Add Coaching To Your Tool Kit

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Many people ask us how we would describe coaching. It's a funny one as it's become as natural to us as walking. Saying that, how many times have we fallen off the pavement in the last couple of months? A few.

However, that’s beside the point.  If you look for definitions of coaching, there’s hundreds, so how do we look at what’s there and find an explanation which we find  practical and meaningful?

Well, in its purest form, coaching is about building a trusting relationship where thought provoking questions raise awareness to help an individual move forward with something that’s important to them. 

Blimey, we think that’s our definition.  Get that written down. 

History
As far back as 400 B.C. the Greek Philosopher Socrates hinted about the principles of ‘coaching’ when he said “I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.”
However, the term ‘coaching’ became most widely known in the sporting arena with every sports person or team worth their salt, engaging a coach. Fast forward to 1970 (the year fashion forgot) and it’s from this background of sport that Harvard graduate Timothy Gallwey  moved the concept forward.  Whilst captaining the tennis team, Gallwey recognised the principles of what he called, self-directed coaching, which he captured within his book ‘The Inner Game’, smart man.

In the 1980’s (the year of the rara skirt and bubble perm). Sir John Whitmore developed Gallwey’s principles further into a model called GROW within the field of skiing and tennis before being approached to apply these principles in a business context. The success of this transition resulted in him making some notes in a jotter (ok not a jotter but in the best-selling book ‘Coaching for Performance’, which has been translated into 19 languages).

Coaching Skills
Discussing the role of a coach could take up the rest of this article but we’ll break that down to the essential skills required to be an effective coach.  It’s about:

Using great questions  to help the coachee realise their priorities (rather than telling them what to do – there’s far too many people offering advice in this world);
Listening attentively to what the coachee is saying (sorry, what was that?)
Helping the coachee to create a really compelling vision/goal of what they want to achieve (so compelling that they can’t wait to leave the session to start working towards it)
Being the Coachee’s conscience when actions need completing (we’re not doing it for them, simply checking on progress).

GROW
The  GROW structure which Sir John Whitmore identified is the most well known coaching model and  although we’ve tried on many occasions to think of a better one ourselves, we keep coming back to this one.  It stands for Goal, Reality, Options and Will.  In its purest form, linked to asking questions, this is what you would see:

Goal – What do you want to achieve? Creating a compelling vision of what the coachee wants to achieve.

Reality – What’s happening now? Helping the coachee to understand what is happening at the moment (that might be both helping and hindering their progress).

Options – What could you do? Prompting as many different ways forward as possible to achieve the goal.

Will – What will you do? Also known as ‘wrap-up’ (but that makes us think of a winter day), this is about encouraging the coachee to prioritise which of the options discussed above they are going to do and when they will do it.  Action!

You may be reading this thinking: ‘great, but I know this won’t work with some people’.  To which we’d say: ‘if you think that it will or think that it won’t work, you’re probably right’ (thanks to Henry Ford for the inspiration there). There are some situations and some people where coaching would not work, but there may also be situations that you shy away from as you have convinced yourself that coaching may not work.

In Practice
Let’s look at a few examples from our experience (the names have been changed to protect the innocent). For example, when wouldn’t you coach?
Peter worked in an office with a large team of advisers.  When a fire alarm began ringing one day, his immediate response was to calmly tell everyone on the premises at that time to leave.  No messing. No coaching.  Just get out and ensure you’re safe.  He told them, quite assertively, what to do.

So, what we’re saying is that coaching is great.  Yay.  We love coaching.  However, it’s one of the tools in your extensive tool box of skills.  At times, other tools may need to be pulled out of that box – giving direction, discipline, managing someone’s under performance or just an old fashioned shoulder to cry on.  Coaching may or may not form part of the way forward, but it’s not the only tool you bring out to deal with a situation.

Long or Short Term
Let’s take a look at another example. 

Rachita is one of your team members.  She is very capable at her job and a valued presence.  She regularly approaches your desk to seek approval for what she is doing.  You’re very busy (see? we tried to make this as realistic as possible!).  Rachita is asking for 5 minutes of your time to get your advice.  From our experience, too many managers will simply tell Rachita what to do.  In the longer term, this creates an interdependency which encourages her to keep returning to you.  A coaching approach would ensure that
Rachita thinks through solutions for herself. 

If we master the skill of coaching, it turns into a habit; which in turn becomes natural behaviour.  Therefore, we automatically begin to ask questions to raise awareness rather than stifle awareness and give the other person our answer. To make this clear we know sometimes it is good to give advice; but sometimes, coaching is the most beneficial  tool  as we can tap into the individual’s expertise and help them find the best way to approach something for themselves rather than doing it our way. This is a great way to develop people, not just within the immediate situation, but in the future as they start to ‘coach’ themselves.

A recent survey in the UK suggested that many managers are adopting a ‘just-get-the-job-done’ mentality where delegating and directing is their main interaction with the team. However this research also found a strong link between good coaching skills in managers and staff retention levels.

Blimey, powerful stuff and although that research talks about managers, coaching can happen anywhere, anytime (now that reminds us of a cheesy 70’s advert – we don’t look old enough you say?).  Coaching can happen between managers and team members but equally the other way around and colleague to colleague.  But that is a whole new area and we’ll keep that for a future article….


 

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