When Coaching Makes a Difference

Coaching is hot!

In a recent survey of Learning and Talent Management professionals, respondents named Coaching a top five development priority for multiple leadership levels.

Recent leadership research indicates that coaching is also critically important to a second top leadership development priority: Leading Change. Coaching accounts for six of the top 20 identifying leadership behaviors associated with driving successful change initiatives.

Given the importance of coaching, let’s look at the coaching practices that bring out the best in people.

Striving for the Stretch

Coaching’s greatest contribution to performance is when people strive towards challenging goals. These are goals for which success is important but not certain. When people work to achieve what many call ‘stretch’ goals, coaching has its greatest impact.

This brings us to how coaches help people accomplish these goals.

Helping People Excel

Matthew Barlow, a sports psychologist at Bangor University in Wales, pursued the following question: “What coaching practices differentiate elite athletes that medal at championships from those who go home empty-handed?”

Barlow found that successful coaches of elite athletes – both medal winning and non-medal winning alike – provide great technical support. Assessing performance, providing corrective feedback and facilitating learning describe good coaching practice. At work, good coaches do the same.

Barlow’s research uncovered something else that makes the vital difference in achieving medal-winning performance. Elite athletes who medalled described the coach–athlete relationship as a “bond.” This bond featured mentoring, positive feedback, interest in the athlete’s personal life and unwavering support. Strong relationships are key in helping people achieve the highest level of athletic performance.

At work, high performing coaches have strong relationships. Research on engagement and coaching effectiveness, show that when feel people feel valued, are recognized and have their self-esteem strengthened, initiative and self-reliant action increases.

Results from 2015 Gallup engagement surveys help make the case. Team members are more engaged when they:

• Feel as though their manager is personally invested in them
• Report that their managers:
o Use a combination of face-to-face, phone, and electronic communication and respond to their employees within 24 hours
o Talk frequently with them about their responsibilities and progress
o Focus on strengths and positive characteristics

How do we help managers be better coaches?

Helping leaders excel at coaching means providing them development experiences that they can personalize to their profile of learning priorities and preferences. Research tells us that blended learning works best in today’s organizations. Blended learning provides flexible options for:
o Self-paced digital learning
o Virtual and face to face group skills practice and application planning
o Access to coaching support that helps overcome challenging skill application situations

Senior leadership also powerfully contributes to coaching effectiveness. When senior leaders build a coaching culture, they clarify the organization benefits of enhanced coaching, model the behavior, and reinforce the trial and error process that promotes to mastery.

Building a coaching culture is important in today’s “do-more-with-less” work environments in which many managers have become accustomed to being highly directive. Making the shifting from telling people what to do to using coaching behavior is a challenging transition for many to make. Comments from participants in coaching development programs help illustrate:
• I don’t want to take the chance that my team will see that I don’t know what I am doing.
• What do I do if this doesn’t work?
• Giving positive feedback is tough and I fear losing control.

Developing a coaching culture enabled by blended learning helps managers overcome these obstacles as they make the journey to increased coaching impact.

Coaching is a top leadership development priority. We learn from behavior of coaches of elite athletes that providing technical support within a context of strong relationships are two factors that help people achieve their best. Blended learning solutions and the development of a coaching culture helps organizations convert the unrealized potential in their organization into greater levels of personal and organizational success.

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