Many organizations today have identified “coaching” as a preferred leadership style for their management workforce. Coaching is a powerful organizational and leadership strategy to systemically improve business performance. One survey from the Institute of Personnel and Development confirms that 9 out of ten U.S. companies expect their managers and supervisors to deliver coaching to their direct reports and teams. Employee surveys support the need for managers to develop coaching skills as “best bosses” are those identified as having a coaching style.
So what is coaching? Coaching is a collaborative partnership centered on achieving goals. The primary objective of coaching is to develop the person being coached. In a nutshell, it is a way of leading that supports, champions, guides and challenges an individual to maximize their potential and performance. Coaching can be applied to a wide variety of management situations—identifying strengths and challenges, motivating, delegating, relationship/team building, providing feedback, resolving every day workplace challenges, helping employees become more self aware and change problematic behaviors or seize opportunities to grow and improve.
There are key differences between the old style autocratic or “boss” way of managing people and coaching. Whereas the old school boss tended to get things done by lecturing, directing and telling, today’s boss who acts as a “coach” asks powerful questions, makes effective requests, listens/observes well, is perceptive and offers constructive effective feedback to help someone learn and develop.
The best leaders in workplaces have learned how to empower and motivate their people vs. try to control them. One reason– today’s younger workforce (comprised of Gen Y/Millenials) is quite different than past generations (vets and baby boomers). They have different expectations of their leaders and workplaces. Generally, to motivate today’s younger worker requires more personal attention, recognition and tolerance on the part of management.
The great challenge for many organizations is how to train their managers to utilize coaching skills. People aren’t born with innate coaching skills and frankly few business schools are focused on teaching the skills required to be an effective coach.
Coaching techniques and competencies are very different than those required of more “old style” management and supervision. As a result, many of today’s older managers are challenged having to “unlearn” past lessons and techniques that are no longer effective in today’s workplace.
Simply asking your managers to “coach” employees won’t equate to success. Learning how to coach is akin to learning a new language. There is an art to coaching. To develop someone’s ability to coach requires an investment in training/coaching to master new behaviors. Developing expertise (as with most skills) will almost always require ongoing feedback and modeling by someone with more advanced skills. One of the best ways to develop coaches is to have the up-and-coming coach be coached by a professional coach with exemplary coaching skills.
Coaching is a relationship centered on helping the “coachee” realize their aspirations and goals. Trust, respect and rapport are critical foundations to a solid coaching relationship. Frankly, some managers have great challenges in the interpersonal and emotional intelligence arena. Though it is possible to learn behaviors that lead to increased trust—this endeavor isn’t easy (the best results typically come when a professional coach who specializes in this arena is brought in).
When leaders are trusted and respected, employees under them will respond to their feedback more effectively. The best coaches are patient, perceptive, self aware, reflective, open, supportive, keen observers and good listeners. They are adept at giving valuable feedback that doesn’t generate defensiveness and are interpersonally effective. They help their employees by uncovering their blind spots and challenging limiting beliefs. Most of effective coaching this takes place through observation, assessment, dialogue, inquiry and conversations.
Tips to develop a coaching style:
- Listen and observe well. Note how someone learns best (see previous column on learning styles) and what their strengths are.
- Delegate more and direct less (once you have assessed the employee has the skills required to do the task and has the necessary commitment). Always make clear what the parameters are when delegating (i.e. time, budget and other resources).
- Use errors as learning opportunities.
- Help your people learn to solve problems themselves vs. doing it for them.