The last two decades have played host to a series of disruptive technological changes. In fact, these disruptions have almost become the norm with constant pressures now applied to teams in every imaginable industry. Leadership models that may have succeeded in the past are starting to struggle with these new demands. Leaders simply do not and cannot have all the right answers. This means previous models of command-and-control leadership are no longer viable. One potential solution is to adopt an organisation wide culture of coaching. This article explores the coaching model and discusses its various nuances.
"Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them learn rather than teaching them."
Sir John Whitmore
What is Coaching
The coaching model of leadership proposes that leaders facilitate problem solving and encourage team member development by asking thoughtful questions and offering support and guidance. This behaviour encourages team members to learn how to adapt to changing environments with energy, innovation and commitment. Coaches will stretch the other person’s thinking through questioning and uncover answers through inquiry, openness and exploration.
Coaching is based upon the assumption that individuals already have the answers they need within them. The role of the coach is to help those individuals find these answers and make progress by overcoming any problems they have been struggling with. These might be problems the individual is aware of, but they may also be problems they are unaware of.
Anybody can become a coach and start holding coaching conversations. All that is required is the ability to help others find solutions to problems within their current circumstances. They do this by using a variety of conversational techniques to help the recipient gain greater self-awareness and generate new insights on their own. Coaches do not offer advice.
Successful coaches tend to be inquisitive and work from the basis that they do not have all of the answers. They use their skills on a daily basis to ask questions and support their team members in both work and personal development. These coaches do not pass judgement and nor do they dictate what needs to be done. The best coaches have mastered the art of imparting knowledge and helping others discover information for themselves. In fact, they are able to skilfully use both methods in different situations.
Coaching is not Mentoring
A mentor is usually an individual with extensive professional experience in a certain domain who is able to support someone with less experience. Mentors offer support, give advice and share knowledge from within their specific area of expertise. Although they may use coaching techniques, strictly speaking mentors are not coaches.
Coaches tend to have a performance focused agenda and they will spend their time enhancing skills in order to improve performance. Mentors on the otherhand are more relationship based and will work with their mentees over a long period of time as they develop their mentee within specific areas.
The Benefits of a Coaching Culture
A coaching culture can be established within an organisation once a significant proportion of people develop coaching skills. The result is increased job satisfaction, higher levels of collaboration, better teamwork and improved engagement. This occurs because individuals begin to take responsibility for their actions and start determining their own development pathway. As individuals become more self-aware, even everyday experiences will turn into learning opportunities.
The Coachable Moment
Pay attention to the things people say and you will find opportunities to teach people something new. These moments are abundant and will frequently occur outside of formal coaching sessions. Your exchanges do not have to be planned and they may even be as short as a simple question. You might have a coaching opportunity if people say:
- “Can you help me think things through?”
- “I’d like to bounce some ideas off of you.”
- “Could you give me a reality check?”
- “I need some help.”
Different Styles of Coaching
Coaching is not simply about unlocking the potential within someone. It is a careful balance of push and pull behaviours that will shift according to the particular circumstances of the interaction.
This is the advice or expertise that a coach puts into the relationship.
This is the motivational energy that a coach pulls out by unlocking the other person’s own insights and solutions.
Both behaviours are valid at different times and the ratio of these behaviours will result in four broad categories of behaviour. Of these, three can be seen as coaching: directive, non-directive and situational behaviours. Situational coaching involves a balance of directive and non-directive coaching. This fine balance is not always necessary, and you may only need one or the other. Take a step back and determine which type of coaching is necessary.
The directive approach is a process of telling, teaching or giving of feedback. It involves the sharing of knowledge that has accumulated over the years while the recipient listens and hopes to absorb as much as possible. This method is important where a person needs to have information or know-how. The drawback is that it unleashes little energy from the person being coached and assumes that the coach knows things that the recipient does not.
The non-directive approach is based upon listening, questioning and withholding judgement. This process helps others learn to resolve their problems and cope with challenging situations on their own. It is used to draw wisdom, insight and creativity out of the recipient. The non-directive approach is highly energising for the recipient and helps build a sense of empowerment and ownership.
The situational approach is a fine balance between directive and non-directive styles. This optimal approach requires coaches to solicit ideas, needs or views from the recipient. They will then help the recipient find the answers they need and may also offer ideas or information as needed. Beware, it is very easy to fall into a directive approach when sharing ideas. Therefore, it is best to practice a non-directive approach until this is second nature and then start to balance it with periods of directive coaching.
The laissez-faire approach is hands off. Neither push nor pull behaviours are used significantly and the recipient is allowed to do things for themselves. Individuals will access support as and when it is needed. For the most part, the coach will take a step back and monitor progress.
The GROW Model
The GROW model was devised in the late 1980s as a way of training yourself to think in new ways about your role and value as a leader. It emphasises the needed to listen, question and draw insights out of the people you supervise. The four steps are:
Establish exactly what the individual wants to accomplish right now. What do they want from this particular exchange?
Ask questions that are rooted in fact to create real and constructive conversations. What?’, ‘When?’, ‘Where?’, ‘Who?’. For example, ‘What are the key things we need to know?’‘. Ask the right questions and get out of the way as the light bulb comes on.
Encourage the recipient to slow down and get them to lose themselves in contemplation. Listen carefully to what they say and prevent them from overlooking pertinent variables or leaping to conclusions.
Individuals will come to their leaders because they feel stuck. Your role is to broaden the conversation by asking simple questions that provoke fresh and productive thinking. Once their perspective has widened, you must then prompt them to deepen their thinking and explore the upsides, downsides and risks of each option.
