Managers and Leaders using a coach approach to management are essential for 21st century business. In an environment of uncertainty, intense competition and globalisation of markets, innovation, creativity and improved performance are vital to business success.
“People, not capital, are businesses’ most vital asset. An organisation must innovate more and more often to meet the accelerated pace of change and its people must develop the learning skills that serve as the basis for innovation.” (from Olalla & Echeverria ‘Management by Coaching,’ in HR Focus V73 N1.)
Managers and Leaders must come out of their offices, clearly declare where they want the business to go; assert strongly the values by which the business will be done; encourage, develop and inspire the work force; help people be the best they can be; involve them in the decision making process and create an environment of learning, improvement and development.
The coach approach to management is a prime tool / style for leaders and managers. It is through coaching that your people will be enabled to reach their true potential for the good of the business and themselves. Coaching provides a blend of thinking for oneself and learning through the experience of others. Coaching leads naturally to greater awareness in your people, and to greater responsibility being taken for their own actions, and a visibly higher level of commitment in the work force; just the environment required for survival and success for businesses today and in the future.
An increasing number of managers are benefitting from coaching. Its popularity is due to one or more of the following
Recognising that many able leaders, in all walks of life, who wish to increase their effectiveness in these fast changing times get themselves a coach.
The desire of many people to improve their personal, team working and leadership skills.
An opportunity to talk things over with someone who does not have an axe to grind and to use this independent person as a sounding board for bouncing ideas.
At present anyone can call themselves a coach or a mentor. The term ‘coach’ is often used interchangeably with ‘mentor’ – part of the reason for this is an effective mentor uses a coach approach and coaching skills.
There is statistical evidence that a coaching style (supportive/asking questions) is generally more effective than a traditional (directive/telling them what to do) approach.
This article will give you an idea of what coaching is, how you can incorporate a coach approach and coaching skills in your day to day leadership and management and what to look for if you want to select an external coach.
What is coaching?
Let’s start off with two of many definitions of coaching and look at some of the key words used.
“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them”
Timothy Gallwey, Author ‘The Inner Game of Work’
You will notice that:
The emphasis is on the other person (the ‘coachee’); and on their performance and potential.
Coachees often significantly undervalue their own potential and may also be blissfully unaware of their 2-to-4 unique talents and strengths.
The focus is on learning, not teaching. This requires you as coach to be aware of the different range of learning and thinking preferences.
“Coaching is an ongoing partnership that will help you produce fulfilling results in your vocation and personal life. Through the process of coaching you will deepen your performance and enhance the quality of your life.”
Richard Fox, Partner The Learning Corporation LLP
I have used the word ‘partnership’ as there are two people involved each with different roles. The coachee is primarily responsible for the content of the conversations and for taking any action. You are responsible for creating the optimum environment for thinking and learning and for using relevant processes.
As coaching conversations are about specific work related issues, the reference in the above quotation to ‘quality of life’ may seem a bit strange. However, when a coachee enjoys an improvement in their work situation this tends to have a positive knock-on effect on the rest of the coachee’s life. The example that springs readily to my mind is a coachee who has achieved a stretching sales target.
How does coaching differ from other forms of support?
This section outlines the main difference between coaching/mentoring and counselling/therapy. Let me try and illustrate this with an actual example. About 12 years ago a business associate contacted me. She said she had a friend who wanted to set up her own business and was looking for a coach and asked if I could meet her. I had an introductory session with this person and fairly early on in the meeting she said she was in the process of going through a difficult divorce, at which point she became very upset. We both agreed that her priority was to get over the trauma of her divorce. I suggested she worked with a qualified counsellor or therapist, then when she was more able to plan her future we could, if she wished, meet again to be coached or mentored on her new business venture.
Coaching and mentoring function on the basis that the coachee’s current situation is OK and that the coachee is resourceful and able to engage with a reflective process and move forward.
Even if you are a trained counsellor or therapist, topics like dealing with trauma, addictions to chemical substances, being abused as a child are outside the scope of coaching or mentoring. If these surface during a conversation then you should signpost the coachee to a qualified therapist or counsellor. In practice this rarely happens mainly because the other person knows the type of specialist they should be talking to.
The distinctions between coaching and mentoring are less pronounced and, as mentioned earlier, the terms are often used interchangeably in the UK.
Generally speaking, a mentor is chosen because they have more experience in the area in which the mentee wishes to develop. For example:
If an employee wants to understand a new technical process they might want to pick the brains of an experienced person and this could be referred to as a mentoring relationship. The same employee might also want to ask you or another manager to coach them on other work related areas e.g. improving self confidence or networking skills.
In large organisations an employee is often coached by his/her line manager on short term performance topics and mentored by a manager from another department on longer term career opportunities or on the transfer of specific technical knowledge
So with mentoring prior experience of the issue under discussion is more important than with coaching. The mentor does not have to be older than the mentee.
The most productive relationships come where you build on the coachee’s knowledge and experience. ‘If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you help him learn how to fish he will feed himself for life’.
To give you an idea of the range of topics covered in coaching conversations, here are some of the topics raised by my coachees in the last six months. How to:
- Use time more effectively.
- Create a team.
- Prepare a vision and plan.
- Agree the organisation’s key values.
