Coaching: When you don’t have all the answers

What do Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and a host of other successful business people all have in common? Aside, that is, from having been the face of some of the world’s most prominent brands? The answer: they are all advocates of coaching.

The prominence of coaching has significantly increased over the years, and is now a cornerstone of most development programmes. Encouragingly, coaching is now offered widely across all roles in organisations; recognised as an enabler of great performance, this is no longer a boardroom only benefit.

That said, engaging employees, and particularly those at the senior level with coaching programmes remains a challenge for many companies. Often this is a direct result of how the coaching has initially been positioned to the individual, which can dramatically impact an employee’s engagement with it, and therefore its effectiveness.

From experience, when individuals initiate coaching themselves, they are open to it. They have already identified challenges or areas they need support in overcoming. When requests for coaching are made by others, for example, an individual’s manager, even the most skilled coach can find it  difficult to engage the individual. The reason is simple: human nature. When we initiate something ourselves, we are in control. It’s our choice. In the case of coaching we are saying that we want to be developed. Conversely, when someone else recommends that we could benefit from coaching, even if it’s because they want to help us to be even better, we are naturally more sceptical. We often interpret it as an affront on our abilities and regard coaching as a remedial intervention as opposed to an opportunity to be the very best we can be.

Ultimately this ability to recognise our opportunities to develop comes down to self-awareness and reflection. Something that today’s hectic schedules makes more difficult, but that all celebrated business leaders say is essential to build into our day. Fundamentally this is the difference between good and great.

It would be a mistake to think coaching is a ‘soft and fluffy’ intervention. It’s hard work. Your coach will encourage you to really think things through, evaluate choices and commit to tangible actions.

Common examples of where coaching can benefit

If you are expecting a definitive list, then sadly you will be disappointed. But that is because coaching is such a versatile and invaluable tool. However, some common behaviours and signs include:

Decision making and finding answers

Rightly so, it’s important to thoroughly evaluate decisions, especially important ones. However, if you find yourself circling, or repeatedly mulling things over with no satisfactory outcome, then this could be a sign that a coach could benefit. Not to tell you the answer, but by helping you unpack your thoughts and give you the clarity to make the right decision.

Moving forward from an event or situation

Compromise is an essential skill to master. However, occasionally it can be hard to move on from events, especially if we fundamentally disagree. This could be as a result of a business decision about the future direction or even following feedback on one’s performance. The inability to let go of things can, if left unaddressed, hold you back from achieving, impacting an individual’s performance and wider teams. Again this is where coaching can benefit. Individuals can explore their options, experiment with new ideas and ways of working in a safe environment. They can weigh up the significance of allowing events to overwhelm them, and create strategies that they can use time and time again to help them better achieve their best work.

Engaging/Gaining buy in from senior individuals

Encountering resilience, clashing with individuals or failing to get the buy-in you want from senior management or team members can be frustrating. However, often it’s a result of how we are engaging them, or not as is often the case. In such circumstances coaching helps people to recognise the different personalities and perspectives of the various stakeholders involved, identifying what’s important to each one. As a result it helps individuals to better relate to and engage others, be prepared for challenges and have techniques developed for overcoming them.

Navigating politics

Office politics consume a lot of time and can be demotivating, particularly if an individual is struggling to navigate their way through it. In such circumstances coaches, many of whom have held senior positions in organisations, will be able, through their own experience, to help individuals better understand some of the dynamics at play, whilst developing a strategy to help them to successfully navigate them.

Driving us to be the very best we can be

Ultimately coaching is a development tool. And just like athletes, it’s often about marginal gains. Incorporating on-going coaching into our personal development plans helps us to do this. It provides us with the mechanism to constantly review our performance, identifying areas we need to tweak to deliver even better results. As a leader, this is essential, particularly within the context that most organisations now operate within.

Coaching is not about telling someone how to do something. It’s not about giving someone the answers, although a coach will share ideas and alternative strategies based on their own experiences. It’s a process of discovery, that through careful questioning, listening and encouragement, helps people realise that they actually do have the answers to many of the perceived or real challenges they face.