You can make a big difference in someone’s life with very little effort on your part. This is the secret sauce behind the success of the coaching profession. With only an hour every week or so, coaches impact lives and receive accolades out of proportion with the depth or breadth of the relationship. Exhibit A: An e-mail received from an executive with whom I spent 15 hours over six months working on team-based coaching.
“I often remember the leadership ‘experience.’ It really changed my life, both business and private wise. I feel I have adopted a more confident style of leadership, and it is delivering results for me and those who surround me.”
Read Susan Cramm’s answers to reader questions on coaching for leadership.
Although I love my job and the kudos, I think it’s sad that companies have to look outside their walls for help in fulfilling some of the fundamental needs of their workforce, such as helping individual workers identify and achieve their long-term goals. Outsourcing care and concern isn’t the ideal approach for meeting these needs. They are best provided for by those who are close at hand. It is for this reason that I always encourage my clients to pay it forward: to understand my coaching techniques and apply them to those they are entrusted to lead.
For those of you who are inclined to take on the role of a coaching leader but are uncertain as to approach or time requirements, let me dispel a couple of myths, offer a caveat, and provide some encouragement.
Myth 1: Coaching is a specialist skill that takes years of practice. In reality, if you are a parent, you already know the fundamentals of coaching. Most leaders have kids and thus are practiced in the art of helping others anticipate consequences and reflect on outcomes to make better decisions in the future. Coaching leaders, like parents, also help others recognize their talents. They foster the accumulation of knowledge and the development of abilities to achieve goals that are important to the individual and provide value to the organization.
To encourage growth, coaches establish clear standards, define stretch goals, and celebrate accomplishments. They also create “space” in the form of increased authority and delegation around the individual to encourage creativity, initiative and risk taking.
Myth 2: Coaching takes too much time. Rest assured that coaching isn’t a distraction from getting work done. Rather, it’s a fulfilling and productive way to get individuals working in concert with the needs of their teams and organization.
Coaching should be applied within the context of the work that’s “on the desks” of your staff. And here’s the caveat: Before you can coach someone, you need to secure his or her trust. The coaching leader can do this by understanding a person’s values, motivators and personality. This information can be gathered in a couple of hours. You can also get a sense of a person’s skills and abilities through delegating and observing. With all this intelligence, it is now possible to identify developmental opportunities and align this person with the work that needs to get done.
From a distance, it’s hard to spot the difference between a coaching and a task oriented one. Both follow a process of delegating and following up. Task oriented leaders delegate based on the needs of the organization and follow up to ensure the work gets done. Coaching leaders do the same but also make sure that individuals understand what they are supposed to learn. In the process of following up, they also make sure that the right learning occurs — particularly when setbacks are experienced.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the emotional intelligence, character or motivation to be a coach. Many leaders are too narcissistic to muster up the emotional energy to establish the rapport and trust necessary to make coaching relationships click.
The key to successful coaching is the ability to empathize with others. Empathy requires quieting your mind so that you can tune in to someone else. However, it’s impossible to tune in to others when one is overscheduled and unable to give her undivided focus to another human being for a half hour or more.
People find meaning in connecting with others. When you make a difference in someone else’s life you are enriching your own. Imagine receiving this e-mail: “Thanks so much for the advice on my business. I believe that someday, everything that I know will equal everything I think I knowâ¬¦and magic will happen.”
I spent a total of two hours with this guy. Imagine the impact you can have by coaching those with whom you interact on a daily and weekly basis.