Leadership development through coaching

Newcomers to senior managerial positions are, it seems, pining for coaching to help them become effective leaders. How can training and learning and development departments meet this challenge? By Stephanie Sparrow

Even though coaching is a profession awash with buzzwords, a new one is doing the rounds: transition anxiety.

The phrase cropped up in the Leadership Transitions survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and consultancy DDI, which asked leaders to rate such moves relative to different life events.

This anxious pack of would-be top dogs rated the trauma of moving into a new post as second only to that of dealing with divorce.

Their anxiety is heightened by a lack of preparation for their new role, with 80% saying that help with new ways of thinking would have eased them into the mental shift required for each new transition.

No hand holding

It is at this stage in their career that coaching and mentoring are useful, says Vanessa Taylor, manager of research and policy at the CIPD. “Coaching isn’t hand holding but it does help the coachees reflect on how they do things, and it’s good to have the opportunity to look inwardly at what is and isn’t working,” she says. “It can be used to offer support and to make promotion less stressful.”

New leaders should be able to call on coaching to help them “get into the core of how they operate and change aspects of how they work,” says Clive Mann, managing director of executive consultancy Ridler and Co.

He sees leadership training as a mixture of general management training and coaching. “It has to help them look at a business from a strategic level and to formulate and implement strategy rather than fulfil a technical role. The development has to help them to take a broader view.”

For the HR or training manager, the key is to design a multi-faceted development plan that incorporates coaching. “But first you need the raw material to work with,” says Anna Marie Detert, a senior consultant at TowersPerrin.

She recommends the use of development centres to assess raw potential and to define required competencies. These centres should deploy simulated environments or activities based around a problem that the company experienced a few years ago. This means it knows the outcome and can compare the potential leader’s solution with what actually worked.

This in turn helps define the remit of the coach. “The coach is there to bridge gaps in the competencies required for the leadership role,” says Detert, adding that once the coachee is in the role, the coach will work with them to identify opportunities to stretch them.

Engaging the coach in crafting a leader’s future, and with this the future of the organisation, puts them in a position of great trust, so it pays to choose wisely.

“The right type of coach for this role has to have authority, presence and impact,” says Jonathan Perks, managing director of leadership development at talent consultancy Penna.

“They should also have accreditation from a coaching body, such as the International Coaching Federation, and be investing in their practice and their own skills.”

The coach and coachee are expected to work together to bring the agreed definition of great performance to life. It will take chemistry to make the coaching relationship work, and its impact can be measured by what the leader does differently, he says, adding that the coaching should be conducted over a six to 12-month period.

“Coaching also works well when combined with other things, such as master classes,” says Perks. “The coaching embeds the learning and gives the follow-up because the coach can ask the coachee how he is putting the lessons into practice.”

Hybrid model

This hybrid model of classroom and individual coaching is proving popular and effective, according to Gil Schwenk, principal consultant at organisation development specialists The Bath Consultancy Group.

“The hybrid makes a stronger contribution to leadership development than exclusive coaching, because group learning can help establish a common understanding of leadership,” he says.

Of course, the coach has to understand the broader leadership remit of the organisation and how they want their leaders to behave, but also has to align outcomes with other expectations of performance .

“This is where 360–degree feedback is handy,” says Schwenk. He believes that 360 can be an anchor. “The advantage of 360 is that it personalises the focus of the coaching and training,” he says.

He also sees coaching as crucial in developing authentic leaders who can be true to themselves. “Coaching takes a just-in–time and just-for-me approach,and so is essential if leadership development is going to work to the least common denominator,“ he says.

Increasingly, it is the non-common denominators thatorganisations are looking for.

“Leaders are the role models for what the organisation aspires to,” says Myles Downey, founder of the School of Coaching .”Dictatorial styles are out, as the workplace is full of people who are less likely to accept being told what to do.”

Perks sees organisations rolling out programmes to develop the emotional intelligence (EQ) of their top people so that these employeesunderstand how to “read their people” and coach them in turn.

Of course, the coachee has to want to be coached and want to reflect or to change. Downey has occasionally come across people, particularly those who confuse leadership with arrogance, who don’t want this.

Engage the coachee

He says: “The exciting bitis how to engage the coachee and how to get them to genuinely sign up to the process.

“But also HR and learning and developmentdepartments have to think how to make the process ‘safe’ – in other words, how to safeguard the coachee’s career if they want to opt out of the coaching process, for whatever reason.”

Downey would dissuade any sponsor from sending someone to be coached.

Most coaching and leadership experts would argue that coaching is an essential part of leadership development because it helps to sign-post the lessons the organisation wants the new leader to learn. It also signals the organisation’s commitment to that person.

“This will become more important as Generation Y, the up and coming what’s-in-it- for-me generation, wants to know that the organisation cares enough to invest in its people,” says Perks.

However, despite a general consensus that coaching has its part to play in leadership development, there is less evidence that it is actually being used in this way says Robinson. “The CIPD’s Leadership Forecast survey shows that coaching is seen as effective but not used to a great extent. Fifty per cent of HR people think that it is effective, but only 16% use it,” she says.

Respondents blamed their budgets, says Robinson, adding that it seems that not all organisations think they can justify the cost of one-on-one coaching for potential leaders.

Designing a programme

At coaching consultancy DRC, partner Angela Rutterford-Adams has compiled a leadership programme for eight would-be directors at a major retailer.

“I’ve worked in conjunction with the HR and learning and development departments to design the programme and to integrate the coaching,” she says. “We have termed it an academy and we are aiming for external accreditation.”

The programme consists of five core modules: business strategy, what constitutes leadership, managing teams, developing their leadership brand, and how to have impact. “Each module has a coach,” she says. “And in addition, the participants are learning to coach others.”

Rutterford-Adams explains that as part of the programme, the high-potentials learn to coach other people and attend coaching supervision. “The coaching element is crucial in helping them to understand their role,” she says.

Mentors make a difference

Any HR or learning and development manager designing a leadership programme should incorporate mentoring as well as coaching, says Anna Marie Detert, senior consultant at Towers Perrin.

“The coach can bring trouble-shooting from an external perspective,” she says.

“But a mentor, who is usually a senior person from within the company, can take a long-term view and champion the high potential’s progress, as well as being cognisant of what the organisation needs.”

Detert also believes that a mentor should be involved with the programme from the outset. “The coach and mentor need to link up, which makes it a four-way contract, counting the coachee and sponsor,” she says, adding that this makes it easier to draft multi-faceted expectations at the start.

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