My company has recently started offering coaching to all managers at my level. It is optional. I have read what our HR department has posted about it, but they didn’t give much information.
I always thought coaching was for underperformers, but that isn’t how they are selling it. What would I work on with a coach? How would it benefit me? It seems to take a lot of time, which isn’t something I have much of. Maybe you can share some insight?
Coach or No Coach?
Dear Coach or No Coach,
Well, this is right up my alley, so thanks for that. I think it might be easiest to break the whole thing down into a few points:
- What is coaching
- Why work with a coach
- How to get the most out of coaching
- Questions to ask your HR department about coaching
What Is Coaching
Ask ten people what coaching is and you will get ten different answers. That might explain why your HR department is having trouble expressing the value of it. The International Coaching Federation (ICF—the largest, though not only, global professional association for coaches) defines coaching as:
“Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.”
In our book, Coaching in Organizations, Linda Miller and I defined coaching this way:
“Coaching is a deliberate process using focused conversations to create an environment for individual growth, purposeful action, and sustained improvement. Coaching is a one-on-one process and a relationship between an individual and a coach, with specific objectives and goals focused on developing potential, improving relationships, and enhancing performance. Coaching uses a formalized yet personalized approach that integrates proven techniques for change with behavioral knowledge and hands-on practice. Coaching breaks down barriers to help achieve greater levels of accomplishment. It is a process of self-leadership that enables people to gain clarity about who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it.
“The one-on-one coaching relationship is used to:
- Unlock an individual’s potential and maximize his or her performance
- Challenge and aid individuals in taking effective action
- Lead individuals to an understanding of the essence of themselves (their character) to achieve satisfaction”
Professional coaches who work in organizations like yours tend to have a lot of experience working in companies, both as former employees and as coaches. They are adept at dealing with the predictable issues people have at work, which include:
- Managing complexity and multiple priorities
- Time, task, and meeting management
- Leading, managing, and developing others
- Career planning
- Leveraging strengths and mitigating weaknesses
- Developing a growth mindset
- Setting boundaries and creating habits that will ensure personal sustainability and avoid burnout
- Polishing interpersonal communications, managing political situations
- Developing and nurturing a network of relationships
Why Work with a Coach
Coaches can do good work only when clients are ready, willing, and able to devote a little extra time and brain space to their own growth. Coaching isn’t the right thing for everyone, all of the time. It would be a great time to work with a coach if you:
- want to be a better employee
- want to be a more effective manager
- have big career goals but aren’t making the kind of progress you’d like
- want to be more creative, assertive, or organized
- know you could develop more effective work habits
- want more time and space to reflect
- fantasize about having more of a life outside of work
- are frankly dissatisfied with your work life in any way
Many people I have worked with come back for a little while when they get a huge promotion, run into a difficult situation, or need to make a big decision. Working with a good coach will leave you with the ability to self-coach in the future.
Just for the record: it is important to distinguish that coaching isn’t consulting (although the coach might fill knowledge gaps when needed), counseling, or therapy. If you feel you might be struggling with depression, anxiety, or past trauma that is interfering with your ability to be at your best, coaching is not the right professional intervention.
If you feel like everything is absolutely perfect at work, you love everything about your life, and you wouldn’t change a thing, well, good on you! Now is probably not the best time to avail yourself of the opportunity to work with a coach.
Get the Most Out of Coaching
If you decide to go ahead with working with a coach, they will probably tell you this—but I will tell you anyway. You really will want to show up fully, with a beginner’s mind and a growth mindset. This can be defined as: “[when] people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” Dweck, 2015
You will want to:
- Schedule your appointments, keep your appointments, and protect your coaching time from intrusions.
- Work with your coach to set crystal clear, attainable goals for the coaching. Ask yourself: How will I know the coaching was a success? It is great to really like or even love your coach, but you still want to have something concrete to show for the investment.
- Ask questions. Share any of your doubts, concerns and impressions with your coach.
- Remember that you are the client. Ask for what you want. Tell your coach how to best serve you. If your coach isn’t asking enough questions, is talking too much or too fast, or is doing something that annoys you, tell them immediately! Think of it as designing an alliance with the sole purpose of serving you.
- Be willing to stretch in your commitments throughout your coaching sessions. You know you will have a safe place to process the experience and learn from it.
- Only commit to actions you are sure you will be able to follow through on. Start small and build, rather than shoot for the moon and feel disappointed.
- Be willing to share with colleagues your experience with being coached. The best way to internalize and integrate what you are learning is to talk about it and teach it to others if possible.
Questions to Ask
You will want to ask your HR department some basic questions like:
- Is the coaching confidential? (It should be; however, in most cases, as agents of the organization the coach is obligated to report on things that are out of compliance with company policy, such as sexual harassment, theft, or ethical breaches.)
- What will you, the organization, want to know about what goes on between me and my coach?
- Will I be able to choose my coach? Are all the available coaches certified?
- What if I don’t click with my coach?
- What if I want to keep working with my coach once the contracted time is up?
This should give you a place to start. I know that your time is a precious resource and it can be hard to imagine how making one more commitment will improve things. You might think about simply testing it out. Try doing an intro program for three months. Any decent coach will provide incalculable value from the word go, so if it feels like a waste of your time, either the coach isn’t good or it isn’t the right time for you to work with one.
Use your own judgment based on all of this. If you go ahead with it, I hope it is a brilliant experience for you.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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