Happy new year, everyone!
The start of a new year spells new beginnings – we make resolutions and take vows on how we expect to perform in the new year. It is a time of hope, high spirit and an opportunity to reflect on what has transpired in the previous year. Many organizations have now entered the final quarter of their financial year, many are just starting a new financial year and many others are somewhere in between. Nevertheless, now is a good time for teams and leaders to engage in coaching conversations, performance reviews and discussions on the way forward.
Coaching, today, has become a popular investment in organizations. Senior leadership places it high on their agenda, to facilitate 10x growth for the organization. And why not! After all, there is substantial research to support the benefit of effective coaching conversations to organizations:
- According to Bersin by Deloitte, organizations where senior leaders coach effectively and frequently record a 21% improvement in business results,
- A Gallup study on coaching says that coaching average performers can improve overall productivity by 19%, and
- The International Coach Federation found that 86% of organizations that invested in coaching report having recovered their investment in coaching
There is no debate that coaching is beneficial and necessary. Which is why a large chunk of organizations, both big and small are investing time, money and effort into:
- developing leaders at all levels through coaching, and
- coaching leaders to become coaches themselves.
While organizations are finding ways and means to quantify and formalize the coaching process and impact measures, there is a massive ground reality that often doesn’t get considered or highlighted. If not for the opportunity to facilitate the development of managers as coaches, this reality would have much likely evaded me for longer as well.
What exactly am I talking about?
In October 2019, I spent several weeks with first time and middle-level managers of a large telecommunications company. The agenda of this engagement was to help these individuals with a manager tag not just lead their teams, but also coach them to realize their potential and deliver greater performance. This program was aptly titled ‘Manager as a Coach’. Their organization felt that the best people to coach employees are their managers, the people who:
- lead and work with these employees on a regular basis,
- observe and understand the team members, and
- extract the most value out of the employees
The learning program aimed to help managers understand the coaching process, how to effectively take part in it, and help them separate their roles as managers from that of coaches.
During the program, we encountered many of the concerns and assumptions that we had anticipated and prepared for:
- Managers believe that they already engage in coaching conversations with their team members and do so effectively,
- Managers believe that they are thoroughly aware of their team members strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and fears,
- Managers think that coaching their team members means solving their team members’ problems,
- Managers believe that only the low or none performing team members need to be coached, i.e., coaching is primarily for correcting behavior
The program that we facilitated for these managers effectively addressed and corrected these assumptions, but that is not why I write this post today.
During this program, I was able to engage with the participants and understand their individual challenges and fears. As L&D professionals, instructional designers, HR teams or even managers, this kind of information is rarely brought to our attention.
What’s this elusive information, you may ask?
While coaching is placed high on the leadership agenda, the consensus among the participants in the workshop was that the coaching mindset and behavior are not cascaded down.
Often, individuals being groomed to become impactful coaches for their team members do not have managers who coach them for greater performance, sparking off other challenges and fears:
- How do you motivate your team when you don’t receive positive reinforcement from your manager, or your own morale is down?
- How do you develop your teams’ skills when your leaders are mostly concerned with KRAs, targets and getting the job done no matter what?
- How do you expend energy on developing and improving team performance when the leaders’ answer is to replace a team member in favor of someone “better” or “more competent”?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this. What is true of high performance is that it a harmonious union of high skill and high morale. Every individual who has the necessary skillsets to accomplish something and the motivation to do it will do well. What is common for coaches and leaders is that both must work towards improving and maintaining employee skill and morale to ensure high performance. It is merely their approach that differs.
The other truth that coaches and leaders share is that no one is a born leader or a born coach. These are capabilities that we much work towards exhibiting correctly and improving. While there are certain coaching traits we all possess in varying degrees, they aren’t always exhibited, either because:
- We don’t want to – this is called preference,
- We don’t even know we can – this is called a blind spot, or
- We don’t know how to – this is called a learning curve
Having a great manager who is also a great coach helps us become better coaches ourselves. For those of us who feel that our managers aren’t even good coaches, we can still take away from them everything we should not be doing to become great coaches.
