Coaching Can Get The Boss In Shape

Authored / contributed by Graham Y. from Woking, United Kingdom

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Who tells the boss that they can improve their management or leadership? How do they look at themselves objectively and identify what areas they can improve and the benefits of doing so?
These days many people have become more aware of the need to look after their bodies and their health. Not only do many join gyms or start participating in sports regularly - a number are using personal trainers. Why do they choose to do this" Consider top performers in the sports world, or areas such as drama and classical music. What do they have in common" The majority have the equivalent of the personal trainer (or more than one!). These are the people at the top of their field and yet they choose to do this. Why?

Some bosses have had formal management and leadership training, and many have not. Regardless, it does not mean that they have not got some areas which would improve with some conditioning, or reconditioning! Yet, as the quotation below says, how many will:

a) admit to these things, and
b) do something about them

"People will go to a lot of trouble to learn French or Physics or Scuba diving. They have the patience to learn to operate a car, but they won’t be bothered learning how to operate themselves" - Newman & Berkowitz

We all know the risks of not keeping ourselves in shape thanks to the media and countless reports and surveys. How aware are we of the risks to our organisations if we have too many bosses who are out of shape in terms of their own style or skills" The knock-on effect of them continuing to behave in the same "out of shape" way can bad for the people working around them and for the organization’s health.

Many bosses, whatever their roles or levels, do not like attending training programmes to develop themselves or their skills. Sometimes there are genuine reasons and often there are a range of frequently used excuses. (Too busy being a frequent cop-out - and is often a good symptom of the problems with their management style and capability.) Whether you are "a boss" who recognises this, or someone who is interested in ways to influence bosses to develop themselves, you might need to look at other options!

The last few years have seen a massive growth in "coaching", whether life-coaching, corporate coaching or executive coaching or other labels. This does tell us one thing, there is a market there for coaches! Also, that more people think that they can benefit from working with a coach. It is not only the likes of Tim Henman and Tiger Woods who think like this!

Within the corporate world, coaching is a very effective way of developing people. Although a significant amount of coaching occurs with board level executives, it is being used increasingly for other levels within the organisation.

There is a limited amount of data about the return on investment from coaching though it is growing. Early studies can demonstrate an ROI of 6 TIMES the investment - and that is in the measurable outcomes, not the intangible gains to the organisation! This is for coaching used in isolation. One organisation measured improvements after training courses and found that they got around 22% improvement in productivity. When this was supported by coaching the improvement was 88%!! Yes, coaching pays dividends!

So, what can a coach do to help the boss get in shape" We believe that there are three key steps to effective coaching interactions and they have some similarities with signing up to the gym and a personal trainer. (These form a process we refer to as "Coherent Coaching")

First things first - a diagnosis phase. This is critical to the overall success of the project. What is the reason for thinking that the boss needs to get in shape" (The fitness assessment") The clearer you can be about the areas to be addressed, the existing situation and problems, the impact on others in the organisation, the easier it will be to generate specific aims. This stage can look at the boss in terms of the organisational context and why coaching is being considered, and their personal style and behaviours. Not that these have to be mutually exclusive!

Before dashing in to coaching sessions, review whether this is the best way forward. (Is going to the gym the only way to get in shape") It could be that the boss will benefit from having a mentor rather than a coach, or having some formal training to learn some specific skills. Should coaching be the way ahead, the boss, the coach and any other stakeholders need to meet and agree the overall aims of the project and a number of other things to do with support and confidentiality. As part of this, the probable timescale can be discussed along with the actual method of working together.

The coaching phase will typically take place over several face to face sessions, probably supported by telephone and email. The key to this is to set really clear outcomes or objectives in the first session. These can be short-term (even for each session) and for the overall project. The boss is in control of this part in terms of setting their outcomes, although a good coach will push them.

The actual coaching sessions will keep the boss thinking about what they can do to move towards their outcomes and objectives. The coach will offer a combination of challenge and support to push the boss onwards. (Again, like the personal trainer will do!) They will provide encouragement and feedback where appropriate. One of the major pluses the coach brings, is that they can be direct and open with the boss when giving feedback. The boss generates ideas and chooses which ones they are committed to pursuing, with the coach helping if they get really stuck.

As with any plan to get in shape, we all like to know what progress we are making. This is why we think the third part of the process can be started alongside the coaching sessions " the Personal Development Plan. Whatever the actual method is for writing up or keeping the plan, it can be developed throughout the project. As progress is noted, it gives added motivation for continuing and stretching still further.

The key for the sessions and the plan are for examples of improvement to be noticed and noted. They can be discussed and reviewed to explore why they have been achieved and what the payoffs are for the boss, the organisation and the others around them. Wherever possible, aim to quantify these - still more of an incentive!!

As the boss is getting into better shape, they need to know that others are observing it too! (Well, friends and family would tell you if the personal trainer and exercise was making a difference!) How can they get evidence" The coach should encourage them to look for it. As with any plan to get into shape, there may be some times when things seem to plateau or go into reverse. Accept that this might happen, and use the coach to help you breakthrough.

Part way through any project it is often a good idea to have a mid-point review with all concerned stakeholders. Even if this is just the boss and the coach " set up this session with no coaching activity on the agenda! Review what has been achieved, the benefits to all concerned, how does it feel for the boss, and agree if there is any need to change for the future sessions.

At the end of the overall project, there need to be some clearly identified deliverables. These should link back to the outcomes and objectives set at the beginning - with any new ones added! The on-going personal development plan will feed into this too. The deliverables can be both for the organisation and for the individual and their development. Once these are made clear, the trick is to find ways to measure their impact or contribution to the organisation.

Having got in shape, the trick is to keep there! Going to the gym or maintaining the exercise routine is how we do it in that context. How does the boss keep their new shape" Without working at it, there is a severe risk that they will slip back. Maybe they need to get some on-going support, with occasional contact from the coach. Possibly, as a result of the coaching, they have better self-awareness and will assess themselves and encourage others to give them feedback. Whatever they do, it is better for everyone’s health if they stay in shape!!



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This article is © copyright and contributed by

Graham Y. from Woking, United Kingdom

Graham Y. is a specialist Business Trainer with expertise in Corporate Culture, Sales (Country, Sector specific) and Stress Management

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