Coaching in Leadership Jul16

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Coaching in Leadership

In recent years there has been a lot of interest in coaching although there is still little understanding what it is. Coaching has been cited as an important skill a leader should have so much so that it is included as part of some executive management programmes.  However, if coaching skills are being introduced like any other management skills such as scheduling, planning, risk management, it would not have a created any impact.  In fact, it would be counter-productive if the first tasting of coaching gives an incorrect impression.

Many confused coaching with mentoring; they are not the same.  Neither is one better than the other as each has its place of importance and a good leader would know when and how to use either.

Leaders believe they are coaching when in fact are training and mentoring their staff.  So how is coaching different from training or mentoring?  Training is best applied to acquiring technical knowledge where logical thinking is predominantly required while coaching is more targeted at soft skills where self-awareness, mindset-shifting and habit development are the keys to success.   Mentoring is about sharing one’s experiences as a basis for learning and usually applied to staff whose experiences in certain areas are still weak or lacking.  Mentoring is the most prevalent method used in the workplace and is often mistaken for coaching.

Neither training or mentoring on its own can assure performance improvements and hence the need for coaching to complement the entire learning process.  Using coaching on subjects trained or mentored helps coachees apply what they learn repeatedly, consistently and consciously to form new habits or behaviour to complete the learning and therefore enhance performance.  Learning becomes more personal and directed inward to produce longer lasting results.

Coaching skills focus on communication – both verbal and non-verbal, building trust and rapport, asking powerful questions to gain insights, elevating self-awareness, maintaining confidentiality, solution-based thinking, and so forth that are not necessarily required in trainers and mentors, although there are more commonalities with mentoring that cause the confusion.

Developing coaching skills requires time and practice.  It is not something one can easily pick up from just reading and memorizing.  To get the essence of coaching, a practitioner has to practise it often, consciously and mindfully, and be able to self-observe, reflect on and learn from their experiences and, make adjustments for improvements.  As part of this learning journey, the practitioner needs to be very self-aware.  For all that, even a coach needs a coach.

Without commitment to mindfully practise coaching skills, the daily busy schedules can easily cause leaders to sidestep practices and hence fail in developing those skills into habits.  Without it being a habit, leaders’ use of coaching skills is sporadic, clumsy and ineffective.

According to Daniel Goleman’s Primal Leadership (2002), coaching is one of the six leadership styles a successful leader engaged in according to the context.  While coaching is not the only consideration for good leadership, its presence contributes significantly to its success.  In DDI’S (Development Dimensions International) Global Leadership Forecast 2008/2009, it depicts an alarming lack of leadership in the coming years due to shortfalls in leader development.

“Most organizations that try to measure the outcomes of the leadership development programs do little more than evaluate classroom experiences.  They measure reactions to specific training experiences or, at best, test knowledge gained.  While useful, this information sheds no light on whether the leaders’ development experience was having an impact on the organization.

Impact begins when leaders change their behaviour, this is the point at which things begin to move…”   

-  Measuring the Impact of Leadership Development Program, DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2008/2009, Overcoming the Shortfall in Developing Leaders

The key words “change their behaviour” suggest that using coaching is vital to developing leaders.  One of the cited best practices is “give trainees ample opportunity to practise their new skills before measuring”.  Transforming a manager to become a leader therefore requires training, coaching and practice to gain optimum results.

Leaders are needed at every level in organizations to cushion the impact of rapid global changes that none of us can be excluded.  Leaders in any change management cannot leave out coaching in its process; it is well reflected in the high rate of change management failures.  There is no change that does not involve people, a situation in which the presence of coaching is most needed to minimize the negative emotional impact.   Essentially, a leader needs to be coached and learn how to coach for it to be cascaded down to develop a coaching culture in an organization.

Coaching culture in an organization boosts moral and enthusiasm, improve performance, promotes proactive change readiness – all necessary components for organization survival, growth and renewal.

Until coaching is understood and taken seriously as an integral part of leadership development, the speed and quality of leadership will always be ineffectual for the future.