It was almost ten years ago now that I embarked on the journey to become a coach. I’ve always known my calling had to do with helping people enjoy their lives more fully. This calling has led me to obtain my degree in psychology, and to be attracted to roles such training, teaching, consulting, and coaching. What has always appealed to me about coaching is the premise that you are not making a dysfunctional person functional, but rather helping an already functioning person reach the next level in their growth and development. During my certification process, I took courses in things like powerful questioning, reframing perspectives, and I learned specifically how to work with professionals in transition – either to a new career or to the next step in their existing career. A large part of the certification process was not only coaching others, but being coached, and this was one of the most challenging – and transforming – parts of the process.
In the ten years that have followed I have received good coaching as well as abysmally bad coaching and my appreciation for the discipline only continues to grow. At the same time, I’ve worked with many fine organizations that are in the process of growing and have seen firsthand how well coaching can augment corporate growth and reap benefits that include more effective managers, more productive employees, reduced turnover, and the ability to attract top talent based on growth and development opportunities.
In my opinion coaching for management and high potential people is highly valuable in companies with a formal training and leadership development program and indispensable in organizations without one. The reason boils down to human nature and the simple fact that most people on some level feel somewhat unqualified for their roles, and live in a state of low level to high level anxiety that their next mistake will reveal this and their livelihoods will be at risk. For this reason alone, it is very difficult to coach or train one’s direct reports because it is too difficult to have the raw honesty and transparency needed for true growth. Not to mention the supervisors are often in the same boat and don’t always have the clarity of perspective an outside third party has. In addition, in most growing organizations there is very little bandwidth for supervisors to invest in up and coming managers to the extent that is needed.
Formal leadership training is important, and group training is very effective when introducing concepts such as goal-setting, delegation, and performance management, but when it comes to individual development, nothing can replace coaching. Of course, I say this with a caveat, because not all coaches are created equal.
The essence of great management/executive coaching is the ability to hear what a client is saying, and also possess the business acumen, leadership skills and intuition to hear what is not being said and to ask powerful questions to help the client discover their own answer. What makes it so difficult is that it also requires the coach to lay their ego aside and NOT assume they simply know the answer and ‘walk the client down a path’ to the ‘correct’ solution. A coach assumes that it is the client who has the answer, but the coach’s personal experience and training allows them to answer productive questions. Coaching can and should challenge the client to think about different perspectives and consider innovative, untried solutions.
On the other hand, there is bad coaching. Bad coaching can take different forms. From a purist perspective, bad coaching consists of leading the client to the coach’s own solution, or directing a client to what action to take. It’s a fine line that most coach/consultants have to navigate. Sometimes a client genuinely doesn’t know an answer and is looking for the coach to wear a consultant hat for a moment. When this happens, both parties should be aware of what is transpiring. Other bad coaching occurs when the coach tries to make the client uncomfortable for the sake of discomfort. This is an ego/power move on the coach’s part and can lead to significant distraction pursuing unproductive questions. If your coaching always leaves you feeling frustrated and like you’re pursuing the wrong line of inquiry, you may not be in the right match for you.
The benefits to managers and leaders of having a coach can’t be understated. A coach allows a manager to work through issues, personnel problems and areas of conflict in a safe place, gaining valuable insight into their productive and unproductive responses. It also can allow the manager to work on areas that are affecting work performance, such as work life balance, career goals and identifying one’s calling. A manager who is working in alignment with his or her values, in pursuit of clear goals, with the emotional intelligence to lead subordinates to do the same will not only be a more satisfied employees, they will be a force to be reckoned with in terms of productivity.
For that reason, investing in a management coach for your team can be one of the best investments a senior leader can make.
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm focused on helping organizations, leaders and job seekers to identify workplace solutions that work. As a certified executive coach, organizational development expert and resume writer, Carrie consults with small to medium sized businesses on OD, human resources and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. Carrie can be reached for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org