RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Coaching: the real meaning

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As an HR leader, I have always been intrigued by the concept of Coaching, as it is practiced in the corporate world. All through my work-life, I have been advising the business partners as to how they can be a better leader and coach. To my mind, skill of coaching is an integral skill for any business leader and it is an imperative for leaders at all work-levels.  However, I have often observed that it is in this very skill leaders do not do as well as they ought to.

While there is no dearth of literature on this subject, I observe there exists a huge disconnect when it comes to actual practice. Coaching means two different things altogether to the supervisor/person coaching and to the person being coached. To the supervisor – it often means giving feedback & correcting. On the other hand, to the recipient, it largely means criticism. This issue of inadequate or poor understanding of the real meaning, purpose and necessity of coaching and our own perceptions of the same cause all the chaos in organizations and leads to a baffled, ineffective coach-supervisor and a disgruntled subordinate.

In this blog, I shall be touching upon the subject of coaching and my experiences with front-end managers and young and aspiring leaders, and their understanding of meaning of the word ‘Coaching.’

In a retail organization, where we try to build leadership talent at all levels, roles of front-end managers like Store Managers and Team Leaders are very crucial. These are the key leadership roles; represent the first line of leadership of the company. They are responsible for managing more than twenty employees, who are extremely diverse – demographically, culturally, educationally and intellectually and largely belong to lower-income/education strata of the society, thereby requiring all the more support and guidance from their leaders. Thus, the store managers and team leaders need to train, guide and coach their subordinates towards running a highly process-oriented business unit. Keeping in view the low learning agility of this sect of employees, coaching & mentoring is one of the key skills a frontline manager must develop. Thus, company’s investment in their learning and building their leadership skills is an imperative.

Over a period of several years, I have been involved in imparting the skill of coaching to the newly inducted as well as to the experienced front-end managers, who join us in batches of 25 trainees or so. These are young women and men, with an average age of 27 years, an average work-experience of 5 years and less – largely as individual contributor, and are just starting to learn the leadership skills. Since their role is highly dependent on people management skills, it becomes very critical for them to appreciate the basics and fundamentals of coaching. I have spoken with close to a thousand such managers and team-leaders on this subject.

Easier said than done…

When I was confronted with this challenge years ago, I thought of making them revisit the very core of the word ‘coaching.’ To do so, I have been using an extremely basic example. However, it has proven highly effective, as far as my purpose of making them appreciate the real intent and purpose of coaching and their role of a coach.

To every set of trainees, I ask two simple questions:

  1. During your school education, did you attend any coaching classes or tuitions?
  2. If yes, please share what is your perception of the word ‘Coaching’, as you experienced during your school years.

Batch after batch, (I must have spoken with more than 50 such batches by now), more than 75% of the trainees share that they attended coaching classes or tuitions during their school education years. They go on to share ‘their own perceptions & thoughts’ of the word ‘Coaching’. All this while, I have come across several words & phrases, which trainees shared as answer to the Question 2 above. To these managers, coaching meant:

  • Guidance
  • Support
  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • Improving skill(s)
  • Learning new skill(s)
  • Learning to pass, at least!
  • Learning to top the charts
  • Improving upon the weaker subject
  • Getting additional help
  • Learning tips and tricks
  • Getting feedback

During this part of the discussion, I purposely avoid adding my thoughts and encourage each trainee to share their own individual experiences and perceptions. However, batch after batch, I observed that these young leaders echoed very similar words to describe coaching, as mentioned above.

We also discuss the need for coaching classes during school years – the need of every student appeared different from the other. Those who scored marks less than 50 attended coaching/tuitions to at least keep passing! Those scoring 50 plus aspired to secure a first division – 60%. The one’s who scored above 60 aspired to obtain a distinction – 75 and above. Those securing 80 plus, aimed to top the charts. All desired coaching, albeit for different reasons!

All of a sudden, better appreciation of the word gets build…

Then comes my third question: “During your school years, in coaching classes or tuitions, how many of your were subjected to corporal punishments, taunts and even derogatory remarks about your abilities as a learner?” Please raise your hands, those who did.

Initially, no one responds. Slowly and gradually, some trainees start raising hands. Some were beaten up by their coaches/teachers, some were subjected to taunts and unflattering remarks and some were even abused with derogatory language. Batches after batches, I have observed that more than 70% of trainees share these sentiments.

However, when I ask as to why they didn’t share above views while they were describing their experiences with the word ‘Coaching’, there falls a dead silence. Largely, I could see trainees amused. Their reasons come out gradually – they shared only positive things, they shared what they thought was right; they shared what they felt good about.

They say, “We didn’t like what happened and hence, we stayed away from sharing the same. While we did experience negative behaviors, we only shared what we believe is real meaning of coaching for us.”

Meaning of the word couldn’t have been clearer!

You may think – what’s the big deal in me doing this whole exercise? What am I trying to say through such a simple example? Well, there IS a big deal. My purpose as an HR leader is to create leaders at every level; to establish connect between the coach and the subordinate, a skill that may not be well-ingrained by preaching via a power-point presentation on coaching and mentoring. By making these young leaders re-live their own experiences, I only make them reflect upon their own coaching styles. They get to respect the whole purpose of coaching for success, in a real and humane way.

Over a period of all these years with all these batches, I have started to see a pattern of thought-process and introspection. These managers look back and review their thoughts about their role of a coach. Subsequently, when they reach their stores, they remember most of this exercise and the learning. Often, I’ve noticed that the well-intentioned managers become better aligned to the key principles of coaching. They relate to the relevance and purpose of coaching, in the similar simple manner as it was in school days. They learn to exercise caution in words and tone, while coaching. They respect their subordinates’ feelings and expectations during the whole process of coaching. They learn to view each individual’s need for coaching differently and guide accordingly. They turn into more empathetic mentors; and coach just the way they themselves like to be mentored.

Above all, I observe they start becoming kind, gentle and generous to faults…this has helped me create first generation retail leaders at this pivotal work-level of frontline managers.

How do you prepare young leaders to be a successful coach? Do share your views.

__________________________________________________

Photo-credit 1: CNN.com

Photo-credit 2: how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com

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Written by RRGwrites

October 22, 2011 at 11:07 PM

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