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Who Needs a Coach?

You? An employee? Your team?

(Reprinted from Semiconductor Magazine March 2001)

A manager supervised eight engineers, each from a different country. In his native country, this manager learned a top-down, authoritarian leadership style. Several of the engineers complained about his dictatorial style. His boss asked me to coach him to become a more collaborative team leader. After his initial resistance, he listened to the feedback, modified his approach, built a successful team and eventually got a promotion. To quote him: “Your feedback helped me take a hard look at myself. I’ll need a tune-up like this on a regular basis. It’s too easy to slip back into old ways.”

A director at Lucent Technologies said: “Dr. Manning’s coaching has helped me in virtually every phase of my job. From more effective presentations to a better understanding of people’s working styles, I am a far more successful manager today than ever before. Coaching is also helping me and my management team achieves our goals and creates a work environment that retains and attracts our staff.”

What is coaching?

Coaching can provide feedback, a reality check, new skills and information and a sounding board. Using a qualified consultant as a coach can give you and your team a safe, unbiased perspective. Your coach can help quell doubts, anxieties, and fears as well as explore ambitions.

A coach can give you a “kick in the pants” to make the personal changes necessary to maximize your potential. Unfortunately, most of us wait to make significant personal changes until faced with a crisis, rather than practicing continuous self-improvement. We often ignore or deny our own weaknesses and lack of balance.

Most of us need frequent feedback and others to talk to. We need input from different perspectives.

Coaching in times of change and stress

Rapid changes in the work environment can create a sense of chaos and isolation. The lack of face-to-face communication in e-mail, voice-mail, virtual teams, and most mergers, and acquisitions can dehumanizing the environment and leave a group unfocused.

Rapid change cycles are a fruitful time for coaching. Leaders need to recognize indicators of increased staff stress and signs of diminishing trust, enthusiasm, or participation. An in-depth assessment and a sound plan for implementing some positive change and coaching can help.

Could you or your team benefit from coaching?

“Yes” to any of these questions makes you a good candidate:

  • Could I use someone influential to help my advancement?
  • Do I have any limiting patterns and behaviors (like micromanaging) that I’d like to modify?
  • Can I safely discuss my mistakes, doubts or anxieties?
  • Am I motivating and easy to work with?
  • Do I feel out of balance in my life and need strategies to prioritize?
  • Do I need an attentive non-judgmental ear?

Consider a coach for your team if you answer “yes” to any of these questions:

  • Has your organization recently reorganized, restructured, and changed direction?
  • Are there unresolved conflicts within the team?
  • Could meeting or problem-solving skills be improved?
  • Does the team need better positioning?

For example, a director of facilities describes some team coaching: “Dr. Manning excels in getting co-workers to buy into the problem resolution process by illustrating how poor communication contributes to unnecessary conflict. They became aware how they and others prefer to receive information. Team coaching got the barriers to come down.”

What makes a good coach?

Look for these traits as you select a coach:

  • A neutral, non-political position
  • An empathic, attentive listener
  • A risk-taker, willing to vulnerable
  • A coaching track record with related experience
  • The right skill set for the job
  • Ability to customize a coaching plan

Perhaps you need more than one coach: one for behavioral changes, another for project skills or organization strategies. Of course, you need good rapport with your coach; chemistry and style are part of finding a “good fit.”

The coaching process

Establish the need: If you are sending someone for coaching, take time to review their past successes and learning. What changes have they succeeded in? Which have failed and why? Give them ample time to talk about resistance and fears that they may have, as well as what they expect from coaching. W. Edwards Deming says: “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.” A coach can help you discuss sensitive issues in a low-risk environment.

Establish coaching goals: Research supports that mission-driven projects are more efficient and productive than rule-driven projects. Coaching should be treated like a project. Have a clearly defined mission that you and your employee agree to. Create a vision for success. Put clear, measurable goals into a personal strategic plan.

Choose the right coach and provide support: Let the coaching candidate interview the coach to make sure there’s a good fit. Then, you must have a high commitment to the process for coaching to work. Hold regular informal check­ups. Offer your patience and encouragement.

Ongoing and short-term coaching options

Many coaching processes span three to six months. However, I have had some short-term assignments that have only taken a few sessions. For example, I was asked to resolve a conflict between three project leaders who worked in the same department.

Visit #1: individual interviews/assessment.

Visit #2: facilitating each “pair” to state their issues and agree on how to work with each other.

Visit #3: (a month later) assess if the conflicts had been resolved and the agreements adhered to.

With a little guidance, the three were able to work together for solutions. They now treat each other professionally and with respect. Having an outside “mediator” broke the ice and allowed them to let go of the past and move on.

You can use a coach to mediate conflict, help modify styles, sharpen presentation skills, or just be a neutral, empathic ear. Design a plan to maximize your results. Find a coach that’s a good fit and enjoy the adventure.