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Coaching needs to be different to work

Coaching needs to be different to work. If what you call coaching was really coaching, we wouldn’t need coaching!

I have noticed a pattern. 

I’m told, “My boss coaches me, however, it doesn’t make much difference and I don’t like it” but further examination reveals that what the boss claims to be a coaching approach is anything but.

The internet is awash with articles on what coaching is (goodness knows I’ve penned a few of them myself) but I thought it might be interesting – or even a bit maverick – to set out a few thoughts around what coaching isn’t.

Coaching is not …

Telling people what to do and how to do it.

Because that is simply teaching or instructing. If teaching or instructing is what the situation needs then teach or instruct, but don’t call it coaching!

Of course, there’s sometimes a place for ‘telling’ in a work situation. It may well be that if someone is new to the team or just generally inexperienced that our management style needs to involve more telling at the start. However, once our people have a decent level of knowledge and skill, telling becomes counter-productive because those same people will instinctively want to use their knowledge and skills as best they can and seek to exercise a little initiative and independence. 

If we carry on telling, we stifle those instincts and end up with a frustrated team of ‘yes men’. 

We can use coaching to help people develop their knowledge and skills in their own unique way and encourage them to develop further still.

Offering uninvited feedback

Many of the organisations I work with claim to have an established coaching set up but are mystified by its patchy results. But as I said at the start, closer inspection reveals that what goes on in the name of coaching is indeed in name only. 

Staff are observed in action and then a manager or a so-called coach – usually clutching a clipboard – takes them off to a private room and runs through a list of mistakes made or opportunities missed. 

This kind of clumsy feedback does more harm than good and at worst can stoke up resentment and a desire to seek revenge or ‘get management back’. A true coach, on the other hand, would be offering feedback free from judgement and placing much more importance on what the staff member had noticed during the interaction in question.

Rescuing people and having all the answers

Just because you take up a coaching approach as a leader,  you are not obliged to rescue people and solve all their problems for them. This is an easy trap to fall into for the inexperienced coaching manager and creates a lot of pressure. It may well be that despite a lengthy coaching conversation – or a series of them – a problem remains unsolved or a coachee is no further forward.

This does not mean that the coaching has failed or that the coach has done anything wrong. I must stress, coaching is not a magic panacea to cure all workplace ills. Some work problems are complex, multi-part and not easily solved. Some people that you coach may have given up in spirit if not in body and put themselves beyond the reach of even the greatest coach. 

Though you can rest assured that a bit of decent coaching won’t do any harm and will usually do at least some good.

A disciplinary measure for poor performers

Coaching is most certainly not only for poor performers, and to position it as such is a mistake. A sure way to kill off coaching in its infancy in an organisation is to introduce it alongside a performance management system or disciplinary process. 

Alternatively, introducing coaching by encouraging the already top performers to develop even further, sends much more positive signals and positions coaching as about moving forward; irrespective of the starting point.

Coaching needs to be different to work – don’t you agree?

Matt Somers
Matt Somershttps://www.mattsomers.com/
Matt Somers is a leading voice on training and coaching in the UK publishing Coaching at Work in 2006 and Coaching in a Week in 2016. He holds an MSc in Human Resource Development and is a Fellow of the CIPD.

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