Who is your coach?
A great question to ask anyone who is (or who wants to be) a leader is to ask them one simple question: “Who is your coach”?
The question reveals a lot about the person and their thinking on flexibility, adaptability, help-seeking and personal growth focus thinking. All of which can be critical in the role of leader. Sportspeople, entertainers and performers all rely on coaching to improve their performance, and keep them at the top of their games – which is exactly what we need from our business leaders.
In business, we need our staff and our leaders to be able to step up and play their biggest games. We know that the organisation that is demonstrating high performance is doing so because its people are not only surviving, but thriving on the challenges of the workplace, are deeply engaged and seeking to make a difference.
However, even with the best of intentions and the greatest capacity, leaders may not be leveraging their full potential. It is here that performance coaching is recognised as an excellent investment. Although ‘coaching’ sometimes gets a bad rap (more on this later), coaching is seen as an efficient and effective way to shift people to higher performance, often creating new habit patterns and breaking out of old, unhelpful ones.
So, who is your coach?
What is ‘coaching’?
Look on the Internet or in any number of books, and the definition of what coaching ‘is’ can become quite confused. For me, coaching is a practical tool to enhance performance. Put simply, my definition of coaching is “any process which helps an Individual speed up their rate of adaptation.”
This assumes that the person being coached has inherent skills and capabilities, that they have a measure of potential and that, in the current scenario that they find themselves in, there are different skills, processes and practices which could lead to more effective and efficient outcomes.
If we assume that, given time, resources and skill development, people can ‘step up’ in their circumstances, then coaching is simply a matter of assisting them do it more efficiently and effectively. If we allow people to adapt without support, it can waste time, energy, motivation, performance and results as they find their own way there. Coaching, by the above definition, simply helps them make this adaptation at a faster rate, minimising the cost and maximising the benefit as the individual (or team) fulfils their potential more efficiently and effectively.
We see that people often receive coaching when there is a remedial need (a ‘problem’ with their performance is identified) or when there is a developmental need (a person is recognised as having particular potential. Between these poles lies the normal search for performance. In fact, these three examples demonstrate the gap that great coaching focuses on. In remedial coaching, the person has performance issues in a known circumstance. In development coaching, the individual has not experienced the circumstance. In ongoing coaching, we recognise that the circumstance is always changing, and that there is opportunity to achieve more, more effectively in the context of evolution in the circumstance and the person within it.
The context in which someone works is constantly evolving: new work tasks are given, different politics, team structures, hierarchies, challenges and new ways of working are all common features of an evolving workplace. If a person receives a promotion, if they are handed a new project, have to manage a new team- then their context is changed. In each circumstance, they will have to adapt to this altered circumstance as best they can, operating at high performance for the benefit of themselves, the team and the organisation.
Coaching also provides an external perception, often with objective evidence, to allow a leader to reflect on what they are doing / will do, and to draw deeper insight to make better decisions. It also allows individuals to feel connected to a resource, as leaders often cannot share or have discussions on certain topics (relational and political issues) with their peers, as they directly involve them. It can be ‘lonely at the top’, and a great coach can help a leader balance their views and perceptions and improve their performance.
In summary, coaching, in helping the individual adapt to provide highest performance, makes this adaptive process more efficient and effective, helping the person deliver more of their potential to achieve better results.
What are the critical features of high performance coaching?
If you want ‘life coaching’ and counselling, that is one thing. However, in leadership we need to develop all facets of ourselves (including both business and personal dimensions) to allow us to achieve higher performance. High performance coaching for a leader has some specific characteristics which help it deliver upon its promise:
- It is goal oriented, discovering and applying performance improvements within the context of things the client wants to achieve – with achievement being the goal.
- It uses appreciative enquiry and gap analysis to define useful strategies and tactics.
- It uses accountability, experimentation, measurement and review.
- It uses mentoring and coaching in a seamless process
- It recognises subjective and objective evidence in the process
- It explores focal, adaptive, engaging, relational and building processes and practices that can help the leader improve their performance.
- It explores behavioural and cognitive skills, and builds processes for these to be developed into positive habits and attributes
- It aims for consistent application of goal behaviours (learned in context, applied across context).
- Is confidential, and allows deeper personal reflection and development to be part of the process.
- Is flexible to the coachee, in terms of style, delivery, timing, approach and even models or frameworks used.
Why do some executives refuse to be coached?
If it has been established that coaching is a high value activity for leaders, why is it that some executives refuse to consider getting a coach?
The first issue is when an executive has fixed ways of thinking, and perhaps thinks that they ‘know it all’. This is exactly the sort of leader who would benefit from coaching, but they simply see no need for it.
There are many executives who run the ‘I’m not good enough’ frame of reference, and see coaching as a potential trap, where they can be judged and found wanting. Often they are most scared about proving themselves right – that they don’t have skills or capability to be a leader. The truth is that a measure of self-reflection and concern with performance and leadership is a valuable asset. Too much of this thinking stops leaders in their tracks. They reject coaching because they are scared of what they might discover, even though great coaching would help them also consider their strengths and how to use them.
Beyond the fear of self-discovery comes the fear that they can’t change or adapt. Given that this is the primary goal of performance coaching, often leaders think that they cannot change and that coaching is wasted on them. In fact, coaching can help them explore ways of developing new skills and applying them to adapt to new situations gracefully.
If an executive’s belief is that coaching is a remedial process for poor performers, then accepting a coach means that they are failing. Seeing coaching as something only beginners or people in trouble accept means that the executive misses the opportunity to engage a coach who can take them to a bigger game even if they are doing great. If the culture is individualistic or even ‘macho’, then having a coach can appear as a weakness.
Sometimes people have had a coach, and have had a bad experience with coaching. Too often coaches have done little or no training, have minimal business experience, and revert to belittling approaches which offer little value. There are many ‘coaches’ out there, but few of them gave depth of skills and experience to make a difference. After a poor experience, it is no wonder executives don’t want to waste valuable time and money on taking the risk of selecting a poor coach again.
Finally, some executives had some coaching in the past, and think that they have ‘graduated’ and won’t need any more coaching. However, if they are looking to be a great, adaptive leader, then they may realise that coaching occurs in context, and as contexts change, so are there new opportunities to evolve and adapt.
In the end coaching is useless when a person does not want to be coached, or the coach is out of their depth and cannot offer value. Both lead to frustration and disengagement.
How to select an appropriate coach:
If you know that you have a bigger game to play- that you have capacity to perform more effectively and efficiently – then you may wish to consider getting a high performance coach. Choosing a coach should be based upon a number of key factors:
- Do they have appropriate qualifications?
- Do they have relevant coaching experience at your level?
- Do they have real experience at that level, so they can act as coach/mentor/confidant in a seamless manner?
- Do you connect to them and their style?
- Do you feel a sense of trust and that the engagement is about, and for, your benefit?
A coach is a combination of business and personal choice. A great coach is your partner, confidant and mentor in your journey to your bigger game, whom you feel comfortable discussing, challenging, reviewing and strategizing with. Selecting the right coach is really important to maximise you value from the experience.
From ‘coaching’ leaders to ‘coaching leaders’:
A final comment: true success emerges when skills are transferred and the coach becomes obsolete. One of the best ways for this to occur is to stop ‘coaching’ leaders, and start creating ‘coaching leaders’. By transferring skills of high performance along with the skills of helping others create high performance creates leaders that can coach others. This makes the value of coaching multiply exponentially.
So who is your coach?
If you would like to find out more, or want to see what coaching could look like for you, then please drop me a line.