In part 1 of this series, I shared some of the insights I derived from aspiring coaches regarding their fears and apprehensions with the coaching experience and process. My experience brought to light that even with all the tips, tools and techniques that a coach can aspire to possess, a major barrier to the coaching process and experience is the confidence and reservations of the coaches themselves.
In this blog, I want to talk about another dimension to coaching. Thus far, we have seen coaching as an important tool that managers can use to improve the performance of their team. However, the onus of coaching need not lie with the team manager alone. What’s more? It SHOULD NOT lie with the managers alone, either. We must remember that coaching (in the professional context) entails helping an individual on a personal level as well as helping them perform as team members.
Who better to understand the team’s dynamics than members of the team who work together on a regular basis? The opportunity to coach peers is one that comes along every day, however, most of us rarely take up this responsibility. Perhaps it is the lack of authority or recognition, or the inability to identify and accept such an opportunity that keeps us from coaching others. However, coaching is synonymous with helping, a crucial due diligence to be performed by every member of the team.
If one were to look at the traits it takes to be a good coach, it is evident that these traits are not alluded simply to managers and leaders. They are basic human characteristics that do not understand an individual’s professional standing. Therefore, it begs the question – if you possess these traits, why are you not using them? Consequently, if you lack in certain traits, why are you not doing anything to develop them?
Let’s take a step back. A preliminary concept already exists – peer coaching. The concept of ‘peer coaching’ has been popular for decades, and with good reason. Research shows that peer coaching can help drive performance, boost employee engagement and develop future leaders. A study conducted by Quantum Workplace found that employees who experience peer coaching are eight percent more engaged than employees who don’t.
However, my problem with this concept is that is it strictly limited to developing knowledge and technical capabilities, i.e., there seems to be a stigma or fear in helping peers develop beyond what is necessary for a job for fear that it may jeopardize one’s own chances of growth. After all, the corporate world is often equated to a jungle, the motto of which remains ‘survival of the fittest’.
It isn’t that simple, though. As John Donne once said, ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…’ In saying this, Donne wanted to convey a simple message – we need to work together to make things happen, and this isn’t always as simple as identifying the weakest member of the team to help them get stronger.
Often, the challenge need not be with capability at all. It could have to do with confidence and motivation, which is another reason that peer coaching is likely to be more effective than having someone else, a manager included, be our coach. It is human nature to feel more comfortable with someone who we can relate to. Often, this is the person we consider our equal.
Being a team player also means taking an interest and actively helping team members bring out the best in themselves. If that means that we must invest some time and effort into coaching our peers, then so be it. And this is rarely without reward. Peer coaching shows leadership, accountability, influencing abilities and ownership. Even if leadership doesn’t recognize this now, peer coaching helps in building character and capabilities. Sooner or later, it is going to give us big returns.
So, what does it take to be a peer coach?
Offer to help.
As peer who work together on a regular basis, we are likely to have better insight into the personal attributes, areas of struggle, and conditions that our team members are dealing with. We often see team members struggling with something – could be a mental block, or challenges with prioritization, difficult clients, or even personal barriers that prevent them from performing efficiently on the job.
Often, we recognize these challenges because we have been in similar situations ourselves, and our ability to be empathetic is high. Therefore, we are better poised to relate to our team members and offer them an environment that supports positivity. All it requires is a simple, genuine gesture of offering to help.
Pitfall – In an overzealous move to help and support, we can come across as forceful. Help can go a long way, but only so long as the other person is willing to accept it. Recognizing the problem as a third person and understanding that there is a problem as the person at the centre of it are two different things. Just because I have realized that you have a problem doesn’t mean that you have realized it or are willing to accept it yourself. Nobody appreciates a holier-than-thou or a know-it-all attitude. So, if someone doesn’t want your help, take a step back, but make sure you keep a close eye on them. They will either solve their problem or ask for help at some point in the future, where you can appropriately step in.
Trust is the most important part of any coaching relationship. To be able to help an individual, they must trust you. Therefore, before attempting to coach someone, you must identify the degree of closeness and comfort that the person feels towards you, and how much they trust you. This is important as trust is the foundation of every strong relationship.
