How to become a successful manager: separate yourself from the crowd

12 May 2016

I am passionate about coaching. I believe in its efficacy as a methodology for improved performance, leadership development and relationship management.

Organisations do too. In fact, according to Project Oxygen – a research initiative conducted by Google on its own people – the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching.

Coaching has been adopted as a mainstream learning methodology by the corporate world. Over 85pc of all Fortune 500 companies now use coaching as the most preferred learning practice.

Its popularity does not appear to be abating: “We’re looking for a levelling off, and it’s not happening,” said Magdalena Mook, International Coach Federation (ICF) executive director and CEO.

Part of that results from a change in corporate culture. Companies that once provided coaching only to C-suite executives now offer it to middle managers and others.

Strangely, despite agreement that it is a good practice, coaching isn’t part of what managers are formally expected to do at most companies, and time and skill are the two most common excuses given for its lack of adoption by managers. 

Why coach?

The core purpose of coaching is to enable learning, development and change in an individual, in real time, connected to the challenges of work. It supports adult learning, using a conversational practice that is deliberate and intent on supporting another to do their own thinking.

The world of work is increasingly stretched, with a greater emphasis on virtual leading, globalisation, ubiquitous change and a pernicious need to adapt and flex.

Two big trends continue to dominate the world of work: retention and engagement. Employers lament the lack of engagement of employees, with engagement figures languishing around 27pc, according to Gallup.

Significantly, millennials now account for the largest part of the workforce, demanding more flexibility, mobility, meaningful work and accelerated development like no preceding generation.

What you need to know

We know that employees are not primarily motivated by money. A fabulous survey conducted by MIT – and made famous by Dan Pink in his TED talk, The Puzzle of Motivation – showed us that once the question of money is off the table, three things motivate employees: purpose, mastery and autonomy.

This means that leaders and managers need to be able to go ‘below the line’ to tap into their own emotional intelligence and inquire differently. Leaders need to be able to access and leverage an employee’s motivation, engage them in what needs to change, and empower them to be more self-reliant, risk-taking and autonomous. There needs to be less micromanagement and more leading by asking, rather than telling.

Coaching supports the development of another and equips them to dig deep and realise their own potential, accessing their ability to contribute to the organisation’s vision mission and goals. But to do so means significant change on the part of the leader.

Adopting a coaching orientation at work takes skill and practice. For those who assume, perhaps erroneously, that they are right, or that they hold all the answers, the path may be tough.

The mindset of a leader as coach – or any person able to get the most out of their talent – presupposes a belief in others, a belief that learning is possible and a belief that people are inherently willing and able to grow. This is a growth mindset.

Equipped with a growth mindset, a leader then needs to employ a whole host of behaviours and skills to effectively coach. These include a willingness to relate, a willingness to respect the intent of another, and a willingness to let go.

Letting go is a big deal.

Most leaders that I meet are attached to what made them successful and, as such, have a hard time delegating, getting out of the way and relinquishing control. One enlightened leader that I had the privilege to coach said at the outset of our engagement that his goal was to make himself redundant. That’s 21st-century leading at its best.

Where to begin

The state of coaching as a profession is much improved. It is now less of a cottage business and more of a sophisticated industry. Choice abounds.

Several organisations, for example, use a mix of interventions and have a defined framework.

They have parameters to guide the use of external coaching for senior executive or high potentials, and the use of internal coaching for their cadre of managers and supervisors. They use peer coaching, team coaching (a growing phenomenon), and application coaching, supporting leadership development programs.

Furthermore, the trend to support internal leaders with coaching skills continues to grow.

The leader or manager as coach is best supported in two ways, according to the American Management Association:

  • Employ an external coach to come into the organisation to teach leaders on a modular programme
  • Engage with an external institution that provides short Leader as Coach programmes

Coaching tips

For those organisations considering employing the use of coaching as a development initiative, it is important to keep the following in mind.

  • Keep things clear. The terms coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, and are often misunderstood. There are several definitions that support the understanding of both terms. An organisation needs to land on a definition that suits its purpose and about which it can communicate broadly.
  • Devise a strategy. In many organisations, coaching and mentoring services are provided in a scattered and disjointed series of activities rather than through a coherent and widely-accepted strategy. This can mean that valuable organisational learning is lost or not captured in a meaningful way.
  • Ensure leadership buy-in and modelling. Lack of leadership buy-in can be hugely detrimental to coaching, mentoring and leadership development. The more that leaders model coaching as a way of leading and learning, the more that message gets picked up and employed.
  • Consider administration support. Inconsistent provision of administration support and co-ordination will get in the way of an effective programme. The provision of coaching and mentoring across an organisation in a systematic way is administratively cumbersome and sensitive. There is a trend in some more sophisticated providers to hire a head of coaching, with an administrative staff to support the embedding of this learning practice. Google and Facebook both employ heads of coaching.

Coaching has evolved, and the majority of organisations are now using a hybrid mix of external and internal coaches to support their talent development needs. The use of a coherent strategy is relatively new, but wise.

The more we can learn, innovate and practice coaching, the better our work practices and results will be. 

Tara Nolan is an IMI associate who teaches on the new Coaching for Business Results programme.

Tara specialises in developing leaders and managers in the practice of business coaching.

Main image via Shutterstock

Loading now, one moment please! Loading