- Unearth my talents and strengths.
- Handle a difficult situation.
- Improve my presentation skills.
- Become more self confident or resilient.
- Prepare for a promotion/new position.
- Chair meetings more effectively.
- Get the best out of sub contractors.
- Set up working groups to tackle specific opportunities/challenges.
- Find a personal assistant.
- Improve work-life balance.
- Understand my own identity.
Benefits of coaching?
The benefits to the coachee:
- Chance to learn and grow in specific area(s) and in a safe, confidential environment.
- Gain different perspectives on an issue/opportunity.
- Opportunity to think aloud.
- Support in thinking through problems/opportunities.
- Chance to identify and unlock potential.
- Increase level of personal responsibility/ownership.
- Readiness to take on more responsibility.
- Greater clarity regarding a task or role.
- Increased self-awareness.
- ‘Just in time’ support on a topic coachee wants to develop.
- Increase certainty/reduce doubt.
- Be stretched and readily agree to goals that are higher than coachee would have set her/himself.
- The ‘real’ problem has been unearthed.
- Knowledge transfer from the coach.
Benefits to the coach:
- Satisfaction of seeing someone else develop as a team player and leader.
- Learn from the coachee’s different perspectives.
- Develop own skills as a leader (see above and also section 6).
- Can lead to a recognised coaching qualification.
- The following benefits apply when the person is using a coaching style with his/her own team:
– Alignment of roles and goals.
– Increased delegation.
– Increased retention of people.
– Opportunity to get feedback as a leader.
Benefits to the organisation:
- Increased effectiveness and performance of people.
- More open culture.
- Easier to recruit people if coaching is offerred to all newcomers.
- More people able to deal with queries.
- Increased staff retention
- It’s portable and offers a good return on the investment of time.
Leading on from the last point, a further benefit of coaching is that it can be done ‘any time, any place, anywhere’. Coaching might occur in a 4 minute conversation in a coffee break, or whilst going for a walk during the lunchtime, or during a longer pre-planned meeting, or in a phone conversation.
How long does coaching take?
Coaching is usually 1 to 1 and face to face. It is also possible to coach individuals successfully over the phone. For example, in September and October 2010 I coached executives who are based in Chile, China, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, India, Holland (3 people) and Italy. With 3 of these 8 people we used Skype and webcams so were able to see each other as well as have cost-free phone calls.
The timing and frequency of coaching sessions varies considerably depending on the needs of the coachee. Those who have a single performance issue might attend 1-4 one hour sessions over a period of 2-3 months. Others might like to meet 2-4 times a year. The majority of my coaching clients have three or four areas that they want to work on. They opt for up to 6 sessions each of 1 to 1.5 hours, meeting every 4-6 weeks. There is a clear understanding on both sides that we will stop or change the programme if the coachee has achieved what they came for, or if the personal chemistry is not right. So, for example, one very able person came to me to be coached on changing her career. She did an enormous amount of research between our sessions and after session 3 we both had a clear plan of her next steps and we ended the coaching programme.
Role of the coach during the coaching sessions
Before each coaching conversation takes place you should create an optimum environment for thinking and learning. One coaching school refers to ‘Clearing the Space’. This involves tidying up the room, clearing away distracting papers, diverting incoming phone calls etc. Equally important, it includes clearing your head so that you can become totally present with the coachee.
When the coachee arrives time should be set aside to (re)build rapport, put the coachee at ease, check that s/he is OK to start the coaching conversation and is unlikely to be interrupted.
So your role as a coach is to create the right environment for the coachee, to ask questions and ensure that the coachee has conversations of value. By providing coachees time and space to think through issues you are also giving them a greater opportunity to learn and grow and to find solutions that will work for them. A rookie (novice) coach needs to avoid trying to fix the coachee’s problems. It is helpful to remember that ‘The coachee has access to all the resources needed to deal with this particular issue’. Strange as it may seem, most of these resources are already present within the coachee, waiting to be teased out.
Here are some key attributes and skills of a coach and which any manager or leader might also wish to enhance:
- The ability to build rapport, trust and credibility.
- In coaching it is credibility as a coach, not as an industry or subject matter expert, that is important.
- The ability to be totally present and connected with the coachee throughout the whole session.
- Listening skills.
Selecting an external coach?
Probably the most effective way to find an external coach is by personal recommendation, from someone who has had a good experience of coaching or by speaking to your HR director or HR manager.
An alternative and less reliable route is to look at lists of coaches on websites such as:
(a) International Coach Federation – UK, www.coachfederation.org.uk
(b) Association for Coaching, www.associationforcoaching.com
It is important to meet, or at least phone, the potential coach(es) to find out more about them e.g. years as a coach, coach qualifications, experience of working with business managers, and their style of coaching. Then ask about the length, frequency and format of typical coaching sessions, the characteristics of an excellent coaching relationship, their fee and the names and phone numbers of people who could provide references.
After this conversation ask yourself ‘How confident am I that we can build rapport with this person? Will this coach be sufficiently challenging? Will s/he be able to understand my issues/opportunities?’
Recommended is: ‘Coaching for Performance’ by John Whitmore, published by Nicholas Brealey. For information about coaching generally have a look at:
To read the core competencies of coaching please refer to