Coaching used to be largely reserved for executives and senior managers for whom an external professional coach would be hired to help them advance in various aspects of their leadership function. Coaching is an exclusive, highly customized learning and development experience, driven by the client’s goals, which explains why companies were willing to make the investment only for a selected number of employees.
Several industry research papers, including those published by the International Coach Federation, have measured the benefits of receiving coaching and the return on investment is excellent, sometimes exceptional depending on how it is calculated. It has been found that employees at varying organisational levels who receive coaching improve performance and business management skills, increase productivity and motivation, sharpen their problem-solving skills, they become more autonomous and proactive, and develop an overall more positive attitude which in turn positively affects the organizational climate.
Given all these remarkable benefits, companies are increasing the availability of coaching for a wider segment of their workforce by creating roles for internal coaches, usually HR professionals who provide full coaching services, and by training managers to integrate coaching skills into their leadership style.
Coaching by managers is quite different from what professional coaches do. First of all they don’t have coaching clients as such, they coach their team members or other colleagues. Secondly, while a professional coach has no agenda other than the client’s goals, a manager has to balance the team member’s goals, organisational goals and their own goals as the person responsible for the team results. Managers also have to engage with employees in different ways besides coaching, depending on the situation. There are times when it is more appropriate to teach, for example when wanting to transmit technical skills, or give clear directions, when there is an emergency and quick decisiveness is needed.
However, once they have mastered coaching skills, managers tend to use a “coaching leadership style” most of the time. There are good reasons for this. Here are three of the most advantageous:
Managers who coach, develop their team members’ capabilities, rendering them more independent. By using coaching techniques, they support their staff to learn quickly, find their own solutions and solve problems more effectively. A manager who is a bit more controlling and prefers to have the monopoly of all the answers, ends up unwittingly grooming people to repeatedly ask for solutions and directives. This becomes highly time-consuming and an energy drain for the manager.
Instead the coaching manager facilitates learning and the empowerment of staff within their role. When people feel more capable, they become more autonomous and able to take responsibility. They get on with it, without having to constantly ask for guidance. This of course saves a great deal of time for the coaching manager.
A coaching manager focuses on what employees can already do and helps them leverage their existing strengths to achieve new goals. A strengths-based approached, rather than a deficit-oriented one, has a positive impact on performance because the focus is placed on reaching outcomes using existing capabilities rather than spotting weaknesses. There are usually different ways to accomplish a task and if an employee can go about it using their existing strengths, they will produce quicker and better results. Gallup have specialized in creating strength-based cultures worldwide, boosting employee performance to a level where companies have been able to achieve as much as 29% increase in profits, and a reduction of employee disengagement to as low as 1%.
Bring a positive dimension to work relations
Coaching rests on a number of assumptions that foster a positive working environment, starting with a favourable outlook on people and their potential to grow. Coaching managers treat employees as individuals and support their development becausethey believe it is beneficial for everyone: the person, the team and the organization.
Coaching managers reinforce good performance by generously giving factual positive feedback. Even when they have to give negative feedback, managers who are trained in coaching skills are able to deliver it in the most constructive way, making it acceptable and allowing employees to find their own remedial solutions towards improving their performance.
Learning coaching techniques also develops interpersonal skills, such as effective listening, empathy and the ability to build trusting relations. So by using a coaching approach, managers inevitably bring a warmer human touch to working relations.
There are of course limitations and weakness. Not everyone is “coachable”. Some people are not motivated to learn, nor are they inclined to reflecting on their work. Also, not everyone has the temperament or wants to be a manager coach, which requires a willingness to let go of some control and to help others develop. Coaching requires a precise skill-set so training has to be of such a quality that it will enable managers to easily deploy coaching as needed and differentiate between the various aspects of their role (supervising, directing, teaching, mentoring, coaching).
In conclusion, organisations that adopt a coaching culture and train their managers to exhibit coaching skills have found a highly effective leadership style that produces excellent performance results while also improving organisational climate.
The demise of the traditional command and control mode left a vacuum in terms of what ideal management behaviours managers can really display on a daily basis. From management by objectives, to vague notions of democratic or participatory leadership, to supposedly horizontal organisations, managers have been at a loss on what they should actually do in practice to empower employees while still controlling outcomes for which they are held accountable.
Developing coaching skills is an elegant way to resolve this dilemma. Coaching managers demonstrate a leadership style that is adapted to the 21st century and a workforce that expects to be valued, empowered and actively involved in the greater purpose of the organisations they work for.
What is your experience with coaching? Have you received coaching at work, or are you a coaching manager? Share your views with us in the comment box!
Saba Imru-Mathieu is an Executive Leadership Coach and Senior Coach Trainer who works with global organizations. She holds a Masters degree in leadership and her current doctoral research focuses on how coaching capabilities contribute to global leadership.