Eight Tips to Choose a Workplace Coach

Eight Tips to Choose a Workplace Coach:

To stay competitive, relevant and innovative, workplaces must do more with less talent. Providing a leadership and career coach is one way to keep your employees “emotionally engaged” to contribute their personal best.

“There’s no question that future leaders will need constant coaching,” notes Ram Charan, Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty (McGraw-Hill, 2008). “As the business environment becomes more complex, they will increasingly turn to coaches for help in understanding how to act.”

Willingness to be coached and a good fit are two of the key ingredients for a successful coaching relationship. This was reinforced in a January 2009 Harvard Business Review survey, in which researchers queried 140 top coaches about what companies should look for when hiring a coach.

According to the HBR article, there are two basic hiring rules:

  1. Ensure leaders or teams are ready and willing to be coached
  2. Allow them to choose the coach

Unfortunately, many workplaces select a coach based on referrals from colleagues, without adequately considering personal or business needs. The person sponsoring the engagement usually sends a few coaches for interviews and asks the leader to select one based on “fit.” But what does a good fit actually mean, and how do you avoid hiring a coach who seem right but may not challenge you to grow?

Without a greater understanding of what happens in a coaching relationship, it may be difficult to make a fair assessment and pick a good match. As the client, you should do the choosing, but you need some criteria to make the best selection.

In Your Executive Coaching Solution (Davies-Black, 2007), Joan Kofodimos says a coach should achieve most of the following:

  1. Strike a balance between supporting and challenging you
  2. Help create feedback loops with colleagues
  3. Assist in clarifying your true strengths, values and purpose
  4. Provide structure in the development process
  5. Broaden your perspectives
  6. Teach concepts and skills
  7. Maintain confidentiality
  8. Influence how others view you

1. Pick for Support and Ability to Challenge:

Most leaders are hired or promoted for their strengths. We don’t expect them to show uncertainty, express fear or naturally ask for help. Leaders who wish to grow, however, must do these very things.

You’re more likely to open up to a coach who creates a safe, confidential environment. Coaches accomplish this in part by demonstrating that they understand you and respect your interests, values and concerns. This enables you to feel accepted, be honest about your thoughts and feelings, and be more willing to try new behaviors.

But coaches must be more than cheerleaders. They need to provide challenges that motivate you to perform beyond your habitual or default behaviors and perceptions; confront you directly, yet non-judgmentally, with the impact of your actions; and courageously probe the motives and assumptions underlying your behaviors.

Coaches who lack the capacity or courage to push you out of your comfort zone aren’t doing their jobs. Most learning is achieved only through discomfort.

Using the Coaching Relationship

Good coaches will use their personal experience with you to teach you about yourself. How you treat your coach reflects how you treat others.

The way you select your coach is significant. Do you see the coach as a subordinate? A vendor or outside consultant? An authority figure whose primary relationship is with your boss? How do gender, race or other personal characteristics influence the way you interact with your coach?

Effective coaches will detect and decipher the subtleties within their clients’ interactions. They will provide feedback on how one’s behavior impacts other relationships and goals.

Pick a coach who can raise issues impartially and show you how your behaviors affect others.

2. Pick for Feedback Loops:

A coach must serve as the conduit for colleagues’ feedback. Your peers will rarely share authentic feedback with you, and a skilled coach can solicit important information in a way that satisfies confidentiality requirements. Clear agreements, established boundaries and skilled diplomacy are critical.

Your coach should help you develop the skills needed to create relationships in which you can ask for honest feedback on an ongoing basis.

Instead of encouraging dependence, your coach should teach you how to manage your development in the future. After an initial assessment, a good coach shows you how to form links with colleagues and teaches them how to frame useful, specific feedback instead of vague judgments.

Your coach will teach you to ask for feedback and manage the conversation without being defensive. This includes learning how to determine which feedback is relevant and valid, prioritize the issues you need to address and figure out how to handle them.

3. Pick for Clarifying Values and Purpose:

How clearly do you articulate your core purpose, values and interests?

Skilled coaches help you clarify your developmental, career and life goals. They should also teach you how to sort out your needs, wants, concerns and boundaries in any particular situation, which allows you to become more comfortable and act more consistently when completing goals, even in complex circumstances.