The final step is to encourage recipients to review their specific action plan. This is the fruits of your conversation. It should be clear and actionable. You should also test their motivation by asking them how likely they are to complete the plan.
If the plan is not clear or they lack motivation, you should cycle back through the process to find a solution they are more likely to act upon.
Essential Coaching Skills
This section discusses the fundamental skills required in coaching. You will know that you are getting good at coaching when people you are talking to start having “aha!” moments or thank you profusely even though you feel you didn’t tell them anything. Remember, coaches do not give advice or impose their own solutions. Their role is to help the other person learn and grow so they can uncover the answers themselves.
Listen to Understand
Within any conversation there are three layers of meaning. There are facts, emotions and values. Listening to understand describes the process of listening for deeper layers of meaning and gleaning what has not been explicitly said. Examples include an individual’s beliefs and what is important to them. Try to understand things from their perspective and never assume what they are trying to say.
You can achieve this by paying close attention, listening without interruption, taking into account tone of voice and recognising body language. Give space to allow reflection and let the other person express themselves fully. You will find that summarising what you have heard can help clarify your understanding. It is important to respect any opinions and you should discuss them rather than dismiss them.
Understand their Perspective
Everyone has different motivations, preferences and personalities. A coach needs to approach things from the perspective of the other person in order to see the changes that they need. Ask questions to help understand their ‘why’ and determine what their preferred ‘how’ looks like.
Ask Powerful Questions
You should develop a natural sense of curiosity and employ open-ended questions to provide new insights and stretch the coached individuals thinking. Start questions with ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘where’. You will find follow up questioning with “what else?” can produce good results.
Remember to suspend your judgement and refrain from providing insights yourself. The coached individual will uncover their own insights and unspoken reservations provided the coach asks courageous questions, demonstrates authentic interest and maintains a belief in the person they are coaching. Consider using the following questions:
- What really matters here?
- What else could you do?
- What else occurs to you?
- What are you finding challenging in at the moment?
- What are some things you have tried so far?
- What resources do you need to assist you?
- Who else have you talked to about this?
- Who else is affected in this situation?
- When did you realize that?
- Where do you see the biggest obstacles?
- How do you want the rest of the team to feel about this?
- How will you communicate the changes to your team?
- How will you deal with resistance?
- How can I/we support you?
- How confident are you about following the action plan?
Challenge and Support
Use a mix of challenges and support to effectively help individuals explore themselves. A challenge will stress-test ideas and can lead to a stronger, shared understanding. Offer challenges within an environment of safety in order to build trust, yield productive dialogue and uncover unexamined assumptions.
Support involves caring deeply for the other person. You must show that you have listened and truly understood them. Show that you are interested in their success and ask questions about how they see their role evolving. Take an interest in their career, accomplishments and professional success.
Coaching with Compassion
Individuals who focus on a positive future, as opposed to career advancement, tend to feel happier, express higher aspirations and are willing to exert significantly more effort in pursuing their goals. It is possible to achieve this by coaching with compassion. This form of coaching involves the creation of a caring relationship in which the coach assists another in exploring their vision and assists them in making a change to realise it.
Coaches should listen with genuine care and concern while they explore the coached recipient’s dreams and aspirations. This is usually achieved through open-ended questions, genuine curiosity and keeping the recipient in a positive emotional state. The coach should then lay the groundwork to see these aspirations through into reality by providing support, focusing on how current qualities can be leveraged and helping the recipient spot learning opportunities.
This process of coaching with compassion is composed of four steps. The idea is for the coached individual to envision their ideal-self, explore their real-self, set a learning agenda and then experiment with new behaviours and roles. Together these four steps lead to intentional change. They are explored below.
This describes who you wish to be and what you want to do in your life. Find out their values, passions and hopes for the future. Set aside your own biases, assumptions and experiences. You need to engage in humble inquiry and let the recipient do at least 80% of the talking. Craft a personal vision statement which should keep the coached individual focused on their desire to change rather than their obligation to change. For example, ‘live freely, in good health, with integrity, in a future filled with love and hope’.
This step requires an accurate self-assessment. Coached individuals should consider their most distinctive qualities and enduring characteristics. It identifies the gaps the recipient will need to fill, the strengths that will help them reach their vision and what might need changing relative to the long-term vision. There are two components in this step. First, what people know about themselves. Second, their understanding of how others experience and think of them. The latter step aims to identify areas where the coached person’s perception differs from those around them while both steps allow individuals to see whether their ideal-self and their real-self align.
Set a Learning Agenda
This is a road map for turning aspirations into reality. It describes exactly how the coached individual will move from point A to point B. They should focus on existing strengths, passions and values. Get them to think about how their current knowledge and skills can close any relevant gaps. Ask them about which behavioural changes they are most excited to try. Create clear, specific and meaningful actions plans. The idea is to leave individuals energised and empowered to improve themselves and meet their vision. Be sure that you have the same expectations and determine a clear understanding of the next practical steps.
Experimenting and Practicing
This is experimenting and practicing with new behaviours and roles. Even the best laid plans will fail or take a while to come to fruition. Help the coached individual identify which experiments proved most effective and assist them in perfecting these. Another role of the coach is to ensure the coached individual is progressing in the right direction. This can be achieved through an extended support network. A ‘developmental network’ should consist of a board of advisors who act as role models for the different types of behaviour that the coached individual aspires to. Usually, the role models are someone who has a stake in an individual’s ultimate success, and they will serve as sources of inspiration and accountability.