Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace
What is coaching?
Coaching is a way of encouraging and supporting someone to achieve a goal or to develop or acquire skills. The focus of coaching is the individual being coached (the coachee). The coach makes interventions to support the coachee to move forward and to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions. Although a coach need not have knowledge or expertise in any areas of their coachees’ work, they are skilled professionals trained in methods and processes that enable their coachees to develop and change positively.
A coach creates a particular energy when working with their coachees by being a non-judgemental listener and reflector of the ideas and issues that arise. They do not put forward their own ideas and suggestions during the coaching session. Instead, they remain totally convinced of the potential of those they coach. This enables the coachees to discover and explore hidden areas and to build on their inherent ability for development. Coaching focuses, for the most part, on the present situation and future possibilities.
External coaches are asked to come into a company to improve individual and business performance. They may have no previous knowledge of the company concerned but are highly skilled in supporting behavioural change and understanding business processes. They may also hold qualifications or have experience in the following areas:
- & Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
- & Personality assessments.
- & Setting up 3608 feedback.
- & Managing change/acquisitions.
Internal coaches are those people who support their own staff or staff from other departments in the same organisation. They may be experienced in coaching or mentoring and may or may not have formal qualifications. An internal coach or mentor will also have knowledge about the successes, failures and challenges their organisation is facing. This can be a great advantage but may also get in the way of successful coaching, as you will see in later chapters.
One of the most common questions asked about coaching is how it differs from other interventions, such as mentoring, counselling and teaching. The following is a summary of the key differences.
While mentoring and coaching have moved closer over the past ten years, most people agree that a mentor acts as a guide who assists an individual to learn faster and more effectively than they might do alone. An effective mentor will use a range of skills and techniques to allow an individual to obtain a clearer picture of an organisation and their role in it. They may give advice and direction and are usually experienced in their mentees’ work.
They encourage questions and help their mentees to build up a sense of how their mentees’ careers might develop. In this way a vision of what is possible may emerge for the mentee, and they gain confidence in their role and a renewed sense of purpose. A mentor can be particularly helpful for people new to a role or for those looking to gain knowledge and skills from a more experienced colleague.
Counsellors and therapists explore specific, deeper, underlying personal issues and problems. They are trained to use interventions that go to the heart of an issue. Because these issues can be greatly influenced by events in the past, counsellors often look beyond the individual for a solution. In direct contrast to coaching, they avoid putting the burden of responsibility for the problems onto the individual. Instead they use skills and interventions that enable the individual to view things from a different perspective. They encourage people to move forward positively using a range of specialised techniques.
Coaches/mentors should be very aware of when a session is moving into personal, psychological and emotional areas and should maintain strong boundaries. Some coaches may be trained in psychology, psychotherapy or counselling. In this case they may draw on their skills and knowledge in a coaching situation.
However, it is important that they clarify with their coachee when they are moving into a therapeutic area/role and gain their coachee’s agreement before proceeding in this direction. Generally it is not advisable to move into this second role even when professionally trained – usually a referral to a therapist is a better option. Sometimes coaching may cease so that the person can have therapeutic treatment, but it is possible for someone to be receiving both coaching and counselling concurrently.
Coaching is not appropriate when a client has any of the following:
- & Experience of trauma, or physical, mental or sexual abuse.
- & Addictions, dependencies or misuse (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.).
- & Serious health issues, such as anorexia.
- & Indications of mental illness, such as severe depression or phobias.
TEACHING AND TRAINING
Teaching and training are similar in that the teacher or trainer is seen as the expert sharing their knowledge and/or skills with the individuals they are instructing. The methods of teaching and training vary and, at best, are interactive and participative, giving those under instruction the chance to practise.
Many of the skills used in teaching and training can be employed when coaching. Teachers and managers find that coaching comes relatively easily to them as they are used to dealing with people in a variety of situations. The only difficulty is, as they put it, ‘Taking off their own knowledge hats’ or ‘Stopping themselves from trying to fix it for people’.
A consultant is called in when you need expert advice and guidance in a field where you have little or no knowledge. A business consultant will be experienced and knowledgeable in a variety of areas that may include, among others:
- & setting up systems and processes;
- & information technology and data protection;
- & finance and financial systems;
- & employment law and legislation.
A consultant will share expertise, instruct managers and staff and visit regularly over a set period of time in order to support the implementation of any of the above.
WHY IS COACHING SO VALUABLE?
Coaching is widely recognised as being of value and importance to most organisations. At its best it recognises and encourages every individual’s growth and potential. It provides a safe space where individuals can explore areas that may otherwise remain just out of reach. Coaching supplies the challenge and support people need to face up to and to explore their undiscovered potential.
