Despite all the interest, multitude of training courses and shelves full of books on the subject, good business coaching is still a relatively rare skill. In sharp contrast to being coached well, we are far more used to being told what to do, by parents, teachers, bosses and colleagues, or advised by professionals & consultants who we even pay for the privilege, not to mention partners and immediate family members who are rarely slow in coming forward with their opinions.
So why do and should companies invest in business coaching as an alternative? Quite simply because, when you stand back and think about it, we all know that telling and advising have severe limitations when it comes to changing behaviour and unlocking someone’s potential. Just sending someone on a training course, telling them to read a book or instructing ‘do as I say’ simply doesn’t work – at least not most of the time.
Coaching in contrast is directly aimed at growing people, and does so by helping people to learn rather than by teaching.
While coaching embraces a wide range of techniques, at its heart it simply asks questions that are focused on the developmental goal of the coachee in order to raise awareness, build confidence and engender responsibility in the performer. For sure teaching, advising or simply telling someone ‘what’s what’ can have a positive effect on awareness, confidence and responsibility, however, that is not the explicit aim of these interventions, and often the effect can be negative, with confidence undermined, sense of responsibility diminished and awareness constrained.
Coaching is rather unusual, partly because of its choice of techniques but mainly because of its aim and the attitudes required of the practitioner and the performer. The coach has to operate as a peer, not a superior, relative to the coachee. The coach also has to suspend analytical judgement and resist the oh so human temptation to advise and solutionise, at least until it is evident the coachee is truly stuck and wants input. The coachee too, is required to engage with the coaching process, which includes openly placing their own agenda at its heart and being prepared to take a step of faith outside their current comfort zones, albeit in the safety of the environment that is the coaching relationship.
Developing competency and a degree of mastery with coaching techniques and processes takes time and lots of practice, as does absorbing the appropriate attitude towards suspending judgement and belief in the potential of the coachee. In my case, for example I completed a specific Coaching & Development Masters-level degree over 4 years and have worked with many coachees over the last 12 years or so.
So what do the companies I work with want to get from their investment in coaching? Here are some examples:
Improved Performance & Productivity. This is a common goal for many leaders, however, it is rarely simply a matter of utility. People often struggle with focus, clarity, how to delegate or be assertive and instead find themselves blocked by false perceptions which hinder them from taking more appropriate action.
Improved Career Development. As people develop competencies in say a technical field, they can often get stuck in the same job or find themselves promoted to a management level simply because they are the best technician. Indeed, all too often people take on a promotion ‘looking backwards’ at what they were previously comfortable with.
Improved Business Relationships. We all know technical competence to do a job is rarely enough. No matter how hard we try to do a brilliant job ourselves so often it is the relationships we create or destroy at work that prove pivotal for our success. People often wrap this up as ‘politics’, but it can be plain old emotive irritation, frustration and anger when the other person doesn’t behave as we want.
Improved Job Satisfaction. Most of us want to get a degree of satisfaction from our work, beyond just the pay cheque. Sometimes this is a matter of being clearer about what our motivations are and creating a better fit with our current work situation. Sometimes, a more radical change either of outlook or circumstance will be the order of the day.
More time for the Leader. Many managers and leaders find themselves swamped with work, whether they are small company owners manically working in the business rather than on the business, or senior leaders in large organisations grappling with both internal and external complexity. All leaders need time and a safe space to think and reflect.
This list is not an exhaustive one as to why companies employ me as a professional qualified coach, but they are all examples of situations that lend themselves to coaching and the opportunities good coaching affords people, especially managers and leaders.
For more information about how we can support you and help you to make better use of your potential to perform at work please get in touch.