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Part 1 – Coaching
Much has been studied, researched, written and taught about leadership. There are even entire doctoral programs in leadership at prestigious universities. That’s because, arguably, good leadership allows companies to succeed when they might have otherwise failed. And great leadership pushes companies to rise above an ocean of mediocre ones. That is why the most successful investors — think George Soros and Warren Buffet, who achieved annual excess returns 15% over the S&P for over 30+ years — spend an inordinate amount of time every day studying not only a company’s financials but also the skills and track records of the leadership at those companies. Companies with the most innovative products can still fail to thrive without well-developed leadership. To state the obvious, leadership really matters.
Also, great leadership skills are not just essential for Presidents and C-Suite executives. Great leadership is invaluable for those directing divisions, departments, teams and projects. That’s because leaders are responsible for managing finite resources as well as planning and executing direction and action. In particular, one of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to help employees develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. That is called coaching and it is a key facet of leadership. So exactly what is coaching and what makes a great coach? And is there a difference between coaching and other things leaders commonly do such as managing, mentoring, teaching and counseling?
What Coaching Is Not
Let’s start by clarifying the difference between coaching and other leadership activities such as managing, mentoring, teaching and counseling.
How is coaching different from mentoring? A mentor has been defined as “a more experienced individual who is willing to share his knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of mutual trust.” So mentoring is a partnership between two people and emphasizes a mutually-beneficial, teaching-learning relationship. Mentoring is sometimes confused with coaching because mentors will often use various strategies, including coaching, to guide a mentee.
The role of the mentor is to help a less experienced person build his/her capabilities and grow as a person. A mentor helps the learner discover his own strengths and wisdom. He encourages him to develop self-reliance and work toward goals. A mentoring relationship is typically not one of boss-employee. The mentor generally does not have authority over the mentee — and the focus can be on the mentee’s personal or career goals. Because the relationship is mutually-beneficial, a strong bond is often forged between the mentor and mentee that can even outlast the lifespan of the mentoring relationship.
How is coaching then different from teaching? The point of teaching is to convey knowledge and share information through training and explanation. The student’s goal is to “pass the test” or some other form of evaluation that measures learning. Unlike coaching, information only flows in one direction, from teacher to student. It’s a one-way street. There is generally little closeness in the relationship between teacher and student.
And how is coaching different from counseling? In counseling, the counselor listens to the individual and asks questions in order to build his self-awareness and self-confidence. The purpose of counseling is to help an individual deal with or overcome a difficult challenge, either professional or personal. In a business setting, a leader may need to occasionally counsel an employee, such as an HR Director offering support to an employee dealing with a difficult situation. Or a boss may at times need to counsel a direct report. In such situations, the sharing is primarily one-way from the employee to the counselor, although the counselor can provide feedback and encouragement. However, the genuine closeness between the counselor and the subject is actually very limited, although it might feel differently to the subject.
What Coaching Is
If coaching is not teaching, counseling or mentoring, then what is it? The focus of coaching is usually task and performance driven. The role of a coach is to give feedback on observed performance. In a business environment, coaching happens typically between a manager and someone who is a direct report. A coach usually sets or suggests goals for the employee; measuring performance periodically as he either develops new skills or hones existing skills. This requires a close working relationship – one of trust and respect.
Superstar coaches help solve tough problems like:
- How to get employees to take initiative
- How to motivate team members to achieve more or think out-of-the-box
- How to induce underachievers to success and take achievers to the next level
- How to get high skill employees to live up to their potential
It’s an often overlooked aspect of leadership development, and yet no one can be a great leader without being an effective coach. A leader can influence people. He can even inspire, teach and manage them. But if employees don’t know how to act on their own and accomplish important tasks by taking the initiative, goals are likely to never fully materialize. Yet, given its importance, the ability to coach is undervalued when hiring managers and continues to be undervalued during employment. According to an Executive Coaching Survey conducted by the Conference Board, “While 63% of organizations use some form of internal coaching and most of the rest plan to, coaching remains a small part of the job description for most managers. Nearly half spend less than 10% of their time coaching others.”
If being a good coach is essential to being a good leader, then what does good coaching look like? What skills or best practices do coaches employ? In a nutshell, the ability to coach boils down to more employee development that is efficiently conducted. That is easy to say but hard to do and even harder to do well. Managers often think they are coaching if they:
- Hold occasional meetings
- Offer occasional advice
- Give annual reviews
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, coaching should be much more than that. Coaching should focus on helping employees learn in ways that allow them to continue growing and learning. The point of coaching is to help employees increase effectiveness, expand thinking, tap into strengths and achieve challenging goals. For the manager, coaching is based on asking instead of telling, provoking thought rather than giving directions, and establishing consistent methods of accountability. Here are five things a coach should do.
1. Build a relationship of trust.
Trust is an important part of coaching. An employee will work better with someone he trusts. A coach must, therefore, effectively establish boundaries and build trust. This is done by:
- being clear about the development objectives set,
- showing good judgment,
- being patient, and
- following through on promises made.
2. Challenge assumptions and broaden thinking.
Once there is trust, then it is easier to challenge the thought process. Challenging thinking is another key aspect of coaching. Coaches should ask open-ended questions. Is this the only approach? Is there another solution? Do you see any downsides to this strategy? Is there a way to get this done faster, more economically, or more efficiently? A coach should push for alternative solutions to problems. Most importantly, a good coach will not only allow but encourage reasonable risk-taking. Employees should be allowed to try new things and see how they turn out. Every new idea should not be met with a ‘no’ or else the employee will never look for ways to innovate.
3. Support and encourage.
Coaches should listen carefully and be open to the perspectives of others. They should allow employees to express emotions (frustration, dissatisfaction, concern) without judgment. And they encourage employees to keep moving toward their goals regardless of obstacles. As a partner in the growth process, a coach must take the time to recognize employee achievements. A good coach will take the time to acknowledge a job well done.
4. Set goals and measure results.
Effective coaching should focus on achieving goals. The coach helps the employee set important goals and then helps the employee to map out specific behaviors or steps to achieve those goals. The coach should also help to clarify milestones in which to measure progress. At those milestones, the coach must hold the employee accountable for results.
5. Provide consistent and fair assessment.
In order to assess an employee, a coach should start by asking questions. Where are you now? Where do you want to go? Helping employees to gain self-awareness and insight is key. A good coach will provide regular feedback to all direct report and help clarify between behaviors that are appreciated and those that the manager would like the employee to change. Assessment should be done regularly and focuses on:
- gaps, shortfalls and inconsistencies
- current performance versus desired performance
- talk versus actions
- intention vs. impact
When done well, coaching is an instrumental part of leadership. Coaching ensures that employees rise to challenges, tap into all of their strengths, overcome weaknesses, search within for creative solutions and become autonomous and self-driven. And isn’t that what every leader wants from his employees?
Quote of the Week
“Even greater than the ability to inspire others with hope is the power to motivate them to give as much to the lives of others as they would give to their own; and to empower them to confront the worst in themselves in order to discover and claim the best in themselves.” Jeffery J. Lloyd a/k/a Aberjhani
© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.