‘One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. _(Andre´ Gi’de)
Coaching enables people to discover their strengths, to concentrate on areas for development and to learn from their mistakes. It motivates them to move forward in their role, and to take responsibility for their goals and actions. It discourages the command and control method of management and, instead, nurtures and draws out each individual’s hidden talent and skills. Perhaps you can remember a time when you were involved in some kind of activity that stretched you beyond your own limits. You may have achieved something that at first appeared impossible. At school you may recall having a teacher who encouraged you to learn and pass an exam, despite feeling that you would surely fail. To be an effective coach, it is essential to believe in the potential of your staff allowing individuals to be heard and appreciated. This will have an amazing impact on their self-esteem and, ultimately, on their personal growth and job performance.
‘Coaching is an activity designed to improve performance . . . and coaching in the work place must involve turning work situations into learning opportunities as this is increasingly seen as an important part of what it is to manage. _(John Whitmore in Brealey, 20’02)
‘[Coaching involves] developing a person’s skills and knowledge so that their job performance improves, hopefully leading to achievement of organisational objectives. It targets high performance and improvement at work, although it may have an impact on an individual’s private life. It usually lasts for a short period and focuses on skills and goals’. _(Jarvis et al., 20’06)
Coaching skills can also be used to introduce a more collaborative approach to:
- & appraisals;
- & performance management;
- & action learning; and
- & meetings and group discussions.
A real advantage of coaching is that it encourages a person to focus on their strengths as well as areas for development. It enables individuals to challenge beliefs about themselves that may be holding them back. It can open a closed door and can release people from self-imposed restrictions. It gives people the permission to move forward in the way that is right for them.
Coaching is of value, therefore, because it promotes:
- & increased confidence and self-awareness;
- & enhanced emotional intelligence;
- & effective resolution to issues and challenges;
- & business/personal growth and career advancement;
- & better decision-making and clarity around goals;
- & improved time and stress management; and
- & enhanced verbal and non-verbal communication skills (adapted from Association for Coaching, 2006).
THE BENEFITS OF COACHING: SOME EXAMPLES
In 1999, as an ex-BBC radio broadcaster, I was asked to coach programme presenters at the BBC for them to gain confidence when tendering for new programme slots. The then Director General, Greg Dyke, was very open to creating a coaching culture. His vision was to ‘make the BBC the most creative organisation in the world’. Today the BBC has forward-thinking leaders who have embraced and spread a culture of coaching throughout the organisation (see Chapter 17).
This has had a very positive effect on the way the BBC has handled the changes that have taken place within the organisation. Their leadership coaches have regular coaching supervision and have learnt to work more collaboratively. This has promoted an atmosphere of trust and openness among the staff and a willingness to learn from their mistakes. One-to-one coaching sessions and group coaching are carried out on a regular basis, thus helping staff to feel supported and valued.
Another example of where coaching has had an impact is a special needs school in London, where a coaching culture has been adopted by training senior staff to be workplace coaches. All professional conversations now take on a supportive coaching style, and one-to-one confidential coaching sessions have been set up for all who request them. As a result, the staff feel supported and this has increased motivation. This atmosphere of openness and trust extends to the classroom and meetings with parents, and it has had an immense impact on teaching and learning within the school.
Mentoring has also been a vital part of the programme as teachers new to their roles have benefited from having the advice and experience of more senior staff. Within two years, the school has gone from floundering at the bottom of the league tables to becoming a high-performing institution.
During the one-to-one voluntary coaching sessions, the following areas were identified as being particularly suited to coaching:
- & Supporting and motivating staff.
- & Staff setting and achieving their own development goals.
- & Performance appraisals.
- & Planning and structuring lessons.
- & Professional coaching conversations following classroom observation.
- & Solving problems.
- & Communicating with colleagues and parents.
- & Effective delegation.
‘The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. _(Marcel Pro’ust)
At Upstream Connections (a web-design and optimisation company in Sussex), coaching sessions from an external coach were set up. This was initially for the four department managers on a regular fortnightly basis over 12 months. The main focus of the coaching was to support the newly-promoted managers in their roles.
After the coaching programme, the managers identified the following as particularly useful:
- & Developing themselves as managers through the one-to-one sessions.
- & Unlocking areas of expertise and enhancing existing skills.
- & The importance of effective delegation.
- & Improved communication between individuals and departments.
- & Feeling valued and supported.
As a result, the company has encouraged members of staff to adopt a coaching style of management. It feels this will result in more effective meetings, more motivated staff and enhanced performance. It also realised that its staff turnover was greatly reduced when people felt valued and supported. It has saved considerably on recruitment costs, and staff have taken charge of their own learning and development as a result of the coaching. To become an effective coach, therefore, requires a great many skills, not least of which are the skills of an effective leader.