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for corporate leaders

Coaching a “must skill”
for corporate leaders

Today you hear a lot about coaching as a leadership tool. It certainly makes sense. If it can be used in sports and the theater to enhance performance, why not use it in business? Unfortunately, coaching has the same limitations in the business world that it does in sports and theater. You can’t coach someone on how to do something he or she doesn’t already want to do.
In other words, you can’t coach someone on how to become a superior performer without a commitment by that individual to become a superior performer.
So in order for a coach to be effective, he or she must find a way to work so that the performer generates new levels of commitment. Then the coach’s job is to coach that commitment. When the coach starts trying to get the performer to do what the coach wants, coaching turns back into management.
Most training courses on coaching would have you believe that good coaching is based on the coach saying and doing things in a certain way.
But if you ask championship coaches about the secrets to their success, they talk about their relationships with their players and their commitment to their success. They know the performer must trust the coach and must know that the coach is committed to the success of the performer. The absence of either of these two foundations will render the coach ineffective.
This will present a problem for many organizations, which are marked by little trust of management. Today, employees know that their job is secure only until the next downsizing. They know that management is committed to their success only as long as they are performing well.
So employees never really feel free to open up and request coaching from managers in areas where they are not performing well. Instead, they feel compelled to prove that they know what they are doing at all times and blame factors outside their control for non-performance.
If you look at the reality of work, people don’t really need someone committed to their success when things are going well. A good coach’s commitment to an employee’s success makes the most difference when things are not going well. Leaders must change this aspect of their relationships with employees in order for coaching to take hold in organizations. They must let employees know they are committed to their success no matter what.
This, combined with consistent actions that support the commitment to success, will build the level of trust that is necessary for coaching to be effective. Once there is a relationship of trust in place, then steps can be taken to set up the coaching relationship.
Start with finding out what levels of performance the person you are coaching is committed to.
Resist the impulse to tell him at what levels he should perform. Instead, request that he set targets for performance that will stretch him to be better at his job than he is today. Let him know that if he is willing to set those kinds of performance levels as goals, you will make a commitment to him that he will be successful.
This sets up the relationship so that there is commitment on both sides. If he fails, you fail.
Once you and the person you are coaching know what levels of performance he wants to achieve, don’t be afraid to challenge and push him to that level. Don’t buy into his reasons why he can’t perform to the level of his commitment.
When the going gets tough, remind him you are supporting what he said he wanted to achieve. Keep reminding him you are committed to his success, because he will forget from time to time when you are coaching him through the rough spots. When he succeeds, he will thank you and honor you for your coaching.
In addition to working with the people you are coaching, if you want to be effective as a coach, you must do some work on yourself. No great coach was born that way.
The most effective coaches constantly look for coaching on their coaching. They get coached by other effective coaches and they get coached by the people they are coaching. Open yourself up to the people you are coaching. Ask them if you are being effective as their coach. Ask them how you can do better.
A good coach also needs to be coachable. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to be coached?” It’s easier to coach than to be coached, so everyone wants to be the coach. But unless you understand how difficult it is to be coached, especially around difficult issues, you will have no compassion or understanding for what the person you are coaching is going through.
Great coaches believe in their people. They know all performers will have slumps and problems. They know nothing is wrong when this happens. In fact, they know that is why they are there as a coach in the first place.
If performers didn’t have problems meeting their commitments, there would be no need for coaches.
Remember, you are coaching people, not machines. It’s your relationships with them and your commitment to their success that makes you a great coach, first and foremost.
(Paul Fraser is president of PDF Associates, an organizational development and management-consulting firm specializing in accelerating change for organizations. You can phone him at 381-5350 or fax him at 381-5212.)

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