Are you an independent professional coach? An organizational coach? Or are you a senior manager who would like to use coaching more effectively? If you are the latter, this article is particularly for you.
Manager and coach
A while back Executive Central conducted an interview with Professor Sydney Finklestein, author of Superbosses. He said that superior leaders take a coaching approach to their roles as supervisors.
They develop master-apprentice relationships, with a coaching and mentoring approach that is both high touch and high delegation.
I want to say upfront that, as opposed to independent coaching (running your own business) and organisational coaching (have a designated role as coach in an organisation), coaching your direct reports as a senior manager or leader provides one of the more challenging contexts for coaching.
Why is manager as coach so hard?
Why do I think this? The independent or organizational coach wears only a coaching hat with their client, so neutrality, confidentiality and accountability are clearly understood, or should be. With the senior manager, it’s different.
If you are coaching someone you also manage, it’s difficult (almost impossible) to be truly neutral. Building trust in this situation requires a high level of coaching skill. The senior manager as coach needs a sophisticated understanding of what coaching is – and isn’t. He or she also needs a clear situational awareness. When is it appropriate to take a coaching approach? For what purpose? For how long? And how should it be done?
What is your purpose?
Traditional and directive performance coaching is in general about giving and receiving feedback (on performance), delegating, teaching and setting objectives. ‘On the job’ skills based training comes into this category, as might regular performance management processes. As manager, you are ultimately in the box seat, in terms of power relations.
On the other hand, directive and developmental coaching is about asking good questions; listening; challenging; standing back and coming forwards; and holding the space so that the coachee can explore the issue and come to a solution. This takes restraint on your part! There’s risk involved, but the pay off is huge. Non-directive developmental coaching, for example leadership or career coaching, assumes that the person has enough potential competence and motivation to develop successfully, and can find answers within themselves. So there's a stepping back in terms of managerial authority.
Both directive and non-directive coaching are valuable. I've teased out the differences but there is easily overlap. For you as manager it's a matter of knowing and communicating which you are doing.
What does coaching look like?
As well as the skills mentioned above, coaching may sometimes look like telling, teaching, mentoring, facilitating, consulting, delegating, instructing, counseling, disciplining, chatting, advising, or supporting. Check out our Four Hats model as a mud map of what we do as coaches.
When should you put on that coaching hat?
Don't hijack people. Only put on a coaching hat after gaining agreement from the coachee. Agreement presupposes that you have a shared understanding of what coaching is, what sort of coaching you ware enacting, and why you would like to do it.
I think it’s a good idea to identify that you are going into coaching mode. This is about scripting the conversation. “So, putting on my coaching hat for a few minutes…” or “Let’s spend the first 30 minutes of our meeting on the figures, and then do some coaching on team leadership.”
When not to coach
Coaching is a great way to develop staff and get everyone thinking for themselves. But there are times when you need to be directive in a managerial sense - (people want an answer from you, not just questions); or delegating (people just want you to tell them what needs doing and then let them get on with it); or supportive (just giving them encouragement and recognition for what they are already doing). If you're thinking Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership here, you're right!
Managers who are constantly in coaching mode can be very annoying! When the situation requires a different response - if there’s a fire alarm going off, or if you're just deciding what wine to get in for Xmas drinks - it’s not the time for coaching.
Frame the idea of coaching
I think it’s a great idea to have a team-training meeting where you explain about coaching, and about why and how you will be doing it from time to time. Explain how the coaching environment itself will be private, undisturbed and confidential, and how people can prepare and get the most out of it.
What will your coaching toolkit contain?
Deep listening skills are essential. This means active listening, asking good questions, paying authentic attention (put away the smart phone), knowing how to bring the conversation back to a future focus, and making the coachee accountable for taking action (this last one is actually easier if you are the manager).
But there’s a lot more to good coaching than this. I recommend that you develop your coaching skills by
· Getting some high quality coaching yourself – experience what it’s like as a recipient
· Doing some targeted reading and building up your tactical toolkit
· Practice, practice, practice.
I’ve been sounding a few notes of caution in this article. I hope I haven’t put you off. If you get it right, the benefits of building a coaching culture are fantastic. People are highly motivated by meaningful work and a sense of progress (Valcour 2014), and coaching helps with both. It creates a high level of engagement, motivation and productivity, ownership of problems and solutions, strong team relationships, and discretionary effort.