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Managing Potential


Duncan Miles offers advice to managers to help them coach others more effectively, improve relationships with staff and maximise the potential of their team.

Let us begin with a simple definition of “coaching”.

“The release of latent talent and skills that have previously been untapped by training, through a process of self-awareness, that is initiated by the coach.”

Coaching and training are not the same. Each compliments the other. The major differences between coaching and training are that the coach does not set the training agenda; each person accepts responsibility for their own performance. The traditional role of a manager setting performance targets for team members is at odds with the role of a coach. Managers adopting coaching as a main activity have to stop directing people what to do.

We all have innate abilities that enable us to coach other people; often the skill is knowing how and when to develop those abilities in ourselves and in others. We need to develop a range of interpersonal skills including:

  • Awareness (self and others)

  • Caring skills

  • Counselling ability

  • Knowledge of our own strengths and weaknesses and willingness to acknowledge them

  • Listening skills

  • Non-verbal skills

  • Observation skills

  • Patience

  • Questioning skills

  • Supportive skills

  • Verbal skills
  • A useful starting point is to ask yourself: "How effective am at each of the above?" Seek feedback from those around you to help either confirm your views or to help fill in the unknown pieces of information.

    A coaching programme should ideally be tailor-made for the individuals concerned in terms of content and pace. Learning through coaching is a continuing process.This is particularly useful during times of major change, when people need to learn many new skills simultaneously.

    Through coaching, people become aware of the skills they can acquire through practice, until the new skill becomes equally innate. A manager's and a coach's expectations of an individual can have a dramatic effect on the outcome. Negative expectations often bring about negative results. Positive expectations frequently bring about positive results. We have a tendency to treat differently those who perform at a lower level and in such a way as to accelerate the negative effects of the self-fulfilling prophesy. Learning from mistakes is a poor substitute for coaching.

    In addition to helping address the challenges outlined at the beginning of this article, there are many more benefits in developing effective coaching relationships. People perform their jobs better; relationships are enhanced; the working environment becomes less stressful; learning tends to stick through practical experience; people acquire new skills and increase their levels of confidence; motivation increases, and people have a far greater sense of being able to contribute, add value and make a difference.

    However, despite the number of benefits to be gained from building effective coaching relationships many managers still come up with reasons why they are unable to coach others. Lack of time, is a commonly quoted reason yet effective managers have the same amount of time as ineffective managers. They just utilise their time better.

    Attitudes and behaviours of managers also play a big part. In my work with organisations I have noticed that many people achieve more in their private lives than they do within their work life. In speaking with these people they often quote behaviours in their managers that simply negate their willingness to put in any extra effort. They have often lost respect and trust in their managers because the managers have either openly punished mistakes; told people to do something and then blamed them when it went wrong; shown people up in front of others; taken the credit for a job well done by others within the team; not spoken up in support of their team; kept information to themselves in the false belief that information is power and that with power they automatically gain control and influence over those around them.

    Put simply, they have often attempted to ‘look good’ in any situation, rather than to be ‘truly effective’. These same managers still hold the belief that people are mainly motivated by reward, whereas large numbers of people still seek self-fulfilment, achievement, engagement and job satisfaction.

    During the coaching process it is important that both the coach and the person being coached are aware of a possible reduction in performance while new skills are being learnt. The person being coached will eventually either return to their previous levels of performance or reach potential higher levels of performance.

    You may find the following three stage OWN series of questions helpful in guiding you through the coaching process:

    * Objectives:

  • How much time have we got?

  • What is the purpose of this coaching session for you?

  • What are you looking for from me?

  • What are you looking to achieve?

  • What will you feel like when you achieve your goal? (Can you see yourself achieving your goal?)

  • Is there anything else that you could do?

  • What are the benefits for you / the team / the business?

  • When do you want to achieve this goal by?

  • How realistic is that?

  • * Where are we now?

  • What have you done about it so far?

  • What was the result?

  • What have been the successes/ obstacles?

  • How did you set about overcoming them?

  • What would you do differently next time?

  • What do you have to do about it?

  • How much trust do you have in your ability to do it?

  • On a scale of 1-10, what is the likelihood of your succeeding?

  • What immediate support do you need from me?

  • Do it!

  • * Next Steps

  • What happened?

  • What have you learnt?

  • How will you celebrate success?

