Over the past two decades, coaching has been embraced by organizations for its unique impact on leadership development. Given that many senior leaders have experienced the power of coaching in some form, it makes sense that they would try to find ways to scale that impact across their entire organization.
As a result, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of organizations that are talking about implementing a “coaching culture”. The thinking is that if front-line leaders, managers, and directors are taught coaching skills, they will be positioned to drive performance in a powerful way.
Leaders who can successfully adopt coaching skills have a trickle-down effect to their teams. These leaders begin to de-emphasize “Command & Control” habits and implement practices that favor increased transparency, openness, and trust. However, fostering coaching skills in an organization often requires more than a workshop series.
Senior leadership plays the earliest and most impactful role in shifting the culture
In a “coaching culture”, leaders and employees may need to embrace a whole new dynamic of working together.
Coaching is comprised of skillsets, mindsets, and roles that take time to adopt. Some leaders will naturally be better at coaching than others, but coaching skills can be taught. We find that most time and effort is helping leaders adopt the mindsets and beliefs required to function effectively in a coaching role.
Examples of the types of mindsets and approaches are shown in the below model from Coach Training International. Coaching would not work if coaches didn’t fundamentally believe that their clients are naturally creative, resourceful, and capable of finding solutions to their own problems.
Nor would coaches be very effective if they didn’t believe in the importance of context. This belief allows coaches to simultaneously listen to what the client is saying and not saying, as well as consider possible spill-over effects between different areas of a client’s life (“Focus on the Whole Person”).
EXAMPLE: a manager that is used to “holding people accountable” might find it difficult to use inquiry (rather than judgement or instruction) when engaging with their direct reports. Asking that manager to have faith in the resourcefulness and capability of their people might be a tall order, especially if they have plenty of evidence as to why their team needs to be managed closely.
This will be especially difficult if that manager believes that having coaching-style conversations with their team is unlikely to lead to better performance.
The bottom line is that a shift to a “coaching culture” will only be successful if leaders need to believe that moving to this new way of operating will drive more success for them, their teams, and the organization.
All an organization’s leaders must commit to the new way of doing things. This especially includes your senior leadership; if a single leader doesn’t commit to adopting both a coaching mindset and coaching behaviors, this will trickle down throughout their entire team or department.