With project managers and new principals suddenly put into positions of encouraging staff development, most firm managers find themselves suddenly thrust out of their element. Kathleen Finigan, a principal in Latham-based The Leadership Board Inc off

When the baseball season was in the midst of the playoffs, we heard a lot about winning teams, star players and the effectiveness of coaches. Whether we are talking about the sports world or the work world, we all have read stories about the coaches–the leaders, the motivators, the force for change–transforming the skills and abilities of individuals into confident, successful players and teams.

There are two basic principles of effective coaching. One is that people can’t be coached if they don’t want to be. The second is that people themselves, not their coaches, are responsible for their own performance and their motivation to change. Coaches create optimal working conditions. They provide support to remove the barriers to achieving peak performance.

The most important factors in choosing a coach are trust, respect and commitment. Employees need someone they can communicate with openly and non-defensively. They need someone they can respect personally and professionally. And they need someone who has the time and energy to engage in meaningful coaching. What makes an effective coach? When asked this question, the answers of managers, professionals and production employees were very similar. They talked about coaches who know how and when to capitalize on employees’ strengths.

Coaches encourage employees when they are discouraged or about to undertake new or difficult assignments, and they provide appropriate training and support when needed. They solicit and listen to ideas and provide employees with regular feedback about their job performance and give them credit when they deserve it. They view employees as critical to the success of the organization. A coach can help people see certain aspects of their performance that may not be visible to them, and help them see how their behavior affects the organization.

When does a work situation require coaching? The answer is rather simple: It is any situation that is related to skill development and performance. Teaching a new job skill is a situation requiring coaching. In the performance area, it could be that the employee wants to become a peak performer or that the employee needs reinforcement for good performance, or displays low or moderate performance. Changes in goals or business conditions and preparation for more challenging work assignments also are occasions for coaching.

Coaching is a critical skill for managers. But who coaches the management team? More and more companies are turning to executive coaches to assist in the development of the management team. Frequently in organizations, employees move into management positions because they are technical experts. They have made valuable contributions to the organization and have been rewarded with the responsibilities and title of manager. Now, the true challenges come with managing people and projects.

Management training may assist with skill development, but frequently it is management/executive coaching that provides the ongoing support that is needed for sustained change in management behaviors. Executive coaching is not a quick fix to skill development. It is a process that occurs over a period of time. Executive coaches work with clients looking for assistance to become more effective in managing people and developing organizational/department goals. The major emphasis of coaching sessions may be on communication/ interpersonal skills, understanding their personal leadership style and its impact, managing performance, goal-setting, and developing action plans.

To be successful, coaching must be viewed as a partnership between the coach and the person being coached. To benefit from coaching, the person being coached must be able to: ask for help, share feedback, examine ways to improve, learn from shortcomings, try out new and different approaches, and listen openly, not defensively. An effective coaching process involves several key steps:

  • Creating a contract between the coach and the person being coached regarding the expected results and the amount of time they are willing to invest;

  • Developing a plan, which defines the specific goals and outcomes;

  • Meeting formally on a regular basis to review progress and create ideas for action if needed;

  • Using assessments, such as 360-degree feedback, to provide benchmarks and feedback; and;

  • Follow-up at three, six and twelve months.;

Frequently, executives simply cannot see their own problems, especially when they are being asked to change behaviors that worked well in the past. The coaching process enables executives to establish clarity about who they are, what they represent, and how they are seen by the people they are working with. It also supports them in managing the changing expectations and the cultures of their organizations. Coaching is a powerful tool to enhance skill development and performance for employees at every level in the organization.