4. Pick for Structuring the Development Process:

Your coach must help you manage each step of the coaching project:

  • Establish a contract
  • Get input from others
  • Review feedback and plan development
  • Hold regular coaching meetings to practice new behaviors
  • Implement behaviors in daily work
  • Assess for results

Many people tend to let coaching sessions slide when urgent work matters arise or they experience an inherent resistance to change. Together, you and your coach will develop a roadmap that defines goals and keeps the process moving over time.

5. Pick for Broadening Perspectives

Your coach should broaden your perspective by helping you understand and break free of any limiting beliefs and assumptions. A perspective shift may be the most significant factor in changing behavior and results.

A perspective shift can occur when your coach:

  • Provides additional viewpoints
  • Plays devil’s advocate
  • Looks at situations as others might
  • Asks new questions
  • Offers new approaches

A perspective shift will change your assumptions, expand the information you find useful, alter how you perform key skills and enhance your ability to create organizational value.

6. Pick for Teaching New Concepts and Skills

You may be so engrossed in your work environment that you’ve never developed a clear understanding of your role. A good coach will help you step back and get a clearer picture of what is—and isn’t—part of your role.

Good coaches present a mental model of what leadership means, what it takes to be effective and the key skills required. They should teach skills relevant to one’s particular situation and assist with implementation in daily interactions.

For example, which of these key leadership skills do you need to learn?

  • Collaboration
  • Expectation management
  • Influencing
  • Conflict resolution
  • Developing others

7. Pick for Confidentiality:

Trust is essential in the coaching relationship. Your coach must effectively navigate risky waters filled with sensitive, confidential information. Because a coach may be engaged with several members of the same organization or team, it’s vital to respect boundaries and maintain confidentiality.

This is not an easy job, and it’s one of the most important skills a good coach acquires with experience. When interviewing prospective coaches, find out how such situations are handled. How have they dealt with similar challenges in the past?

8. Pick for Influencing Others’ Views of You:

Behavioral change is not the sole coaching goal. Coaches also help colleagues notice the changes you make, invite them to become involved in your development and possibly change their behavior in relation to you. A qualified, experienced coach can influence others’ views by:

  • Coaching your relationships, not just you
  • Challenging others’ assumptions that a problem resides entirely with you
  • Contracting with key colleagues to determine their desired outcomes of the coaching process and assessing their willingness to share feedback and participate in conversations
  • Facilitating conversations between you and colleagues to share coaching insights, development plans and new expectations (in both directions)
  • Helping you solicit ongoing feedback on relevant behaviors

If your coach doesn’t raise these points in your initial conversations, make sure they’re included in the coaching process.

Roles a Coach Should Not Play:

Coaching methodologies vary widely. Some begin with 360° assessments; others use in-depth interviews. Regardless, your coach should clearly define the process’ start, developmental plan and conclusion.

A good coach will consciously avoid roles that hinder your ability to take independent action:

  • Cheerleader: Coaches should not give positive reinforcement from the sidelines for everything you do.
  • Therapist: Coaches should not deal strictly with your personal adjustment and psychological issues, even if they’re qualified and licensed to do so. Your coach must continually assist you in the context of your organizational performance and business goals.
  • Executor of the Boss’s Wishes: Coaches should do more than force you to conform to a superior’s expectations, even when given an agenda when hired.
  • Shadow Manager: Coaches cannot advise you on business decisions or act on your behalf.
  • One-Sided Advocate: Coaches must look at all viewpoints and resist taking one side.

Two loaded and complex issues often arise during coach selection: good fit and credentials.

Effective coaches are adept at personal relationships, and each has a unique style and manner. Be sure to balance feeling comfortable with the person against your need to be challenged as you grow. You must believe a coach can help you change.

As for credentials and training, the leadership coaching field is not associated with traditional career paths or specific educational backgrounds. However, look for coaches who have completed a program recognized by the International Coach Federation or the Center for Credentialing & Education Board Certified Coach program.

What really matters is the coach’s ability to understand and work with individual and organizational dynamics. Make your selection only after you have a solid understanding of the coaching relationship and process.

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