Coaching in the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on January 16, 2021

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Here’s another leaderly reflection: coaching and being coached.
While management gurus encourage us to coach subordinates, we rarely do so, at least in my experience.
Why is that?
If we desire to be coached, well then it is up to us to find a mentor; don’t expect your boss to be your coach.
They may not want to, they don’t see it as part of their job, or they don’t have the time.
Still, I could have done more with the coaching role that was, for a while, actually scripted into my job description.
Why coach?
Presumably, we all want to get better at what we do. A coach - providing an informed outside perspective - can help us improve, can give us a fresh take on where we want to be.
Sports coaches – from whom we borrow many coaching techniques and in large part justify the notion of organizational coaching - predate executive coaches by decades.
A good sports coach is consistent, truthful, and pragmatic. He or she is clear about roles, and communicates observations to the player.
Are these qualities any different in the workplace? Hardly, but there is a difference.
The best players respect and trust their coach; more importantly, they desire to be coached; they are open; indeed, they expect that the truth, “no matter what it is,” will be shared fully and openly in helpful ways. The “truth” is not to be bottled up or avoided.
For that to happen, there’s got to be mutual trust, the sine qua non for an effective player-coach relationship; without it, don’t bother.
If your organization supports frank feedback, then maybe you can try to create a coaching relationship that goes beyond simple feedback on technical aspects of a job.
Doing so requires a far greater investment than the occasional suggestion for improving personal efficiency.
For one thing, you have to have content, relevance, and the ability to explain what you mean. This can only happen through studying the person, observing, taking notes, mulling over and focusing on the do-able.
Probably the coaching conversation should be outside the workplace – out of the office. You want separation from the day-to-day concerns to gain a sharper focus on individual vs. organizational goals.
Don’t time this event and do not have an explicit agenda.
What you are trying to do is to get past the formalities, the polite chit chat, to something less comfortable, something not scripted but something with meaning for you and the other person.
Here are some coaching questions I could have used:
What do you like most about your job? What do you like the least?
What are your aspirations? Where do you want to be, career wise, in 5 years?
How would you describe your personal satisfaction with your job? Do you want the job to change?
What can I (your boss) do more of for you to achieve what you want?
What should I be doing less of?
Bear in mind, you are not exactly seeking a friendship; you’re after more of a trusting work relationship.
Friendship is not an objective of coaching; friendship is incidental to gaining frankness, and trust.
So, what could I have done differently?
Almost every organization where I worked was afflicted with back biting, undercutting of other workers and persistent turf battles.
A unit’s good work stopped at its door step, only helping those outsiders deemed, like the Hatfields and McCoys, for 'em, not agin 'em.
I could have stopped the back biting; that was coachable and would have been a big step forward.
I could have stopped the intrigue by not taking part. But, how?
Easy. Change the topic.
And model the desirable behavior.
Have frank talks but always with the intention of approaching the criticized person and seeking to find out his or her point of view. Stop the “just between you and me” stuff. Instead, discover why he (the “enemy”) does what he does.
Seek to resolve issues; seek to work together.
If trust is broken, how can it be mended?
Ask the other person, what can I do to make this better?
If you believe a colleague is making decisions harmful to your work, well what, besides complaining to others, can you do about it?
Yes, you!
Obviously, if nothing can be changed, then stop talking about it.
There’s another category for self-coaching; the people you have been avoiding.
Each year you resolve to have a plain, honest talk with those people but the talks never happen. If you were to have that open and frank discussion you might discover several positives about the other person and yourself.
Ask, "I’ve been avoiding you on a couple topics; let me tell you what they are and why they bother me. Afterwards, I’d like your viewpoint. OK?"

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

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