Exploring leadership – one conversation at a time

What is Coaching?

What is Coaching?

Over the period of a year, David worked with a coach at least once a month. In the coaching conversations David was able to close the door on the normal demands of the day for a few hours and engage in some structured thinking. In this space he was able to reflect, stretch, clarify a vision for his new role as MD and the company and gain insights on how to get there. Early on in the coaching series he was able to develop a strategy that targeted the silo thinking and blame shifting that was prevalent in the company and, within his first year, he had provided leadership that created a significant shift toward a collaborative culture.

In David’s opinion, the level and quality of thinking he was able to do with the support of his coach helped him to grow into his new role fairly quickly. Coaching helped him to clarify key strategies in a short space of time and with greater accuracy and it helped him to take focused action to change what needed changing.

Coaching is in essence a conversation, or a series of conversations, that result in measurable and sustainable change for a coachee. Coaching engagements are, however, made distinct from other conversations by a clear definition of who owns what in the conversation. This distinctness has important implications for where a coaching conversation focuses and the manner in which it is conducted. It is also what enables coaching to produce an outcome that is different to other conversations, and often do so far quicker.

The power of coaching lies in its ability to produce a particular kind of synergy. The skill that a coach brings into this partnership has to do with a process and attitude that makes coaching what it is. Content is still vitally important in a coaching conversation. In fact, these conversations are content rich without being cluttered or stuck in detail. This is in part due to the clear distinction in ownership mentioned earlier.

In a coaching conversation neither process nor content dominate – both are essential. Primary ownership of each element is critical in a coaching relationship but is set up very differently to the way we normally do when we engage with each other. In coaching, the coachee has primary (not exclusive) ownership of the content in the conversation. This requires commitment and ‘coachability’ from the coachee, and respect and ‘faith’ from the coach. On the other hand, the coach has primary (not exclusive) ownership of the process in a coaching conversation. This requires skill, commitment and a true coaching attitude from the coach, and trust and wholehearted engagement in the coaching process from the coachee.

The ‘transactional’ journey (the one that relates to our ‘doing’) is often fairly obvious. What is not always as obvious is the ‘transformational’ journey (the one that relates to our ‘being’) that is intertwined with the ‘doing’ part of the process.  The following story highlights the transformational aspects of James’ journey.

As a technical person, James is exceptionally well qualified and has vast experience. He is already a high achiever in his own sphere and respected for what he has to offer in this regard. Besides his technical qualifications, James has also completed an MBA. Through coaching conversations James came to realise how much he had been relying on his technical expertise to create a platform for promotion. In the past this had always been sufficient but for the next level something more would be essential. Coaching helped James to confront the vital importance of being able to lead and work with people in a way that he had never done before. He uncovered patterns of thinking and habits in this regard that were holding him back and began to develop new ones.

Many of the internal shifts that surfaced in the coaching conversations are already embedded and are finding their way into his day-to-day behaviours. During the close out conversation of the coaching series after six months, James’ comment was that his whole life had changed.

What every coaching story will highlight is that the value of coaching does not lie specifically with what a coach does. The truth is that there is much that is a normal part of other types of conversations that coaches do not do. Coaches do not tell their coachees what to do, they do not rely on their own knowledge or understanding, they do not analyse problems and create solutions or develop plans for anyone. A coaching engagement may result in some of this happening, but the coachee does this work rather than the coach.

When we look to answer the question of what coaching is then, we need to start with the understanding that the real power of coaching lies in the specific kind of partnering that takes place when a coach and coachee engage in coaching conversations. To be a coach requires both the skill and the attitude that will ensure that both participants are able to fully and freely own their part of the engagement. As each does so, a synergy is released that produces extraordinary results.

Note: Names and certain elements of the stories in this article have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

A more detailed version of this article is available at www.transilience.biz

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The Leadership Challenge

Communities of People

If we take the people out of our organisations what we have left is mostly just stuff.

People often join and leave an organisation without there being any discernable interruption in its existence. There is therefore room for the illusion that there is life in an organisation that does not depend on people. The truth is, however, that no matter how great the idea behind the organisation is, how good its processes are or how well resourced it is, nothing meaningful or sustainable happens without people.

If we think carefully about this then, it is important to acknowledge that organisations are really communities of people. This is something that we hear many Human Resources (HR) and Organisation Development (OD) practitioners saying these days.

It takes people behaving in a particular way that makes our organisation productive and profitable around its reason for being. These behaviours matter a great deal to how well an organisation performs. Some behaviours are simply better than others.

People friendly, adaptive cultures tend to produce these better behaviours – the kind that make the difference between producing bad, mediocre, merely good and great results.

Not surprisingly, these cultures are led mostly by leaders who know how, and want to, have a constructive leadership impact on those they lead. Their leadership has a balanced focus on developing people and teams on the one hand and inspiring commitment to high quality and excellence in the organisation on the other. How then do we grow better leadership?

True Transformation Required

How do we lead in ways that create opportunities for and inspire these ‘better’ behaviours in organisations?

It is not as if we do not know what is required. We live in extraordinary times where a wealth of understanding is available about what great leadership looks like, and yet a considerable gap persists between the real and the ideal.

The greatest leadership challenge is still in the doing rather than in the knowing. At the heart of the answer to these questions about becoming better leaders then, is the need for processes that produce transformation – authentic, positive and sustainable change.

Traditional approaches that depend heavily on the transfer of specialised information (training, consulting, etc.) simply do not go far enough to produce the level of transformation required. These approaches have a valid role to play, but this is not it.

For the full atricle see www.transilience.biz/resources/The_Leadership_Challenge.pdf