Saturday 12 January 2013

Manager-as-coach :: What’s in it for me?

Executive Coaching as a discipline has grown in leaps and bounds. Most conversations around coaching invariably refer to a coach (external consultant) who works with a coachee but my interest in coaching started around five years ago and I started applying the principles of coaching in a manager-as-coach setting (i.e. coaching employees within my organisation). In simple terms, I was coaching people within my own organisation. My interest was not in making a living from coaching but more about an inner commitment to using my skills to contribute back to my organisation but very importantly I felt that coaching was a safe (and efficient) way to develop my skills as a manager and leader in a work-place setting.

In my particular circumstance being a manager-as-coach means that I have a full-time job which is a position of responsibility in the organisation that I work for while I work on coaching/mentoring efforts with individuals who generally come from within the same reporting line or job family.
A manager-as-coach setting for me has been an amazing mechanism to get insight into how employees achieve optimum performance, innovate and “tick” when they get to work. I have the same flaws and dreams as many of my coachees and each intervention made me realize how people react to different scenarios or management styles. Coaching allowed me to experience what the employees of my organisation (remember a coachee is an employee in a manager-as-coach setting) find difficult in navigating and/or working in a complex organization. This is not only about the mentoring aspects of how to do one’s job better but also about the coaching aspects of facilitating self-discovery. 
Many such interactions are confidential as individuals share information, stories and their interpretation of events/behavior that they have experienced in a safe and secure environment (this is one of the fundamental rules of an engagement!). 

As I listened too many of the challenges and problems articulated by a coachee I was amazed at the consistency with which a manager impacted a coachee’s professional life (but I also saw evidence of how it impacted the coachee’s personal life as well!). It either generated a huge sense of commitment/satisfaction or the complete opposite! There are many coachees who are satisfied with their managers (I would want to emphasize the difference between manager and leader so only using the term manager) and represent a large bulge around the average score (the centre) but the true learning for me came from the two extremes (very satisfied or very dissatisfied). Interestingly, I noticed that those coachees that were very satisfied with their managers also used specific terms to describe their managers as “benchmark for others”; “passionate”; “true leader”; “exemplifies leadership”. It is my belief that there are a large proportion of employees who resign their bosses rather than resign from their jobs (“When employees resign, the top reason for their resignation is their relationship with their manager. People leave managers, not jobs or employers”).

This made me realise that I had access to something very potent towards my own self-discovery and self-actualisation. Let’s dig into this a bit.

My organisation (like many others) has a periodic survey to assess what our employees feel about the organisation and their manager(s). This feedback is critical for a manager but how many employees actually find the confidence and gumption to detail why they gave their manager a low score in such surveys! And frankly, how many managers have the courage to sit-down face to face with their employees and ask them? In a 360 degree feedback cycle (even it is done the right way!) I have seen how managers (me included) receive input on their approach and style. Even though I knew the intent and purpose, at times I was forced to keep a brave smile on my face as I went through a cyclic emotional see-saw (from anger, to sadness and finally begrudging acceptance) on receiving the provided feedback. Some would argue that this is part of “growing up” in the corporate world but I have always wondered at a system that is designed contrary to how the human instinct works. Are we designed to accept such direct feedback? The process of reflection required is far above the average human’s aptitude to digest and enforce change. What appears to be constructive criticism (and hence justified by proponents of a 360 degree evaluation) can end up being counter-productive as somewhere in the back of the recipient’s mind is the niggling thought that they are by and large being “misunderstood” by their reportee. Feedback can be meaningful but still requires substantial doses of “chutzpah” and self-confidence for the recipient (the manager) to wade through.

However, when I am with a coachee (in a manager-as-coach setting) and I see their interpretation of specific managerial or leadership traits based on instances (which they share because I have sworn secrecy and confidentiality with them!) something amazing happens. I started to ask myself whether I had ever done something similar to an employee. I started wondering how I would handle myself if a similar scenario arose between me and my employee. Some of the answers that I gave to these questions left me weak at the knees. I realized that the transition from manager to leader was not based on reacting to scores to a survey but by reacting to my own self-assessment, which was bench-marked against the conversations and scenarios that kept popping up in each coaching interaction. The input was not judgmental or too direct to cause the “me the martyr” (i.e. make me defensive) kind of feeling that a 
360 degree feedback mechanism potentially induces.

I have been engaged in coaching activities for the last five years and never undertook formal accreditation towards the same (but am committed to fixing that) I look back at where I was five years ago and where I am today and I am undoubtedly a better people manager (and person) from the experience of coaching. I sincerely hope that I would be labeled a leader by those that I lead at my organisation. My own self-assessment shows that I have made a conscious effort to incorporate my coaching induced learning into my own life and undertook specific behavioral modification (“Nothing happens until a person wants something to happen”) to my style of management by focusing on developing trust in how I handle issues in a non-threatening manner with my employees. 

Coaching provided me (the manager) with the ability to become more aware of (1) how human interaction shapes perception; (2) how employees react to their managers; (3) how I could proactively benchmark my abilities as a manager and leader to what were being identified as best practice by coachees; (4) identify those elements of professional interaction that motivated and created organizational commitment as well as job satisfaction in coachees (by inference employees); (5) how to relate and articulate the vision and ideals of my organisation to coachees (without fear of retribution or ridicule) and (6) see the bigger picture of how I could contribute to my organisation through the coaching experience.

I would encourage all managers to develop coaching skills. There is a lot that a manager-as-coach skill-set can offer to the manager and leader himself but I am not advocating this as a substitute for a performance management discussion (but it can complement the same!). I acknowledge that managers trained in coaching techniques can be successful in improving an employee’s attitude and job performance but there is a unique opportunity for developing leadership/managerial skills in the manager themselves as they get access to real life scenarios and learn from them, thereby making a broader impact on employee engagement at any organisation.

What do you think?


Please feel free to subscribe via email (on the right use 'follow by email' feature) and also consider sharing with others using the links/tools provided below. This is the best way for me to broaden my reach and increasing my blog's visibility. Thanks in advance for your support.

No comments:

Post a Comment