The 21st Century workplace is characterised by change, uncertainty, complexity, increased competition, and globalisation. Leaders are expected to continually adapt and keep themselves, their people, and their businesses on track despite these challenges. Coaching is a powerful way to provide support to leaders and help them to navigate current and future challenges in a practical, relevant way.
Coaching is not training. It’s not coffee and a chat and an excuse to get out the office. It is not corrective and is not a form of punishment for poor performers. Rather, it is future focused and helps individuals to gain insight into their current situation, to challenge their current thinking, attitudes and behaviours and to explore the options of what to do differently to be more effective. Coaching is a reward and is ultimately aimed at helping leaders to realise their potential and be the best they can be.
Coaching and mentoring are built first on the relationship between the two individuals. It is sometimes a luxury but usually best for the manger to choose their coach from a pool of potential coaches, rather than be told who they will work with. This adds to the creation of a genuine, trusting, two-way working relationship.
Mentoring can be implemented formally or informally within an organisation and research suggests that informal mentoring relationships last longer, although both are effective in helping the protégé to on-board, fit into the organisation’s culture, develop their functional skills and competencies to be ready for promotion, address attitude and engagement, and develop commitment to the organisation.
There are many attributes that managers need to nurture within themselves to become better managers. Interpersonal and communication skills such as influence, listening and empathy are key topics across all levels of leadership.
Self-awareness is rated as a topic of crucial importance across all leadership levels but is at the top of the list for C-Suite leaders. Alarmingly however, research shows that this area is in low supply, meaning not many leaders are good at it.
Self-awareness is key because through assessments, learning to ask for feedback from others, and self-reflection the manager becomes aware of their personal strengths, weaknesses and blind spots, their attitudes, their performance, and their effect on others.
When in a coaching relationship, the coach can help the manger to overcome defensiveness, which can be a major block to self-knowledge. The coach will also help the manager to self-monitor so they do not begin to over-use this skill and start divulging too much personal information or become obsessed with soliciting and analysing feedback. This can be just as destructive as under-using the skill.
Coaching and mentoring must focus on what managers need to do and learn in order to improve their performance.
Coaches need to be trained. There is a difference between a professional leadership coach and a leader as a coach. Organisations need to train leaders to coach and need to provide supervision and support to them. Research shows that the overarching leadership competency is ‘developing others’ but data shows that developing others is often neglected and rated as a less important competency. Perhaps it is still viewed as human resources’ job.
A coach is not the fountain of all knowledge, rather they listen and do not instruct. They trust the leader to find the answers for themselves.
A coach needs to help the leader to challenge their current thinking and actions and to introduce new mind-sets that help them to continually adapt to personal and business challenges, leading to greater performance and effectiveness.
A coach should help the leader to keep it simple. Complex coaching programmes are not always the most effective but a simple, tailor-made, focused programme can help the manager to navigate through very complex situations.
One cannot replace practical, relevant experience with book knowledge. Coaches can help managers to navigate through real life, on the job challenges and build up their toolkits so they are better equipped to apply and adapt their experience when dealing with problems in the future. Coaches can help managers to monitor their attitudes towards themselves firstly and also towards those they interact with, be it bosses, peers, subordinates and customers.
Mentors can guide their protégées towards finding situations outside of the workplace to practice their skills if the protégé feels they are not getting sufficient exposure in their current roles. For example, if a young, high potential employee is aspiring to a leadership role but there are no leadership opportunities at work, options include getting elected onto a body corporate, helping to coach a kid’s soccer team, or offering to take the leadership role on a social responsibility initiative. This leads to proactively doing and gaining real experience, whilst being supported by a mentor, rather than nurturing a sophisticated list of good intentions that will get the protégé nowhere.
Coaching is strengths-based, and there are various assessment tools available to diagnose strengths and weaknesses, blind spots and hidden strengths, career stallers and stoppers. This is just the beginning however, and once feedback has been given on the results of the assessment, the coaching programme can be designed to suit the specific needs of each individual. Coaching follows particular methodologies as a guideline but it is not a one-size-fits-all, vanilla programme.
Amongst other relevant assessments, Talent Africa offers a variety of 360 assessments. This is a particularly useful tool as it focuses on discrepancies between self and others’ ratings. A certified coach can help the manager deal with different perceptions and plan how to adjust their behaviour towards more effective and productive practices.
Assessment tools are selected based on the type of coaching intervention required thereafter. One 360 focuses on a library of leadership skills, while another focuses on learning agility and developing the ability to adapt to change and complexity on a business and an interpersonal level.
A variety of coaching solutions are available to suit an individual or a team, such as:
Transition and onboarding coaching: Focuses on accelerating performance and improving leaders’ success during the first 100 days of a critical transition, whether onboarding from outside the organization, or transitioning internally through a promotion, international assignment, or a lateral rotation.
Executive Coaching: Fosters the development of strategic leadership competencies, whether it is part of an enterprise-wide initiative or an individual development plan.
Systemic and Enterprise leadership coaching: Accelerates organizational development through multiple executive coaching engagements that are aligned to the business strategy, building personal, team, and strategic leadership.
Cohort and team coaching: Enables small groups of leaders with shared development goals to improve individual and organizational effectiveness while also forming new business partnerships.
Reinforcement coaching: Reinforces new leadership behaviors through ongoing coaching and practice.
Specialized, topical coaching: Builds effectiveness for leaders that are exposed to unique challenges.
Communications and executive presence: builds presentation skills, stronger messaging, and personal brand in both small and large group settings.
Women in leadership: focuses on the unique challenges of women as executive leaders.
Cultural dexterity: for executives working in cross-cultural environments, including expatriate assignments.
Efficacy coaching: for executive leaders from underrepresented groups who face unique challenges.
While coaching and mentoring relationships can be interesting and enjoyable, they should also be productive and provide opportunities for both learning and action. The best relationships have the potential to create value for the employee, the mentor and the company as a whole.
*Michelle Moss is a Director at Talent Africa, a leading executive search and talent management company