A personal perspective on coaching as an instrument of positive changePosted in : HR Updates on 7 September 2017
Often I am asked why I made the leap from employment law solicitor to an executive coach. The transition has taken some years with many long, hard hours of study and practice. It has been a massive journey of learning and self-development. Looking back on my old self with heightened self-awareness there’s a lot I really don’t much admire! There was a pivotal moment which sparked the change. I was poking around the bookstore at the airport, deliberately wasting time before departure. I can’t recall where I was travelling to but it was work related. Looking back I see a rather more uptight me, always under pressure and always striving to deliver perfection plus. I was drawn to “The Financial Times Guide to Business Coaching” by Anne Scoular. Flicking through to the Introduction page, I almost choked on reading the opening line: “Good business coaching is so powerful that if it was a drug, it would be illegal”. What? Hyperbole! Nonsense! I read on to the next sentence, hooked but inwardly sneering: “A client walks into a coaching session stressed, overburdened, ready to give up – and an hour later emerges transformed: Clear, focused, calmer, fit again to fight and win”. Now, I could relate to the client walking into that coaching session. Dare I dream to be the client walking out of that session?
I did become the client walking out and I have coached many clients who I have witnessed walking away in a much better, resourceful state than when they arrived. Effective coaching is powerful and can facilitate very positive changes in behaviours and the results we achieve. Not every coaching session is immediately transformative. Sometimes it can feel like ploughing through sticky mud before reaching a breakthrough and that’s because life is sometimes messy and if our optimum way forward was clearly signposted we could just follow the signs.
Many organisations are now promoting a coaching style of management. I believe that is to be applauded as it can nurture the development of individuals, grow respect for diverse and innovative approaches and enhance engagement. However, it is essential that leaders and managers tasked with developing a coaching style are provided with the skills training and knowledge to do so effectively and ethically. It is also necessary to acknowledge that the scope for colleagues to act as effective coaches has limitations. For example: at times it will be appropriate for the manager to simply instruct and expect compliance; the manager is also the disciplinary authority; the employee may perceive the manager, or their relationship with the manager, as an obstacle to progress or as inhibiting open discussion; the manager may be protective of their own position and lack commitment to developing their team; the individual who could benefit from coaching may be the leader. For many reasons, the most effective coaching may need to be externally resourced. The external coach has no agenda other than fulfilling the coaching contract. Where an organisation is engaging a coach to support individuals it will be important to ensure that the objectives of the coaching are agreed at the outset so the coaching will be designed to support and challenge the individual in alignment with organisational aims. Where an individual seeks executive coaching it is often with a view to clarifying career direction, working through particular issues or overcoming obstacles which are holding them back. In that scenario the coach will be that individual’s confidante, honest and constructive critic and cheerleader. Effective coaching empowers identification of what success looks like, engagement in reality-testing and development of the vision and strategy to achieve. The goal may be individual, such as career development, or it may be organisational, such as planning and implementing structural change.
It was Maslow who wrote, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail”. Coaching is one tool in the huge toolbox of learning and development interventions. It is not the most effective tool in all situations and the ethical coach will provide an honest and realistic steer on where and when it has the capacity to be a powerful instrument of positive change.This article is correct at 07/09/2017
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