Lately, we hear “coaching” more and more frequently proposed as the solution to a workplace problem. A manager might seek coaching as a way to work through a challenge. A senior executive might see it as an opportunity to help an individual or team resolve an issue. More and more managers see coaching as a training tool to enhance their leadership skills and performance. This is all good news, but only as long as the people being coached know what to expect.
What coaching is
Off the bat, it’s wise to define what coaching is and what it is not. First, coaching is about positive, lasting change. It’s forward looking. It’s not therapy. There is nothing to “fix..” It’s a process that happens in real time: the coach guides the process, and the coachee manages the content. The focus is on mining the coachee’s own potential to meet a goal.
There are ground rules. For starters, confidentiality is key. If a manager institutes coaching for a direct report, for example, then all parties need to set and agree on boundaries for what will be shared and what will remain confidential between the coach and coachee.
There is usually a set time frame and schedule for a coaching engagement. This could be anything from two to six months, with weekly or bi-monthly 50-minute sessions. It is essential that the coachee honor the schedule as a contract and show up on time and ready, even when the coaching is conducted by phone.
Being ready also means clearing the decks of any external or internal interference, and being prepared to focus totally on the coaching conversation.
Coaching is basically a conversation—many conversations. The coach uses intense listening and powerful questions to guide the coachee to think more deeply, to consider options, to commit to taking action. The coach offers feedback and often helps to reframe the conversation to enable the coachee to gain added perspective on the situation.
Yikes! There’s homework? Well, sort of. During a coaching session, questions can encourage new thinking. The parties might agree that the coachee do more thinking on the topic before the next session; for example, the coachee might decide to talk to a colleague she realizes could be a helpful resource. And once a goal is clearly defined, the discussion will focus on the steps needed to reach that goal. During the engagement, the coachee will commit to taking these steps, and subsequent sessions will discuss outcomes.
There is an arc to a coaching engagement, which means it will come to an end. The engagement will reach its agreed time. At this point, the parties may decide that “time’s up,” or to extend the engagement for another defined period. Whatever beneficial changes the coachee may have accomplished will need to be sustained, and the parties must address this in terms of what resources might be needed to ensure ongoing success. Sometimes they will agree on occasional check-ins as a follow up.
Coaching can offer many positive surprises—added insight, creative problem solving, welcome support. However, the coaching process and its ground rules need to be clear from the start. Those who are best prepared for what to expect from coaching will be the most ready to jump in and reap the rewards.
Is there anything else about coaching you feel would be helpful to address in preparing someone for a first coaching engagement?
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