Coaching is about development. The best coaches provide executives with skills, information and opportunities to increase their effectiveness. Their goal is to help executives develop themselves by being with them over the long term to guide their learning, practicing, and retention of new capabilities. Coaches give feedback, encourage risk-taking, and support managers when they struggle. The essential value of coaching is teaching clients to develop themselves by getting maximum learning from their experiences. Coaching Is Not…
Confused? You have lots of company. Coaching is notoriously vague - sort of a “black box” to most executives; intangible and hard to evaluate or measure. Perhaps it is worth a minute to clarify what coaching is not. Coaching is not mentoring. Mentors offer perspective, insight and understanding from their own personal experience. Coaches find experiences to put their clients in so the clients learn. Coaching is not a final, desperate step to rehabilitate weak performers. It is best leveraged with good performers who want to be better. Coaching is not psychotherapy or problem solving. A coach identifies strengths and potential in the client and then works to develop them. True, problems are solved and gaps are filled - but more as a byproduct of coaching. Coaching is not just for boosting individual performance – it can make groups of executives more skilled, integrated, and aligned. Coaching is not 2 people having a formal meeting every 6 to 12 months. Ideally, it is consistent - a partnership with frequent, natural contact that focuses forward on what the client needs next. Coaching is not a trendy, flavor of the month management technique. Smart executives have used coaching for decades to cope with change, competition and other challenges. Why Use It?
Most experts agree - coaching adds value in a few situations. First, with executives who need to stretch and get more from their high potential. People in this category are hard to notice since they meet their goals and seem comfortable – but a danger is that they may get bored and look for better opportunities. Second, executives may need new skills or techniques to keep their performance up. Examples in this group are ineffective workers and people starting a new and demanding assignment. Third, because of market forces like downsizing, growth, and more demanding customers, even high performing executives will often have to shift direction to fit a new business strategy. Their well-developed skills can be outdated in months or even weeks. Choose Carefully
As a buyer, beware. Anyone can memorize buzzwords to sound good and then appoint himself a “coach”. This is particularly easy when there is no single coaching method that is widely accepted and applied by leaders and managers. So use the same common sense you would in choosing a doctor, lawyer, architect, or other professional. Take your time and be selective – it’s a buyers’ market. Start with basics – examine the person’s credentials as an executive and as a coach. Evaluate their management training (e.g. MBA) and executive work experience. Likewise, given the interpersonal nature of coaching, verify degrees, licensure and certification in disciplines like psychiatry, psychology or counseling. Check for membership in related professional groups. Next, interview and talk with your prospective coach - see how comfortable you feel. Can you be open and even brutally honest with this person? Is his/her only objective in the relationship your success? Coaches may offer free initial sessions to help answer your concerns. Take advantage of these and ask for references. Get a sense of the coach’s philosophy and approach, and pin down his/her policies for working with clients (e.g., pricing, billing, scheduling). The Process
There are too many different philosophies and tactics labeled as “coaching” to list here. Some are valid and some aren’t. So it may help to remember a few fundamental tasks of the coach and the client. Effective coaches build trust and understanding so clients will be motivated to develop. They encourage commitment and persistence in their clients – it is tough to learn new behaviors and tougher to stick with them until they feel comfortable. Much of the burden in coaching falls on the client. Besides their energy and drive, clients need to bring 1) focus and clarity about their goals, 2) action – a commitment to do something every day, week, etc., 3) reflection – analyzing what is happening and what they are learning, 4) openness – to internalize feedback coming from the coach, and 5) synthesis – taking what they learn and applying it to move forward. Results
Coaches benefit clients, their organizations, and themselves – if they are selected and managed skillfully. Executives want more effectiveness and satisfaction at work - and not just from the passage of time. They want to compete better. They know in the current business environment they need to learn continuously and change - or risk losing their value. Coaching can be their catalyst – keeping managers from stagnating or relying on experience alone for improvement. Organizations, as you hear so often, have to ‘redesign’ themselves and cannot be satisfied with the status quo. Profitability now doesn’t guarantee survival tomorrow. People are indeed the best strategic asset – but only if they develop and change faster than the competitor’s. Good coaching builds adaptiveness as well as competence, making businesses more resilient over time. Finally, you may wonder what coaches get out of coaching. Many are well intentioned, highly trained people who simply enjoy helping executives grow. They may also get vicarious satisfaction from their clients’ success. Clients often appreciate coaching support and later may help their coach in his/her own career. If a coach is part of the client’s organization then he could benefit directly from the client’s performance. And, of course, as he builds a reputation for helping executives grow – a coach attracts better talent to his firm.