Most of today’s leaders are expected to deal effectively with people ́s motivation and be able to inspire them to their best performance. An essential part of this is fostering the courage to act, develop new ideas, take risks, and “make the changes that we know in our hearts are essential and right in the world” (Robertson, 2015, p. 15), and a strong coaching relationship is one way of supporting employees to do this. As such coaching skills need to be an integral part of any modern manager’s toolkit.
However, sometimes coaching in an organisation will also have a negative reputation because, for instance, managers have previously used it as a performance management tool, rather than as a genuine way to support employees’ professional learning and development. In these cases there will need to be a concerted effort to reframe coaching to help ensure it is perceived positively, and part of this is likely to be supporting managers to develop their own coaching skills.
One of the first considerations is that, by definition, a manager is not ideally placed to work as a coach for someone who is reporting directly to them. Robertson (2015) advises that vulnerability, power relations or conflicts of purpose “can adversely affect the relationship. But these tensions are not insurmountable if the relationship is sensitively negotiated and understood” (Robertson, 2015, p. 12).
A coaching manager will need to be a coachee themselves prior to taking on a coachee of their own. They will also need the ongoing support of their own coach to help them continue to develop strong coaching skills, and to use integrity and patience to build the trust with the coachees on their team. A coaching manager’s “ability to deeply listen is just as important as asking the questions that count” (Robertson, 2015, p. 12), especially where the goal is to ensure the coachee feels “sufficiently safe to move away from covering up any perceived areas of weakness” (Robertson, 2015, p. 12). Over time, as the coaching relationship matures, ultimately both the coaching manager and the coachee should become more aware of shifts in perspectives and thinking, “eventually introducing conflict to promote self-examination and further development of alternative perspectives” (Stokes, 2011, p. 8). Other factors Stokes (2011) identified as critical to the relationship were motivation, recognition and celebration of positive growth, and the provision of “a mirror… to extend the...[coachee’s] self-awareness” (Daloz, 1986, in Stokes, 2011, p. 8). These factors help a coaching manager and coachee watch for indications “that the relationship may be transformative and growth producing for both partners” (Stokes, 2011, p. 8).
Whilst the primary purpose of a coaching relationship is to help the coachee, nevertheless usually both the coaching manager and the coachee gain from the experience. For instance a coaching manager is likely to find that there is real satisfaction in helping another person to learn and grow in confidence and self-esteem, while they also practise and enhance skills, such as the ability to listen and question, to support and challenge, and to be non-directive and non-judgmental (Manukau Institute of Technology, 2009). Listening to the coachee can provide a fresh perspective and range of insights into an organisation’s culture and way of working, as well as the products and services they provide (Manukau Institute of Technology, 2009).
As indicated above, coaching managers play a fundamental part in building the future capability of employees and the organisation in which they both work, particularly by helping some of its talented professionals develop further than they might if they were not involved in a coaching relationship. As such, a coaching manager can support their coachee to:
(Adapted from Manukau Institute of Technology, 2009)
Some of the practical ways in which coaching can be applied in modern management are by:
If people “learn best when they see a practical application of the new knowledge / skill in their job and / or daily life” (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.), coaching can enhance this tendency by helping an employee develop conceptual connections and explore implications for their team and the wider organisation. The long-term nature of the resulting changes can make a large-scale impact on how well an organisation functions, how content the workforce feels, and in turn, how much their customers value it. As such, coaching managers play an essential part in helping to ensure an organisation’s efficiency and profitability.
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