There are certain skills that have objective measures, and therefore allow us to evaluate ourselves. For example, if you can write computer code and the code effectively performs its desired outcome, then you can safely say you are competent in writing that particular code. There are other skills for which determining your own expertise is impossible. For example, whether you are a great public speaker can only be determined by the reactions of others to your oration. Coaching – whether performance, executive or life coaching — is in this latter camp. In a recent Harvard Business School Article, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman showed that those who believe they are the best coaches, turn out not to be according to those they purport to coach. In contrast, those who were rated the best coaches by their peers and coachees often rated themselves less skilled. On the one hand, this matches the Dunning-Kruger effect (read this post for more on Dunning-Kruger) in which the least smart or skilled people in the room often believe they are the best. But there is a more nuanced phenomenon at play here.
The nature of coaching is not necessarily a skill acquired through study, but rather through practice and feedback. The smartest person in the room is usually less likely to display the Dunning-Kruger effect, but the smartest person may very easily be the least effective coach despite grasping the concepts and “facts” about coaching. Coaching requires a unique set of skills, a high degree of discipline and the ability to switch into a completely service-oriented mode that is quite different than the skills valued in leaders, speakers, politicians or others who rely on charisma and oration for their success. So even though the skills are only mastered through practice and ongoing improvement, they can be listed and even taught. Nonetheless, the only real gauge for assessing your coaching skill is the experience and results of those you coach. There simply is no other measurement device. Here are some important guidelines for effective executive and performance coaching which you can use to practice.
- Coaching is not management or advice. As a coach, your goal is to ask questions and suggest inquiries, analogies, exercises or practices that can forward your coachee’s development. Don’t tell people you coach “the answer”, what to do or how to solve the problem.
- An effective coach typically spends at least 75% of his time listening rather than talking when coaching. Often, when someone is allowed fully to explore a concern challenge or goal aloud, she will discover a new possibility on her own.
- When listening as a coach, the goal is first and foremost to truly understand the perspective of your coachee. Unless you put yourself squarely in their mind and experience you can’t contribute anything useful. This means more than parroting it back, it means really getting at the underlying assumptions, beliefs or interpretations that color that individual’s perception and experience.
- You cannot coach without the cooperation, permission and commitment of a coachee. The only value a coach has comes from the trust placed in her by those she coaches. A reluctant, un-trusting, suspicious or forced coachee will not succeed. Don’t foist coaching on anyone, or accept coaching assignments unless the individual is willing.
- Spend as much energy as possible checking in with your coachee on their goals and experience in the process of accomplishing it. If they feel thwarted and like they are not making progress, that’s what counts. If that belief is mistaken, then the coaching subject matter may be that very perception rather than the goal. Listen keenly.
- Offer to provide accountability when something emerges through the coaching that could benefit from it. For example, if your coachee wants to change a behavior or stop doing some regular behavior, offer a support structure or check-in practice. Again, offer, don’t demand.
- Try to true yourself up against the most powerful possibilities you can imagine for those you coach. Speak to them as the person or executive they are committed to being. As coaches, one of our greatest powers is the power to create a huge vision of those we coach so that they can see themselves equally as powerfully and grow into that reality.
If you practice these skills and use them to develop yourself as a coach, those you coach should make strides in their own goals. When they do, they will tell you if you are effective. It’s useful to view your coaching as something that you continually “practice” like a musician practices his instrument. You are never done honing your skills and always need to go back to the basics. And your “music teacher” is those you coach, through their feedback and experience.
Are you interested in experiencing the benefits of performance coaching for yourself or your team? Contact me for a free initial consultation.