The first in a monthly series of 11 blogs, presenting my thinking and experience on the topic of coaching.
What makes someone a valuable coach?
This blog – and the ten monthly blogs that follow – will summarize my experience and thinking on this whale of a question.
I decided to embark on a protracted exploration of coaching because of two recurrent patterns I have observed in my 30 years of leadership teaching and coaching:
The first pattern is the remarkable impact skillful coaching makes on those who are coached –employees, emerging leaders, clients, children and friends. Time and again, I have witnessed how ongoing interactions with an attentive, self-aware and intuitive coach feeds and waters a person’s thinking prowess and emotional maturity, often to the point of noteworthy transformation.
The second pattern is that many leaders – including parents - find coaching difficult. Like an author who experiences “writer’s block,” leaders often get stuck in their efforts to make a difference to those whom they seek to influence. They want to help, but they don’t know how.
It’s precisely because coaching is both valuable and difficult that I am offering my ideas, strategies and skills for your consideration.
Begin with Clear Purpose
Before a leader dives willy-nilly into coaching, some preparation is in order. That preparation begins with clear purpose. What is the point, the aim, the desired outcome of coaching?
My thinking on this question has been influenced by evolutionary studies of leadership in non-human species, and by the family systems research of Dr. Murray Bowen and his colleagues at the Georgetown Family Center.
Taken together, those findings have nudged me towards a working assumption, namely, that the primary function of a leader is to advance the emotional maturity and responsibility of group members, and thereby support the survival and best interests of the group. This principle applies to families, businesses, societal institutions and nations.
The principle simply means this: If you want to give yourself a good, solid footing as a coach, anchor your leadership in a thorough understanding of emotional maturity.
Why? Because the lion’s share of relationship and business problems encountered in coaching situations can be aided by high-maturity responses.
Emotional maturity defines the process of becoming an emotionally responsible self. Promoting maturity means assisting those being coached to deepen and expand their thinking, and grow their ability to discern and decide when there are no easy answers.
These are just words until one enters into substantial coaching interactions.
The Five C’s
There, in that privileged yet unpredictable relationship, a coach employs a spectrum of skills and strategies to help a coachee progress in the “Five C’s”: clarity, connection, confidence, calmness and courage.
Consider these actual coaching situations where the five C’s support emotional maturity in leadership:
A confused CEO, whose most talented performer, Charlie, stubbornly refuses to work collegially with others, doesn’t know whether to fire his top talent, or live with the fallout from Charlie’s immaturity. The CEO seeks CLARITY, with the help of a coach.
Martina, a VP of Finance, has a 16-year-old daughter who suffers from life-threatening anorexia. Martina reports being stuck in an over-functioning role with her daughter, telling her what to eat, making sure she finishes “every crumb” and reminding her about school lunch choices. Martina exhibits similarly anxious over-involvement at work, where her relationships are mostly superficial. Martina wants to get out of her dictatorial role, and deepen her CONNECTION with her daughter, but doesn’t know how. She’s turned to an experienced coach.
An up-and-coming leader, Lydia, over-deliberates on both task and personnel decisions, to the point where important projects are indefinitely delayed, her team gets frustrated and deadlines are missed. Lydia acknowledges her lack of SELF-CONFIDENCE. She seeks coaching to address this challenge.
Although Roger is impressively knowledgeable, and responsible for the company’s biggest department, he is gradually losing the faith of his peers and direct reports. Widely viewed as “tightly-wound” and prone to blaming. Roger has asked his superior for permission to find a coach to help him develop greater CALMNESS in his leadership.
Shane describes his boss, Leo, as “prickly to be around” and “never satisfied, even though I have gone above and beyond for this company.” Shane has been bothered by Leo’s leadership style for years, but has never communicated those frustrations directly to his boss. A good friend suggested that Shane seek coaching to help him muster the COURAGE to initiate candid conversations with Leo.
A Sturdy Backbone
The five C’s form a sturdy backbone for emotional maturity.If anyone can make some level of progress towards greater clarity, connection, confidence, calmness and courage, they will manage tasks as well as relationships more successfully.
In subsequent blogs, I will discuss specific principles, strategies and skills that have enabled leaders to build emotionally-mature cultures through coaching interactions.
At the conclusion of this series, leaders will have a fairly reliable handbook for maximizing their coaching effectiveness.