A Research Paper By Louise Yin Luo, Life & Career Coaching, UNITED KINGDOM
Coaches work with coaching clients. We may often find some people do not fully understand what coaching is and is not. A friend asked that I give her some coaching advice. I explained that coaching does not give advice. Coaching is a process. The client is the expert. We partner together to find the answer from within the client.
What is coaching? The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as
partnering in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires a person to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.
The benefits of coaching may not be clear, as it does not promise an outcome and there is no measurable tangible output immediately. In comparison, consulting delivers tangible solutions to a complex problem in the form of a PowerPoint presentation or a process map for example which is considered as tangible output. When compared to mentoring, the mentees are expected to receive new insights and advice from a more senior leader which would make the benefit more obvious. However, coaching is less obvious, as the coach offers the coaching process in which we believe that the client is the expert in their own life and field. The coaching process and the process for the client to gain awareness and clarity may feel slower and the client must find the answer from within, followed by taking actions to move forward to their set goals. The role of the coach is an equal partner compared to being a superior expert in consulting or mentoring.
As many of us see the benefit of coaching is less tangible and harder to measure, what would motivate people to engage in coaching?
What are the benefits of coaching? This paper aims to look at how coaching can support personal and professional development.
Benefits of Coaching
The Institute of Coaching cites that over 70% of individuals who receive coaching benefit from improved work performance, relationships and more effective communication skills.
The study by K. D. Miller presented that coaching across different niches can provide several benefits which include:
- A safe space for exploring options and growing
- Better risk management
- Increased productivity
- More job satisfaction
- Better networking opportunities
- Goal attainment
- Strengths Identification
- Focused use of strengths through interventions
- Increased Camaraderie (K. D. Miller, 2019)
Reflecting on my own coaching experience as a practice coach, one of my clients commented: “It was not what I expected, but it was useful. I could not have reached this conclusion on my own. It is also reassuring to realise that I know the solutions to manage my own stress.”
How Coaching Can Support Managers in Businesses
In today’s rapidly changing world, more and more businesses are realising that managers can’t be expected to have all the answers and that command-and-control leadership is no longer effective. As a result, many businesses are adopting a coaching model in which managers facilitate problem-solving and encourage employees’ development by asking questions, and offering support and guidance instead of giving orders and making judgements. (Ibarra H. & Scoular A. 2019)
The role of the manager today is increasingly becoming that of a coach. The coaching skills of better listening, questioning and drawing insights would help managers to be more effective leaders.
In addition to the traditional role of managers sharing what they know well with an employee less experienced or less senior, the coaching part is also a way of asking questions which could spark insights in the other person. As Sir John Whitmore defined it, skilled coaching involves “unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance.” Effective leaders are expected to master both parts today – imparting knowledge and experience, as well as helping others discover themselves.
Reflecting on my own career journey, I had direct experience working with both the command-and-control manager and the coaching manager in the past years as a corporate employee. The command-and-control manager made me feel inadequate and incompetent most of the time as I could not deliver exactly what he had in mind. He has never talked about my strengths but instead focuses on what was missing compared to how he pictured it in his mind. I became frustrated and demotivated at work. What he did was “tell and sell” his ideas and expectations without listening to my ideas or perspectives on how I may achieve the objective to the best of my ability.
I also had a manager who adopted a coaching style and used “ask and listen” in our weekly review session. He would always ask about my biggest success, listen to my concerns and feedback, acknowledge what I did well and challenge me to think about a new way to improve further. For example, when I started a new sales advisory role, I followed a more reserved style and always waited for colleagues to seek help from me first. The manager would acknowledge every area in that I had performed well and ask what would you do to book 4 client meetings each week. His generous acknowledgement made me feel that I was being valued each time. I was motivated to do my best. At the same time, he challenged me to stretch myself to think beyond the current process and innovate better ways of working and collaborating with colleagues to achieve bigger success.
This type of coaching is slow and sometimes tedious. For these two reasons, it is approach managers tend to shy away from. Goleman (2013) argues that this is a mistake.
These coaching-style managers apply all the typical things coaches do. They engage in strength identification, short and long-term goal planning, and provide feedback. They have an opportunity to highlight precisely how each employee fits into the bigger business picture.
