How Coaching Makes A Difference In Leadership Ability And Satisfaction

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

It’s wonderful to have someone else committed to your success as a leader—giving you developmental feedback and holding you accountable in ways that foster your growth. And while it’s often hard to find this kind of support in the normal course of working your way up the ranks, you may be able to get it from a coach. In a recent conversation, Scott Osman and Jacquelyn Lane, co-authors with leading business educator and coach Marshall Goldsmith of Becoming Coachable and founder/CEO and president, respectively, of 100 Coaches Agency, explain how coaching can change and improve the work of both individual leaders and the entire organization.

Why Coaching Matters

A coaching stance is very different from the typical assignment and delegation in which leaders might ordinarily engage, so it triggers a different response. Even good leaders may inadvertently limit what employees can contribute and how much they can grow. “If you tell them what to do as a leader, their only choice is to follow what you say or not follow what you say,” Osman notes. The third choice—‘Well, here’s what I think’ is removed from the equation. You want to create that space for your followers to grow in the role and you want to be supportive of their growth—and the coach can really help with that.”

Coaching is especially valuable in today’s knowledge economy; it will grow even more crucial as AI-assisted work becomes more prevalent, because today’s work no longer requires the top-down correction that used to be the norm. “A lot of the language and systems that we created during the industrial revolution have not changed as the workplace has changed,” Lane explains.

Broader skills of understanding and conceptualization also come into play. “People used to be like dexterous ‘hands,’ basically a machine. But we’ve now transferred into this work of the mind. We’re mind workers, but we still refer to ourselves as labor.” Lane sees the future of work and workplaces as being “the work of the heart, and you can’t direct people into the work of the heart—you can only encourage them.”

But the focus of executive coaching is not primarily self-improvement or managing feelings. “The whole purpose of coaching is to get better, whether that’s better business results or better collaboration on your team,” says Lane. “But even just to set out on that process of betterment requires us to be open to doing some things differently. So you have to be open to change. If you’re not open to change, don’t waste your money and don’t waste your company’s money. Change is an inevitable part of the process; you will be trying some new things.”

How To Decide Who Gets Coached

When you treat coaching as a business investment and a development tool, determining who should be coached is imperative. Rather than starting with individuals, Osman recommends identifying an organization’s value-creating roles to ensure that coaching will provide sufficient business impact. Only after that should a senior leader assess potential development candidates. “Are they open to coaching? Are they open to feedback? Are they open to taking action? Are they open to accountability?” Osman asks. “Because if you’re going to invest in coaching and they aren’t willing to do those four things, then it’s going to be a wasted investment—they’re not going to change.”

In high-value roles, notes Osman, “You want to have someone who loves that job, who thinks the job is the right job for them. They wake up in the morning and think, ‘I want to do this job; I want to do it better; I can’t wait to get to work! I’m going to keep my life in balance, but I’m gonna bring everything when I get there!’”

Warning: Not Everyone Is A Good Coaching Candidate

Irrespective of their roles, not everybody benefits from coaching. Some people don’t care enough about the organization; others feel coaching will challenge the ways they believe things should be done. None of us can see ourselves, Lane says. So one of the most significant functions of coaching is to gain self-awareness, which requires being willing to hear feedback from your coach. Osman suggests that many people need to reach an “inflection point” before they become interested in coaching. “They’ve reached the end of their rope, and they realize the way they’ve been doing things will not work anymore, and if they don’t make a change, they’re out; they’re done,” he says. “And the other inflection point is people who are doing really well, but they realize that there’s a way to do exponentially better—and they want exponentially better.”

Coaching’s greatest benefit comes with the recognition that “We think we have to be top of the class and perfect—and then all of a sudden we learn that you don’t have to hang on to that,” says Osman. “We’re going to be leading people; we’re going to be achieving together. We’re going to be celebrating the amazingness of the people on our team before we even think about ourselves. It’s liberating—and so is change.”

We’re In This Together

Senior leaders can help employees see how valuable coaching by taking advantage of it themselves and letting people know that coaching is meant to support rather than to perfect. “As a leader, you’re setting an example,” says Osman, “and if you can show people that change is something to be proud of, that it’s not shameful, then the people who are currently hiding their problems—because they’re afraid they’ll be shamed if they’re outed—stop hiding their problems. Then you can address those problems and the entire business can flourish.”

There is nothing more inspiring for employees,” says Lane, “than someone who has the intellectual humility to say, ‘I need help. I don’t have all the answers. I would like to enlist your support.’ And also the confidence to say, ‘I can make a change—I can do better.’ This is a journey that people can go on together. When people can say, ‘I don’t have to carry this alone, we are doing this together’ and really tap into the power of the collective, how much further they and their organizations can go!”

Leaders who accept coaching themselves are much happier and more fulfilled, notes Osman, and they tend to share what’s made them more successful. “Asking for help is incredibly liberating,” he says. “For however long, you’ve thought that, as a leader, you have to have all the answers. You have to be there for everybody. You have to be strong. And then, all of a sudden, one day you wake up and you realize that ‘I don’t,’”and it’s at that point when the leader becomes accepting of support that the entire organization can flourish.

Onward and upward—
LK

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