  • (Return to the beginning of the process.)
  • Coaching opportunites
    There are plenty of opportunities for coaching within the workplace. Coaching should be a day-to-day activity which capitalises upon every opportunity presented. Most on-the-job discussions between managers and team members offer the chance to help them improve - discuss and explore alternative courses of action and their implications. If a target is not met, talk about what they are going to do about it and how.

    Every time a job lands on your desk consider the opportunity for delegation and whether you can classify incoming tasks as ones to be dealt with exclusively by others, ones that they can deal with and should tell you about afterwards or ones that you must deal with. Why not ask your team members what aspects of your job they would like to have delegated to them? All of these activities take time to work through and with patience you will both be rewarded by a better performance.

    Involve your team members in considering high level decisions that you have to make. Setting projects, providing the briefing is adequate, is a valuable technique, as is getting team members to set projects for their teams. Delegate full authorisation in your absence and announce you will be bound by decisions taken. Give people the opportunity to represent you at meetings with your power of authority. Take them along to meetings.

    Set some specific tasks such as reading and summarising books, office notices etc. Give team members the chance to rehearse important skills with you for example if they have a difficult appraisal interview do not just discuss it, give them a dry run. Arrange for visits and short attachments to other parts of the business or with customers, with a full de-briefing on what was learnt.

    Building relationships
    People have often asked me for key hints and tips in developing effective relationships with those that they coach and work with. The following 10 statements, distinctions and considerations have provided excellent guidance for me in building effective working relationships whilst coaching and working with clients across Europe, Africa and Asia. I offer them here for consideration in helping you to assess the quality of your existing coaching relationships, be they with customers, colleagues, team members, bosses or your peers.

    1. The quality of a coaching conversation is directly related to the quality of the relationship between you and the other person (team member, boss, customer, and stakeholder). The quality of the relationship can be measured by the quality of the conversation.

    2. All coaching conversations have a meaning; therefore you need to take full responsibility for what you say and how it impacts on others. The coach's job is to help the other person articulate what they want and need; and to determine what you are willing and able to provide.

    3. When in doubt, tell the truth. When not in doubt, tell the truth. When you tell the truth, nobody is wrong. If someone is wrong, you’re not telling the truth. Truth is about talking about your perceptions and your experiences, not the ‘absolute’ truth – because no one knows it. There are two important distinctions:
    a. Truth versus accuracy - you can tell the truth, but not be accurate and you can be accurate, but not tell the truth – this is all about our intentions.
    b. Truth and relationships: Just because you tell people the truth doesn’t mean they will like it or thank you for it! If your intention is not full disclosure – then it is a lie. Personal power comes from an absolute commitment to tell the truth.

    4. We need to ask ourselves: “What are we trying to do? – Achieve results or give the impression that we’re very busy? As a coach, what are you committed to - looking good or getting the job done? Sometimes to get the job done, you have to give up looking good.

    5. Communication is a function of intention. All breakdowns in communication are a result of mixed intentions. When conflict doesn’t get talked about, it gets acted out. If you withhold a communication it creates a barrier in your coaching relationship.

    6. In communication, if you use force, you will disempower yourself – you’ll always get antagonism: they always get you back! Your job as a coach is to generate a conversation for possibilities. Stay in the conversation for as long as required. Some things can’t be hurried.

    7. If you’re in a coaching position, you can never avoid anxiety: what you need to do is manage it. Anxiety exists in the head and is about the ‘anticipation of future pain’: manage it by staying in the present. All relationships exist over the top of interpersonal anxiety.

    8. Use language that produces action i.e. has clarity and certainty, as this leads to velocity of action. Take responsibility for what you say – this demonstrates commitment and you are more likely to be taken seriously.

    9. All unhappiness (suffering) stems from the thought: "It shouldn’t be this way!" Anger comes from a sense of vulnerability – to defuse anger identify and remove the vulnerability.

    10. As a coach and manager, one of your enemies is pretentiousness. You know all those things that you worry people think about you, say about you, and feel about you? Guess what: they do, and they always have! Seek that feedback openly – it all helps increase your own self awareness and knowledge of the impact that you have upon those around you.

    Hopefully by bearing in mind these statements, distinctions and considerations you will be able to develop more effective relationships with those you coach and manage and will be able to free up the hidden potential and resource within your work teams.

    * Duncan Miles is director of Inspire Training and Consultancy Limited.


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