I ran my first coaching skills programme for leaders way back in 1992 – more than two decades ago! At that time the concept of managers coaching was a bit 'out there' and I recall the lively debates around whether or not managers should coach their teams, and why.
In the intervening years, coaching has become a burgeoning industry in its own right and managers are nowadays expected to coach peers and bosses as well as direct reports. They’re even encouraged to coach themselves with a bit of self-coaching!
But you know what? In response to all this talk about managers coaching, I want to shout "STOP! STOP! STOP!"
And here’s why:
1. Coaching has become such an over-used word that nobody really knows what it means any more.
2. Coaching is simply a label for a particular type of conversation...
...but giving it this label means it becomes something for managers to add to their already over-crowded to-do lists – and it stops them having the good conversations they would otherwise have.
3. Coaching is too often peddled as THE ANSWER to all managers’ dilemmas.
But it isn’t – managers also need to direct, make decisions and say "no" sometimes. Coaching is not a panacea.
4. Coaching is getting too complicated.
I have worked with managers who have spent two years getting a coaching qualification and then refuse to give a straightforward answer to anything their direct reports ask them. In one extreme example, an overly enthusiastic manager who had recently finished a two-year academic coaching programme refused to answer any question her direct reports asked her. She would only answer their questions with a question!
5. Coaching your boss or coaching your peers – without their express agreement that they want to be coached – is downright condescending.
Far too often you can see an individual moving into ‘coach’ mode and – with special tone of voice in place – asking questions which, given the situation, are simply cringe-worthy.
Before any of us goes into overdrive in encouraging our managers to be coaches, we should first stop and ask ourselves what we are really asking them to do...
- Be less directive?
- Listen more?
- Ask more questions?
- Give their direct reports time and space to share ideas?
- Be more open to different perspectives?
These are all valuable leadership behaviours which should be displayed by every leader. And of course they are all good coaching behaviours too.
But, in my experience, helping leaders to focus on adopting these behaviours is far more effective than talking to them about ‘coaching’.
When leaders adopt these behaviours in their everyday approach to people, they adopt a leadership style that is aligned with coaching. Their everyday conversations look, sound and feel like coaching. They find they have better conversations, build stronger relationships and find that people engage more willingly as a result. People feel valued and respected – they start to share ideas and take on more responsibility.
All of these are the results that we seek from coaching too – it’s just that we avoid putting the barrier of ‘coaching’ in the way for busy leaders.
The main reason I want to shout "STOP focussing on coaching!" is so that we can start focussing on great leadership behaviours instead. And, ironically, in doing so, we help create leaders who are naturally skilled coaches – they just don’t know they’re doing it!
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