The development of coaching

When it comes to development, coaching is very much the in vogue term. But is it a passing fad or is it here to stay?

By James Leavold, Associate Business Performance Coach

04/12/2015, blogs

Leaning over the shoulder of a commuter on a crowded tube train, I began to read a full page spread in the London Evening Standard. The title was: ‘A good coach can raise your game’.

It highlighted the gaining influence of ‘coaching’ in delivering individual and organisational effectiveness.

Coaching, as an approach to learning, is nothing new. Described as ‘unlocking people’s potential to maximise their performance’ the coachee is guided to work this out for him/herself. Socrates understood, over 2,000 years ago, that learning is better achieved through self-discovery. So why has it taken so long to become fashionable again?

Part of it could be accounted for by the success of an organised, logical and structured approach to growing civilisations and then economies. Lack of challenge to established authority, and predictability, allowed this approach to flourish. 

In business, there has always been an unspoken friction between the ‘desire’ to empower employees and the need for controlled hierarchies where the bosses word is final. There is also the issue of job protection and preservation of power and influence; as a leader if you coach somebody to be resourceful, you might find you’re no longer a required resource! As tennis Star Andre Agassi once said about his coach Brad Gilbert:

“A great coach can lead you to a place where you don’t need him anymore.”

In fact the modern world demands fluid, adaptable organisations in contrast to the behemoths that have traditionally ruled the corporate world. Companies will come and go, faster than ever before. Savvy employees will find command and control organisations more and more unpalatable, and might vote with their feet. Yet, at the same time there is pressure on companies to keep their labour costs down.

In an article in Upmarket magazine, in 2012, Lisa Berkovitz explained why coaching had become ‘the second fastest growth industry in the world’.

Herself a long-standing professional coach, she cited the slow death of the traditional world of work as a major factor, with people being required to be more flexible, more marketable and more deliberate about how they navigate their jobs and careers…but nobody has ever taught them the skills to accomplish this!

She added: ‘The inner and outer skills needed today essentially aren’t being taught elsewhere – not in the education system, Government, big business or by most parents. If you want to learn these things, for the most part you’re going to have to set up your own curriculum and get yourself educated independently.’

Coaching fills this gap. More resourceful and adaptable employees are produced when these employees are coached. What’s more, the positive psychological rewards, and the need for fulfilment, are also addressed in the coaching method.

Coaching leads to a better use of ‘problem-solving time’. The traditional manager might set up a meeting with her team, spend time listening to all the details and use her wisdom and experience to offer a solution. Then another problem might arise and that manager could be called upon in the same way – after all, surely the manager is paid for her experience and wisdom in offering speedy and effective solutions? It’s quicker to cut to the chase and get it sorted.

Alternatively, let’s forget the meeting…let’s even forget the detail of the problem. Let’s ask the person who has come with the problem about what his goal is here? Let’s ask him what they need to think through and arrive at his own conclusions. Let's invest our leadership time in this individual by empowering him to come up with a process for problem-solving that works for him. Then let’s remind him that he’s demonstrated a capacity to work though his issue, and developed his own process for problem-solving.

It appears that organisations are getting wise to this approach. In a report following a survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) entitled: ‘Creating a coaching culture’ (2011), one of the main conclusions was a witnessed shift in the role of ‘manager as expert’ to ‘manager as coach’.

The survey of learning and development managers and decision makers at 250 successful organisations, revealed a number of other important findings.

There was a broad consensus on the benefits that result from coaching. More than 95% of respondents reported gains for both the organisation, and the individual. In general, coaching was seen to help produce improvements in communication and interpersonal skills, leadership and management, conflict resolution, personal confidence, attitudes and motivation, management performance as well as preparation for a new role or promotion. The larger the organisation, the more likely they were to use coaching.

However a particular concern was the lack of training to support managers in their coaching aspirations. The report revealed:

‘Managers expressing an interest in coaching are encouraged to ‘have a go’. Perhaps worryingly, organisations emphasise the ability to address specific performance or behavioural issues, over the ability to coach, as a selection criterion. The challenge here is to ensure that the internal process of selecting and developing coaches produces coaching of a similar (or superior) quality and scope to that provided externally.

On this basis, the training of managers to be coaches, is gaining traction; In fact it’s been described by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) as a ‘megatrend’.

The forward-thinking organisation understands that, at its best, coaching addresses deficiencies in personal skills and development, as well as business and work skills. It focuses on the doing and being elements of management and leadership – not just the knowing. It results in improvements in self-awareness and personal confidence; it’s not simply about challenging people but empowering people to challenge themselves.

In essence, good coaching is about achieving a high performance culture, not managing a low-performance one.