Goleman points out that there is an ongoing conversation between the two people. As feedback is frequent the employee “feels free to experiment.” The employee knows that the manager cares about their development.
There are two scenarios when this approach works best:
- If the employee has “buy-in” and is ready to make improvements, and
- If the employee understands that developing new skills, soft or hard, will help them advance.
How Coaching Can Support Female Leaders in Businesses
Another recent case research by S. Bonneywell examined precisely how coaching supports the development of female leaders within a global business.
The research highlighted that the coaching changes in relation to the clients personally which include:
- Self-awareness – Most leaders reported experiencing a higher level of self-awareness. They also reported feeling better able to understand themselves, and their self-concept, and felt they had more insight into how they impact others too.
- Self-confidence – The leaders also reported a higher level of self-confidence. This was also linked to a lower level of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs.
- Self-leadership – Leaders reported that as their self-awareness and self-confidence grew, it also led to their awareness of their own self-leadership. How they lead themselves and the expectations they set themselves were explored. For some participants, unrealistic expectations were uncovered and through coaching they were able to develop their ability to lead themselves with more compassion and self-acceptance.
In parallel, the coaching facilitated change in relationships with others which include:
- Leadership Style – Coaching directly impacted how the leaders thought about their leadership behaviours. It developed their awareness of their leadership style and provided them with the opportunity to reflect and be more thoughtful going forward with their approach to tasks and goals.
- Relationship to Line Manager – Coaching appeared to support clients explore their existing relationship with their line manager which had many benefits. Some clients were able to identify things that were not working and make changes. For others, coaching offered a place to find out what they were satisfied with and what within that relationship they valued and found helpful.
- Relationship to conflict – Coaching enabled the female leaders in this study to visit this interesting topic. Some leaders were comfortable with conflict and others felt that it was an area of concern and one they needed to learn more about. Many of the participants discovered that they were avoiding conflict. Coaching allowed them to explore negative beliefs around conflict, to challenge and ultimately shift them.
- Relationship to power – The study found that some female leaders declined the concept of power and had rather strong negative feelings towards power. Coaching supported shifts in insight and perceptions for clients around power and how it could be applied. Coaching helps some to move towards seeing power as a positive and constructive force linked to strength and confidence and one in which they had choice and influence over how it was applied.
- Relationship to personal life – The coaching space offered leaders the chance to examine and reflect on their work/life balance and their responsibilities, with a focus on family. Coaching supported some leaders in making links within work to parts of their life outside of work adding a more holistic aspect to the work. Coaching in this way supported clients to find insights into how things in their lives connect.
Again, reflecting on my own experience of working with an executive coach assigned by my business to support my career development a few years back, I felt I have gained most of the benefits mentioned above in the case study research. The top 3 benefits I experienced as a client from coaching were: 1. A higher level of self-awareness which supported me to understand what I do best and what I need to work on. 2. A clear understanding of my leadership style in which I learnt to appreciate and adapt working behaviours across different stakeholders. 3. I also learnt to shift my perspective on conflict and achieved a great breakthrough in a difficult situation successfully.
Coaching Brings Many Benefits
In summary, research showed that coaching brings many benefits. It may not be true that “Everyone needs a coach.” However, I strongly believe that most people will find coaching useful in supporting their personal and professional development when used appropriately.
Coaching is another valuable development approach to consider on top of training, mentoring or consulting as required. The role of the coach is to be “your external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of your reality”. (Atul Gawande, 2017).
It is important to understand that everyone may experience different benefits or limitations from their coaching experience. However, coaching may be the best way if you wish to inspire hearts and minds!
ICF Experience Coaching -The facts about coaching.
Institute of Coaching – Benefits of coaching.
Ibarra H. & Scoular A. (2019)The leader as coach. How to unleash innovation, energy, and commitment. Harvard Business Review.
Kari. D, M. (2019). 30 Proven Benefits of Life Coaching & Mentoring.
Gawande, A. (2017). Want to get great at something? Get a coach.TED2017.
Bonneywell, S. (2017). How a coaching intervention supports the development of female leaders in a global organisation.
Goleman, D. (2013). Don’t write off the coaching leadership style