The challenge that people leaders face is that while they manage the expectations of the people reporting to them, they must also manage the expectations of the people they report to. While we manage emotions, expectations, motivations, skills, and careers, which are in our control, there also exist an unforeseeable number of external variables that we have absolutely no control over. These variables make it exponentially more difficult for managers to do their jobs well. Add to that the fact that you may not feel very motivated yourself at the moment, but that personal feeling cannot be taken out on others.
Being a manager who is also a coach is not easy. It can rank among the most difficult jobs that a person will ever do, considering that there are so many variables involved, most that are outside our control. A manager who plays the role of a coach has limited control. Why is this important to highlight? Because, in such a case, it is important that we take complete reins over that which we do control – our own responses.
Imagine this – You have set up a coaching conversation with a team member for today evening. Earlier in the day, you were part of a presentation that went horribly wrong. From there, everything went downhill, leaving you agitated.
This is only one of several scenarios that we face as managers daily. You recognize these scenarios by how they make you feel – tired, agitated, frustrated and/or demotivated. As coaches, however, how we manage our response to these scenarios can make or break our credibility as coaches and the trust that our team members have in us as their coach. Thinking about the possible responses to this situation, one would:
- Cancel the coaching conversation or push it to another time,
- Show up to the coaching conversation and, consciously or unconsciously, take out their agitation on the team member being coached, or
- The ideal situation – put aside one’s own personal feelings in favor of the coaching conversation.
Now, what is likely to be the outcome of each response?
- Cancel or reschedule:
A coaching conversation has been scheduled to meet a specific goal or address a specific agenda, most often a performance issue. This is a time-sensitive activity and must be addressed at the earliest to ensure that performance is not compromised with.
At the same time, a coaching conversation often deals with fears and anxieties from the team member being coached, either because of a lack of clarity around why they need to have a coaching conversation or because they have some deep-rooted fears that they want to address so that they may perform better.
Canceling or rescheduling such a crucial activity is unfair to the team member as well as the organization, both of whom are looking for a resolution to the problem at hand.
2. Displace emotions:
A coaching conversation can be a very delicate situation to manage, as emotion can run amok. As coaches, we need to be patient and remove our own emotions and opinions from the process. In other words, the team member being coached must be at the centre of the coaching conversation.
Of course, coaches are people, with emotions. It isn’t fair on coaches to have their emotions disregarded. Having said that, there is a time and place for each person to express and let out emotions. A coaching conversation is neither the time nor the place for a coach to do so. Any feelings and opinions a coach has that are detrimental to the coaching conversation must be left at the metaphoric door. The team members being coached don’t deserve their coach’s displaced negative emotions.
3. Actively engage:
This is the ideal state for an effective coaching conversation, one where a coach can keep his/her feelings and thoughts aside, keep an open mind, listen patiently and actively, and respond appropriately to the situation at hand.
Many times, this is easy to do. When you’re having a good day or your energy is up, it is easier to spread warmth and joy. The loophole here is if a coach is able to do this all the time. Irrespective of your state of mind, body, and being, can you ensure that you give the team members you coach the same experience every time?
A coach’s relationship with the people s/he coaches is sacred. We trust our coaches and expect certain things from them. This is what brings us comfort and confidence to be open and honest in the coaching conversation, enabling it’s effectiveness.
The element of surprise has little space in coaching experience. Surprise, while exciting, can also be extremely nerve-wracking. The comfort an individual gets in routine is important to alleviate the anxiety around surprise and focus on the more pressing issues.
Consistently behaving in a positive manner, one that benefits the person you are coaching, and the coaching experience is the ideal situation to be in, and one to aspire for.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that coaching is about relationships, rapport and trust. Team members being coached deserve consistency and continuity from their coach – YOU. Therefore, as coaches, we cannot allow our own feelings, thoughts and opinions to interfere or cloud our interaction and the goal in front of us – coaching our team members towards performance.
