For years, I have heard that if someone is not successful in their current position they need to get into training. It is like when I go to the grocery store with my children. As soon as we enter into the parking lot, they ask, “Can I get a cookie?” It is almost like they are pre-programmed for that cookie, just because they have gotten a cookie in the past. Similarly, so many times leaders would come to my office with a concern about performance about an individual or their team and automatically assume that training would be the solution.
Nowadays, you might hear “coaching” as the auto-response to performance challenges. As a consultant and coach, I am fully supportive of coaching. This type of intervention has tremendous potential to close performance gaps with relatively short turnaround. However, coaching isn’t always the right solution and if it coaching isn’t set up well, it won’t yield the potential results it could.
Here’s some suggestions to ensure that you get the maximize return on expectations for your coaching engagements:
- Readiness: In my experience, a coaching client gets out of coaching what they are prepared to put into the process. A coaching client who is struggling with significant life issues or depression may not be ready for coaching. A coaching client who doesn’t believe that he or she needs coaching is not in a position to be open to feedback and receive the help that coaching can provide. Furthermore, a coaching client who really doesn’t want to change his or her behavior may use coaching as a way to appear to be doing the work of change without really changing. On the other hand, a coaching client who knows he or she needs to make a change, wants to make that change and is willing to do what it takes to make that change will leverage the coaching experience to its maximum advantage and see the coach as a key supporter to help achieve desired goals.For example, I was working with Dorothy, the top executive for IT for a multinational organization. While there were significant issues with the organizational structure and strategy, the root cause was Dorothy’s leadership. When Dorothy was given the feedback, she was unready to fully address her leadership gaps but she did proceed with making changes in her structure and strategy. As a result, the leadership issues were exposed during the project process and while there were successes, the parent company hired a CIO and Dorothy was demoted. Had Dorothy been actually ready to make changes, the company would have saved thousands of dollars that it spent on the labor used during an unnecessarily time intensive project and Executive search, selection and hiring.
- Honesty: There are three levels of honesty required for a successful coaching engagement. The first is honesty on the part of those who are solicited to give confidential feedback on the coaching client. It is essential to the process that those individuals are provided the environment and assurances that what they share about the coaching client will not be revealed individually and to share their gut-honest perspective on the coaching client. The second is honesty on the part of the coach. The coach has to be willing to deliver difficult feedback, provide truth (balanced with kindness) so that the coaching client has the best chance to see an accurate picture of how he or she is perceived. A coach who wants to be liked more than effective will not serve the coaching client well. The third is honesty on the part of the coaching client. The coaching client has to be willing to do the hard work of looking internally at his/her own self, take the feedback that is given to heart, see where the feedback may be accurate and make needed adjustments. Without the three levels of honesty, the coaching encounter will be nothing more than a feel good, kumbaya session without any changes or results.I did an assessment for a city that wanted to understand why the organization consistently wasn’t achieving its goals. One of the major issues was the perceived inaccessibility of the City Manager. The City Manager was incensed by the feedback and asked me as the consultant to revise my report and take out or amend direct quotes provided by employees (which I did not do). While there was honesty on the part of the individuals interviewed and the consultant, honesty was missing on the part of the coaching client.
- Ownership: The other day my third grade daughter had a homework assignment that needed to be completed by Monday morning. This assignment required my support to purchase a book and poster for her and help her cut out a cube for her to capture her work. There were things that she needed to be successful but ultimately she was responsible for getting this assignment done. Similarly, although there can external issues that get in the way of performance challenges (e.g. bureaucracy, difficult leader, corporate politics, expanding workloads, etc.), for a coaching client to grow, he or she MUST take responsibility for his or her performance. Period. No excuses.One of my favorite success stories is about Terri, an ambitious fast tracker who got promoted a bit too quickly and struggled in her role as director of a sizable operation. She was given the feedback that she lacked the strategic vision and political savvy required to be a top Executive. Terri took the feedback to heart and she sought out a role that would allow her to learn what she needed to be successful in the long-term. A new global strategic initiative was announced and she lobbied to become its project manager, a role that offered less glamour but would allow her to learn the needed skills. Her coaching sessions and the practical working out in her global project manager role gave Terri what she needed and then some. She got high visibility and once the project was over she was promoted to VP of another operation. Last I heard, she was now a Sr. VP – all because she took responsibility for her own growth and was willing to do what it took to improve.
- Goals: A coaching assignment without goals if like going on vacation without a destination. You never really know when you have arrived. When performance issues are identified, clear, specific and measurable goals need to be developed. You have to know the end result you are striving to achieve. Otherwise, the coaching process can meander into tangential issues that may not be essential, and very quickly the coaching client may feel his/her time is wasted because there is no way to track progress.
- Focused Energy: Cori was one of the best coaching clients I have ever worked with. She took the process seriously and within a short time she had made dramatic turnarounds in her career. She was able to work more regularly out of her strengths, she was energized about what she accomplished at the end of the day and she gained great hope for the future. Our coaching engagement started with her hunger to grow and was fueled by how she took feedback to heart and created meaningful goals. Moreoever, her goal realization was achieved and sustained by her relentless focus on doing what it took to be successful and seek the maximum benefit out of her coaching experience.
Coaching can be a great way for a leader to improve leadership effectiveness and overall performance. If you compare coaching to a rocket, the body of the ship is the readiness, the wings are honesty and ownership, the point of the rocket are the goals and the fuel is the focused energy. If you have these five keys in place, your coaching engagement will be positioned and destined for ultimate success!
Can you or one of your direct reports benefit from leadership coaching? Check out the other resources available online at www.acceleraconsultinggroup.com  or give us a call at 407.376.8522 for a free consultation. We accelerate results by igniting leadership and organizational potential!