “in
there” in the black box called a human being. All that
mattered was the person’s verb-ness, the behavior they
exhibited. If I could train someone to react a certain way
every time, what did it matter what they “thought”? Their
thoughts didn’t affect the world. Only their behavior did.

By the late 1970s, Behaviorism had been displaced by
Cognitive Psychology as the dominant psychological model.
Cognitive Psychology once again stressed the importance of
noun-ness. The “thing” called a human being had certain
intrinsic ways of processing information, and this was
crucial because it limited the types of behavior, therefore,
that a human is capable of. Humans do not have infinite
degrees of freedom because we are pre-wired in certain ways.
Cognitive Psychology set about discovering exactly how we
are wired.

Back and forth. Back and forth. The pendulum has swung
between nouns and verbs. Why is this important? Because it
has some very pragmatic implications. Most recently, I’ve
been thinking about the pragmatic implications of whether
the word “coach” is best used as a noun or a verb.

I think the pendulum has swung too far towards the noun when
it comes to “coach”. Much too much of the profession’s
attention is about noun-ness. How to get certified so that
everyone knows that the noun “coach” refers to you. How to
market this noun, this thing called “coach”. I do not see
nearly enough nowadays on the verb-ness of coaching, i.e.,
how to effectively coach.

The distinction between “coach” as a noun and “coach” as a
verb is especially crucial as the coaching profession faces
its moment of truth. Many people have left the corporate
world in search of the noun-ness called “coach”; they want
to become a thing called “coach”. The sad truth is that the
number of people who have flocked to the profession far
outnumbers the carrying capacity of the coaching industry.
Most coaches, unfortunately, are not making a living wage.
And yet, they tenaciously hold on by their fingernails,
obsessed with the noun-ness of coaching, obsessed with being
“a coach”.

Coaches need to go back to the corporate world. That, in a
nutshell, is the essence of the Project Coaching model.
There is a desperate need for increased coaching (verb) in
the corporate world. It is the answer to addressing a
multi-billion problem in lost productivity. It is also the
answer to making the workplace a thriving, exciting,
enjoyable place to be. Equally important for coaches, it is
where the money is. There are tens of thousands of people
out there who are great coaches, but lousy entrepreneurs.
They need to go back to the corporate world and get a steady

The response I get from most coaches to this line of
argument is, “But the corporate world isn’t ready to accept
me back as a coach.”

My response to them is, “So What?”

This is where the difference between a noun and a verb is so
crucial. So what if the corporate world isn’t ready to
accept you back with the title “Coach”? Don’t worry about
the noun-ness of coaching. Leverage its verb-ness. Just
coach. Almost no one started their careers as a coach. There
is certainly some skill set you had before you became a
coach. Use that skill set to get a job back in the corporate
world. And when you get that job, don’t worry if it’s as a
marketer or a manager or an HR partner or a technician, just
coach. Be a marketer in a coach-like way. Be a manager in a
coach-like way. Be a technician in a coach-like way. Don’t
worry about the title (noun) you have, just coach (verb).
The superior results you will achieve when compared to those
who are doing the same job without the verb-ness of coaching
will speak for itself. Just coach.

I once saw a famous actor asked by young people starting out
in the profession what were the chances they were going to
make it as an actor. The actor surprised them by saying,
“100%”. When the audience gasped at this response, the actor
explained, “If you want to know the chances that you’ll be a
star, the odds are heavily stacked against you. But if you
want to know the chances that you will be able to have a
profession as an actor, the chances are 100%. The world is
full of opportunities to act.”

The world is also full of opportunities to coach.

So what about it, coaches? Firefighters are at their most
heroic not when they’re standing on the sidewalk hosing down
a building. They’re at their most heroic when they run into
a burning building to save lives and property. Are you
willing to rush back into the burning building of the
corporate world, regardless of the title you get? And once
you’re back in the burning building, just coach.

And those of you reading this who aren’t coaches: Whether
you’re project managers or marketers, HR partners or
technicians, are you willing to learn the techniques, the
verb-ness of coaching, so that you too can just coach?

I hope the answer from all communities is a resounding
“Yes”. As for me, tomorrow morning I’m going to back to the
noun-ness of my job as a manager, and I’m going to revel in
the verb-ness of coaching and being coached.


About the
author: After writing this article more than a year ago,
Lable Braun returned to a management position and brought
with him a coaching (verb) approach. And as a result, he
later became the Organizational Development Director of
Dialogic and was asked to establish a coaching program. You
can contact Lable at

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