This may not be an easy task, but it isn’t impossible either. Author David Maister, in his book, ‘The Trusted Advisor’ illustrated an equation that could potentially help us assess our trustworthiness, as perceived by another person, to help build strong relationships.
- Credibility is established in the words we speak. Are we being honest and transparent? Do we have something to say that the other person can learn from and/or relate to?
- Reliability is established in our actions. Are we able to walk the talk? Are we coming across as genuine and consistent?
- Intimacy is established in the level of safety and security that a potential coachee feels when engaging with us. Are we able to make the other person feel comfortable with us? Does the other person feel like they can open up to us?
To be considered highly trustworthy, it is important that our levels of credibility, reliability and intimacy with the other person are high.
Finally, self-orientation refers to where our focus lies. Are we more focused on our own wants, desires and expectations? Do we let ourselves get distracted when building meaningful relationships with others? Are we able to display genuine interest in the team member we are coaching? To be considered highly trustworthy, it is important that our self-orientation is low.
Pitfall – Don’t assume that just because you work together and may talk to each other while at work that the person you are attempting to help trusts you with their problems. While you may share office gossip with each other, eat lunch together and know of each other’s weekend plans, that doesn’t mean that your potential coachee will trust you with their problems. Remember, it is engrained in many of us to not display our weaknesses or struggles at work for fear that it may impact our career growth.
It is also important to remember that the coaching conversation is not about the coach, rather the person being coached.
When deciding to coach anybody, we go on their journey with them. This is especially true when coaching peers, as their mental state and performance can directly impact our goals at work. Any win for our coachee is a win for us and the larger team, business unit and organization we both belong to. Therefore, ensuring that we take accountability for any struggles and fallouts that our team members endue is crucial.
Pitfall – When we take accountability for someone, it is human tendency to want control. In a coaching relationship, however, we do not get control as coaches. Our role is to give guidance and act as safety nets or cheerleaders, ready on the sidelines for every failure as well as success. It is important to constantly keep ourselves in check, because our instinct to take over and control the situation can take over. Don’t let it. Practice self-awareness and, more importantly, self-control.
Ask. Don’t answer.
The logical/rational parts of our brain always know the solution to any challenge we may face. Unfortunately, in the midst of unpleasant, tough and emotional experiences, emotions take over. For as long as we allow emotions to control us, we are not going to be able to solve any problem. This is true for all human beings. As coaches, it is our responsibility to talk down the heightened emotions our team members are facing.
The best way to do this is to facilitate their realization of the emotions they are feeling, allowing them to clear their head off the emotional fog that has overtaken them. Once they are thinking more clearly, it is far easier to talk them through the situation logically and help them arrive at a solution. Remember – the key word here is HELP. Our team members need to put in the effort to overcome the challenges they face.
This can be a difficult task for both the coach as well as team members. But look at it this way – when are you more likely to accept or believe something? Is it when someone tells you about it or when you come to the realization yourself?
Pitfall – It is human nature to want to provide answers. We establish a powerful coaching relationship with someone partially because we come across as credible. Our team members may see us as a source of all the answers, and often, they may also want us to just give them all the answers or solve their problems entirely. This is not fruitful. There is no learning, as a result, no evolution. Coaches are not problem solvers. We are support systems that provide guidance and support. So, as painful as it may be to bite our tongues and watch someone close suffer, giving them the answers to their problems is far more detrimental.
Coaching, by no means is easy, but it is necessary, as illustrated in Part 1 of this series. Off all the people that can potentially coach someone, peers tend to have the most success. As peers, we are more aware of our team members’ personalities, needs, desires, motivations and the challenges they face. Therefore, establishing a trust-based relationship which facilitates the coaching experience is far easier as well. Keeping in mind the aforementioned elements guarantees a successful coaching relationship, a more cohesive team, higher morale, and, ultimately, greater performance. The most important thing to remember through it all is to keep judgement out of it. Just because we are coaching someone doesn’t make us better than them. It simply puts us in a position to help someone, who might return the favor in the future. After all, belief in someone can go a long way, with many unexpected rewards.
In part 3 of this series, we will look at the impact that belief can have in the coaching process, coaching experience, and most importantly coachee confidence and performance.