Coaching has been around for a while and is a recognised leadership skill. There is ample evidence of how a coaching culture in organisations leads to better engagement, increased profit, better team performance and an inspiring workplace, including this research from the Human Capital Institute and the International Coach Federation. Yet it is still not a natural leadership style for many managers to turn to, particularly when they are working under pressure.
Clare Withycombe and I were invited into a not for profit organisation recently to work with their senior managers to explore whether coaching could help them to achieve their strategic objectives. The organisation (which remains anonymous for reasons of confidentiality) works in high risk, fluid and challenging contexts. Some of the impacts of this was a culture of long hours and of decision-making taking place at the most senior levels. This was recognised as being unsustainable.
We wanted to share a few reflections from this and our wider work with managers at all levels across different sectors.
What is coaching exactly?
Most managers value a good explanation of what coaching is (and is not) and how it works. It is often confused, especially with mentoring, and definitions vary and can be quite complex. It’s not about getting to a perfect definition but managers do need to understand the fundamental principles of what coaching is.
Coaching is approached with the belief that an individual is resourceful and can find their own answers.
It is about helping others to explore an issue, find their own solutions and then identify the actions they need to take to bring about change. It is not giving advice, problem-solving or steering people in the right direction.
These factors differentiate it from other conversations in the workplace, but are not widely understood.
Coaching is not the norm
Managers often need time to get familiar with what coaching involves to consider how they can use coaching skills in their work context. Coaching is not (yet) a default style of managing in most organisations so it is not a skill that is often developed and honed from being a first-time manager. Managers do not often observe and learn this skill from those around them unless they are lucky enough to be managed by someone who invests in coaching.
Coaching may feel unnatural at first
Most people who have come through a traditional education system and straight into the workplace have not experienced the power of coaching. Traditional learning is linear and the ‘teacher knows best and has (to have) the answers’. To some degree this needs to be ‘unlearned’. A good coach manager needs to become skilled at supporting others to come up with their own solutions. This is not necessarily the first skill that is valued (and rewarded) in many organizations so it may not be the way managers have become accustomed to managing.
Coaching is not the perfect solution for every management dilemma but there are undoubtedly many missed opportunities when coaching could benefit individuals and organisations. It may help to think of coaching as a habit.
It needs conscious thought, attention and practice before it becomes part of a routine and feels more natural.
We over complicate it
Key coaching skills of providing space, focused listening and using open questions can be picked up quickly, particularly if managers practice with real life examples.
This can lead to some ‘aha’ moments for managers and real shifts in understanding the benefits and ‘how I can put this into practice’.
Managers do not need to be accredited or able to coach the most complex of goals from the outset. We may put people off by overwhelming them with lists of coaching skills and requirements in addition to every other competency and skills list we eagerly ask them to demonstrate every day.
Quick, bite size sessions with groups can work well with busy managers. Building in reviews and a commitment to action and practice is essential. This brings energy and also mutual accountability from the group.
Individuals can start in just 15 mins by reflecting on one skill used in coaching and thinking about how they can make improvements to how they apply that skill with their team.
Commitment is key, especially at the top
To move towards a culture where coaching becomes part of the management style at all levels, there needs to be visible support from the most senior leaders. This will shape how coaching is role modelled, talked about, valued and rewarded as a core business skill during performance management, talent and recruitment processes.
If organisations show a real commitment to coaching in this way, their managers will follow.
Good management and leadership is about strengthening the workplace through people, embedding strong relationships and developing high performing teams so that everyone contributes and feels part of the solution. Coaching is a fabulous technique for making this happen. It leads to an efficient working environment and an engaged workforce.
If you want to extend your managerial skills by using coaching, try my free guide to understanding listening and developing your listening skills. Not sure if you need to? Read it during your coffee break and see if you’re missing something. Contact me and you’ll be sent the link to the guide.
Clare Withycombe is a leadership and career coach. She has extensive international coaching experience at senior levels, one of her key areas of coaching is women in leadership, she is committed to inspiring women to achieve and optimise their contribution to the workplace.