It's Not What You Think Coach, It's What You Do

If you are like the leader or employees in the research we have conducted, you would have little difficulty describing the elements in an effective coaching session. Even ineffective leaders could correctly define what should occur. The difference was that the ineffective leader was inhibited or could not apply or enact the desired behaviors when asked to do so in a real-time coaching session. The effective leaders, on the other hand, were able to apply the desired behaviors.

What causes the discrepancy between knowing what to do and actually doing it? Our best guess is that most managers have the knowledge because they have been exposed to a wide number of good coaching models, both in an organizational setting and off the job – a teacher, minister, friend, professional counselor, etc. Add to this the constant flow of information and literature on effective people skills for leaders. Leaders are also employees, and they know how they would want to be treated by their boss in a coaching session. When you add all of this up, it is not surprising that leaders have adequate sources of information to formulate an accurate mental picture of quality coaching.

The mystery is why the discrepancy occurs between descriptions and actions. One possibility is that, for some, tough business philosophy of how leaders should actually relate to employees is in conflict with the notions of openly exhibiting supportive behavior, seeking employee input, sharing responsibilities for problem solving, etc. The group’s value and attitudes about how a manager should relate to an employee get in the way of being an effective coach.

Freeing up attitudes to apply the positive concepts that they already know requires allowing them to experience the benefits first-hand and to see that most employees will not take advantage of them. A behavioral change can come about only after experimentation with, and testing of, the impact of the new set of highly beneficial leader behaviors. Furthermore, leaders need opportunities for extensive practice in order to become efficient and to convert mental images of coaching into a reality. In training sessions, time needs to be devoted to multiple practice sessions in which this experimentation and testing can occur.

A second possibility for this discrepancy is that some leaders truly believe that their behavior is consistent with their descriptions of an effective coaching session. They perceive no difference between what they say and what they do, even though employees would dispute this. Their problem is more difficult because the managers’ perceptions belie the reality of what they actually do as a coach. These managers respond to a presentation of the coaching model described in this text with nods of support. They complain that other managers are incapable of following the model, as they do with their employees. To increase these managers’ coaching effectiveness requires them to first see the difference between what they say and do, then describing what those specific inconsistent behaviors are and the agony they create for the employee. Again, training time needs to be devoted to providing the managers with candid feedback about their behavior and specific alternative behaviors to experiment with during future practice sessions.

Our conclusion is that managers know what is needed in an effective coaching session. Other than a brief overview and review, we do not need to spend valuable training time telling managers to be more participative, or explaining what an effective coaching session entails. We need to spend our time allowing managers to experience the benefits of an effective coaching model and discussing the obstacles to using this model. Second, in providing feedback on their coaching behavior, we need to devote heavy doses of training time to multiple practice and discussion sessions that explore the rewards of good coaching. Our belief and promise is that, if you persist, you will grow increasingly comfortable with the Coaching Model and will adapt and incorporate the skills into your own unique style.

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