Coaching has long been considered an essential skill of leadership.
In a classic study by the Harvard Business Review ("Leadership That Gets Results"), coaching was reported to have a "markedly positive impact on performance, culture and bottom line." But the report also noted that coaching is the least used leadership style.
The reason for a lack of coaching in the workplace isn't difficult to discern. "We don't have time. Coaching is slow and tedious work."
The study was completed in 2000, which was the year that email was just beginning to impact our schedules. The time was also pre-smartphones. Leaders' available time hasn't improved; it's getting worse. We are all stretched and looking for every opportunity to reduce meeting times.
The problem with coaching in leadership is that the existing training for leaders is minimal and rarely job specific. Leaders haven't learned how to coach effectively and the label is just another name for management.
I remember a time when I worked in broadcasting and visited many stations. In one visit, a salesperson was walking through the building very lethargic and seemingly despondent. When I asked him if I could help, he replied, "No, I just got coached." I began to hear the phrase often. "Getting coached" was code for getting corrected.
Many leaders report that their attempt to coach their team actually had a negative effect.
"I look forward to being more confused and less motivated after my coaching session with you."
The value of coaching today is that it can be highly effective and actually not be time-consuming (under 15 minutes). If coaching is a daily brief session, great progress can be made in several areas.
The real purpose of coaching is to help others achieve their full potential. Hard-nosed management is rarely developmental. Managers create co-dependence, become overwhelmed and eventually feel disconnected from their teams.
Coaching is an intentional process to create better outcomes without giving advice. A coaching session should be structured around questions and inquiry. Leaders may know answers and be able to provide advice but a coach allows a worker to explore a process and improve along the way.
There is certainly a time for telling and direct conversations. But let's not call that coaching.
Here's a starter question designed to help you begin a coaching session:
"What's important right now?" Listen and refrain from giving an answer to problem statements. Let the answer emerge with follow-up questions and true engagement. Create focus, be open and help your team find answers without telling.
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"When the day began to end, the twelve came and said to Him, 'Send the crowds away, so they can go into the towns and surrounding countryside and lodge and get food. For we are in a deserted place here.' He said to them, 'You give them something to eat.' They said, 'We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.' There were about five thousand men. But He said to His disciples, 'Make them sit down in groups of fifty'" (Luke 9:12:14).
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