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Making the changes we know are right in the world

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:

  • learn by reflecting on their experiences
  • develop their confidence and professional skills
  • work on tricky or challenging relationships
  • identify areas that they would like to develop in their practice, and to set SMART goals
  • increase their ability to take responsibility for own decisions
  • identify professional and/or interpersonal skills they would like to develop
  • plan - a project, their next steps, and/or their career
  • develop their own leadership skills, and be comfortable working within an organisation where delegation is the norm
  • enhance business efficiency / processes

(Adapted from Manukau Institute of Technology, 2009)

Some of the practical ways in which coaching can be applied in modern management are by:

  • providing coaching as a part of every employee’s work, especially for Generation Z, to help meet a need for one-to-one support and development. Coaching sessions would be scheduled in advance, regular, of a high priority, and illustrative of the importance the coaching manager gives to them.
  • supporting coaching managers to work consistently with coachees on their specific skills (and confidence), in part through the development of professional learning plans. The plans would be discussed and negotiated with all members of their team, and there would be sufficient structure to help ensure that milestones were identified and measurable, and scheduled in a way that ensures regular feedback. Feedback might be via multimedia, as well as during coaching sessions. A coaching manager’s approach would need to be flexible so that the tone and approach match each team member’s needs and expectations.
  • using coaching to make the most of the enthusiasm and commitment of all employees (in particular Generation Z). A coaching manager would available to help support emerging leaders and champions, who are seen as having the potential to go far in an organisation. They could be encouraged to take on leadership roles. Initially, these might be around, for instance, ‘passion projects’, initiatives with ‘an impact’, projects that would help enhance multicultural perspectives and practices within the company, or sustainable working within the company.
  • helping an employee who is technically very capable but struggling to develop effective ways of integrating this into their professional practice, especially while interacting with customers. Regular feedback and monitoring of progress toward SMART goals would be part of the coaching manager’s role. The coaching manager would also make sure that positive feedback was given frequently, and was as objective as possible by removing the ‘personal’, while also ensuring that it was relevant.
  • ensuring that an employee feels supported as they work on tricky or challenging professional relationships, within the business as well as with clients. The coaching manager would need to listen as much as question to help the coachee feel heard in regards to their experiences, while also supporting the coachee to develop their own solutions and strategies.
  • building a culture where taking risks, and learning from mistakes is welcomed and a part of the company culture as well as part of the healthy coaching relationships. When mistakes were made, the managing coach would ensure that the coachee reflects critically, ‘owns’ the learnings, and identifies next steps. This would help ensure that the managing coach’s role remains (and is perceived as by their team) formative in focus.
  • assisting someone who has recently joined the organisation, or taken on a leadership role, to find their feet. A coaching manager’s role would be to help the coachee identify the skills and knowledge that would help them find their place and grow in the organisation. In part this would be through the coaching manager’s own extensive knowledge and experience of the organisation’s culture, processes, products and services.
  • encouraging team members who have a tendency to under-perform to develop their awareness of this, and (where the employee is coachable - i.e. willing to learn and change in a coaching relationship) motivate them to change their behaviour. A coaching manager’s role would be to support the coachee to reflect on their practice, how they are interacting in the team and with customers, and ensuring that the coachee outlines their own goals, actions, and ways of evaluating success. The coaching manager would then need to follow up frequently, and to identify if the coaching was not working.

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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