‘So, what do we do?’ you must be wondering, and I don’t blame you! There are so many complexities and so much ambiguity in the process. So, let’s quickly recap:
- Coaching is crucial and high on the leadership agenda
- Coaches aren’t born, and there are multiple traits that make for a great coach
- A manager who is also a coach must balance the expectations of the team as well as his/her own manager/s
- Team members who need/want to be coached come first, not the whims and priorities of the coach
- Coaches need to manage their own anxieties and motivation issues while managing their team members’ performance and obstacles
Most importantly, coaches must be consistent.
We’ve already established that like, leaders, coaches aren’t born. There is also no single kind of coach that is the best. Different people need a different kinds of coaches. Therefore, coaching behavior also requires us to flex our styles to suit the needs of the person we coach.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) recognizes 11 core competencies of great coaches:
There are certain traits that support these behaviors/competencies. Harrison Assessments’ SmartQuestionnaire, which dives deep into behavioral preferences of people and provides insights into strengths and stress responses, measures 175 traits. Their behavioral competency analysis for coaching outlines seven essential, fifteen desirable and six avoidable traits for coaches to exhibit.
How is any of this information relevant or helpful?
No two coaches are alike, and coaches need to maintain consistency in their coaching behavior. Understanding the traits that make for a good coach – one’s strength, weakness and preference of behavior – helps us create our coaching personality. In other words, what do you think you need to do to be a good coach?
Identifying the traits you think will make you a great coach is the first step to actually becoming a good coach. Let’s break down this process:
Applying this model looks something like this:
Andrea’s coaching competencies and trait preference assessments gave her the following results:
Steps One and Two of the process are now complete. To establish and sustain coaching persona, Andrea must now decide whether these are the traits and capabilities she wants to display during a coaching conversation with a team member. Let’s assume that she has decided that her assessment results are what she wants to define her as a coach.
Now let’s move on the step three – Activities Checklist.
Below is a sample of what your coaching checklist could look like. Bear in mind that this is a self-reflection of your performance in the coaching conversation, not an evaluation of your ability as a coach.
While the coaching conversation is about the team member being coached, the coach places a very important role in the process. Therefore, it is imperative for the coach to create such a checklist to gauge their own performance in the coaching conversation. This is an important activity, because, remember, you are coaching people who report to you.
Whether you like it or not, no matter how good a relationship you think you have with your team members, there is always an invisible line between friend and manager. For fear of how their words may reflect on their promotions and career growth, your team members aren’t always going to be entirely honest with you.
Therefore, as a coach, you will have to spend some time reflecting on your own performance as a coach and think about what you can do better to add more value to the conversation. But remember, this checklist is an iterative process, so ensure that you constantly update it based on your own capabilities and the needs of the team member you coach.
And, finally, we come to step four – Implementation
This is the trickiest part of the coaching exercise. You can implement the steps and techniques but measuring the performance and improvements can be difficult. To accurately understand how the coaching conversation is going and how you are faring as a coach, you need objective measures and feedback. Since you establish SMART goals as part of the coaching process, the coachee’s progress is far easier to measure. But how do you measure your performance as a coach in an objective and realistic manner?
One way to do it is by asking the coachee for feedback. That, unfortunately, is not entirely accurate as it is riddled with biases and the coachee’s frame of mind. Self-reflection activities also may face a similar fate. This is not to say that these ways of measurement should be completely written off. Of course not! They are just better suited for more seasoned coaches.
New or inexperienced coaches require a little bit more handholding. Think of it as coaching for coaches – a means to practice coaching ability in a safe environment without severe real-world implications, with real-time, objective feedback on performance. You could have a real-life coach do this for you, or you could turn to digital technologies to enable this at an accelerated manner.
At KNOLSKAPE, we believe in immersive business simulations to help leaders accelerate capabilities. Among our repository of world-class simulations is the Coaching Simulation, designed to help leaders learn and implement the essentials of coaching, motivate their teams and master the nuances of dealing with emotions of team members.
Watch coaching simulation video
Simulations have proven to be a surefire way for demonstrable mindset change and improved business performance. This is true for all KNOLSKAPE simulations, coaching simulation included.
If you’re interested to explore Coaching or any of KNOLSKAPE’s other simulations, click here.