TO SURVIVE IN today’s competitive and ever-changing marketplace, businesses are challenged to identify practical methods to help them achieve continued improvement and increased productivity. One method with proven results is developing the coaching skills of managers in the business. Coaching is a fundamental competency and required skill set for today’s leader.
The core of coaching as a leadership style (versus autocratic directing) is a focus on activity that will generate results. Coaching is a powerful strategy to improve systemic business performance. Effective training and skill development in the art of coaching is often heralded as a key element in the transformation of today’s managers into tomorrow’s leaders.
Many companies are investing in their human capital by developing internal coach-development programs. It’s easier said than done. As with any new initiative, there will be obstacles to overcome. It is important to anticipate these challenges and to have a plan to deal with them effectively.
Commitment on the part of senior leaders is critical. The success of this kind of change hinges on sponsorship — senior leaders’ ability to provide continued support, focus and the resources required.
People aren’t born with innate coaching skills. Coaching techniques and competencies are very different than those required of more “old style” management and supervision. As a result, some will need to unlearn past lessons and techniques that are no longer effective in today’s workplace.
Being effective in the art of coaching requires significant training in new behaviors, practice, ongoing feedback and role modeling of best practices.
Developing high-level expertise (as with most skills) will almost always require ongoing feedback 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 someone with outstanding coaching skills. Again, as in professional sports, new great coaches often come from the camps of other coaches identified as best in class.
Surprisingly, it is estimated that less than 25 percent of companies today have training programs to teach fundamental coaching skills, yet more than 80 percent of companies identify coaching as a method they use to develop staff. Just asking people to coach employees won’t make it so. Managers will need training to learn new skills and behaviors, practice and feedback to be able to coach effectively.
Coaching is at its core a relationship, one centered on helping those being coached to realize their aspirations and potential. Trust and rapport are critical foundations to a solid coaching relationship. Some managers have great challenges in this arena. The good news is there are teachable behaviors that can generate trust. Sometimes it takes a little help (and trust) to get there. Be forewarned — overnight transformations aren’t realistic with these kinds of skills and behaviors.
As trusted coaches, leaders can help individuals uncover their blind spots (think emotional intelligence — see previous columns) and develop new actions, behaviors or skills. Most of this takes place through observation, assessment, dialogue, inquiry and conversations. The most effective coaching experiences are focused on learning through these observations, modifying behaviors and taking action to achieve performance improvement and attain defined goals.
Again, I do not suggest (even for a moment) that you equate developing managers as coaches as giving up authority, decision-making responsibility or holding others accountable. To the contrary, effective leaders who employ coaching — like head sports coaches (think Vince Lombardi) — are still the ones making the decisions, calling the strategic plays and putting people in or out of the game. Effective leaders who employ coaching skills still have the authority to trade away their prize second-round draft pick for a better option.