Effective employee coaches guide experimentation

Franco Vicino is executive education director at Dominican’s Barowsky School of Business.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A LEADER FRANCO VICINO, SO YOU WANT TO BE A LEADER BY FRANCO VICINO

My last article here focused on millennial employees. In the post I lamented yet another “segmentation” of the human race, forced into a box of sort, ready to be stereotyped and fed to consumer marketing. The concern being the excessive focus on what the millennials do rather than what motivates them.

True enough they do communicate in ways that may not reflect what was more typical 30-plus years ago, and their approach to the processing of information is quite different than it has been in the past. However, the point I was attempting to make was that their inner motivations, aspirations and in general what drives them are rather similar to what motivates humans across the world.

Simplistic? Too generalized? Maybe. But it is powerful if the reaction to those observations will lead us to actually verify, investigate, and learn something about human nature in the process.

Generally speaking the reactions and responses to the post were of the “like” genre. But there were a few responses that asked “so what?” Actually, “so what?” is a good question, as it can signal a quest for knowing more, and for a desire to explore the implications of what is being discussed. It can, however, highlight the fact that in light of one’s available information, there is an implied challenge to the main message. My reaction was to re-visit what “coaching” really entails, or perhaps to explore it and consider it in the first place.

The study of what we call coaching today, the quest for understanding why and what motivates an individual to behave in certain ways, started with early philosophers. Today sociologists and psychologists still ponder this question. I am purposely excluding psychotherapists as the focus here is not on matters of clinical nature. More interestingly is what has, is, and will be done with the understanding of people’s motivations in the work place.

The challenge I believe, beyond the one I posed in the previous paper, of merely being interested rather than interesting, is how the understanding achieved by questioning is and can be used. A successful coach will ask open-ended questions, and will keep asking questions throughout a coaching relationship. The objective is to provide those being coached with the opportunity to reflect initially on their own intents and desires. Then for them to apply what they learn to improve performance.

The temptation for most managers that are not practiced in coaching is to start advising, or using leading questions. After a few initial open-ended questions, they will move to “What if you…?” or “Have you tried to…?” or “Why don’t you…?” When that happens, the rapport shifts to one of boss-subordinate, and the trust-building in the “lead-from-behind” process, intended to generate reflection, is lost. Self-directed initiatives are absent and the “coachee” will resist, acquiesce or engage while lacking commitment. Change efforts will lose focus.

While experienced coaches will seldom, if ever, ask such questions, the temptation to pass on one’s own solutions is powerful. Instead, a leader-coach encourages the “coachee” to engage in careful risk-taking and to experiment with new behaviors they may have seen in respected managers and leaders.

Leading someone to have an insight is the pinnacle of the leader-coach’s role. To coach people does require a mutual understanding and acceptance of the objective being pursued. With that in place and if there is trust, a coaching engagement can be very rewarding for both sides of the relationship.

Are you are interested in coaching millennials (or anyone else), ask yourself, Why do I want to do this? What’s in it for me? If the response that comes to mind is that the organization needs it, you may want to re-think your intent to be a coach. If the answer is you want to help an individual to be the best they can be, then you are on your way to being Interested rather than Interesting.

At Dominican’s Center for Executive Education, we offer a program specifically designed to establish a coaching culture in an organization. We focus on six important skills from somatic awareness to willingness to challenge. We offer substantive scholarships to groups of two or more.

To decide if being a coach is for you, think about a handful of real insights you have had in the last couple of months. How did they come to you? Use that insight to decide based on your own motivation if you are coaching or doing something else like mentoring.

Franco Vicino (franco.vicino@dominican.edu, ExecEd.dominican.edu) is executive education director at Dominican’s Barowsky School of Business.