Coaching is an approach to individual development that focuses on future possibilities, not past mistakes. It involves the leader in encouraging individuals and teams to identify opportunities and solve problems and challenges, with minimal need to refer upwards for decisions. It also requires the leader to build positive relationships, creating a workplace environment where individuals are valued for their contribution and recognised for the knowledge and skills that they bring.
Individuals and teams generally welcome this increased authority, autonomy and accountability, and will use their creative energies to positive effect for themselves, the team, and the organisation. The leader benefits by being able to focus on the more strategic aspects of their role, confident that individuals and teams will deal competently with the day-to-day detail of their work. The greatest challenge for the leader is to “let go” and resist the temptation to “interfere”. Trust, confidence, and genuine positive regard for individuals are vital components in the relationship.
The following words were spoken by Tom, a Production Operator in a medium sized manufacturing company:
“ I’m not stupid. I’ve been in the business longer than many others here. I know my job inside out and I could do so much more, if only I was allowed to. There are many things we could do to get the job done quicker but no one listens. I’ve made suggestions before but it’s a waste of time, so I don’t bother anymore. I just keep my head down and do what I need to do.”
How many “Toms” are in your organisation or even your team? How do you know?
Or perhaps you can associate with the words of Cathie, a senior manager in a public sector organisation:
“I spend so much time solving other people’s problems. I know that they know what to do, so why do they always refer everything to me? I try to encourage them, and I tell them that I have confidence in them, but they just seem reluctant to make decisions. It’s so frustrating! I don’t know what more I can do!”
Both examples reflect a workplace environment where potential is being stifled, not necessarily deliberately but probably because of not knowing how to change the situation.
An approach using coaching principles and characteristics can help individuals to be more confident and willing to take more responsibility. It can give key staff the knowledge and transformational leadership skills to develop others in the business and improve overall performance, and it can contribute to strengthening the business and reduce its vulnerability to future change.
So, what are the principles that underpin a coaching approach?