The Gift of Workplace Coaching

Many employers of choice offer coaching to their new generation of leaders because it’s a tool with transformative powers. Given the ever-changing business landscape—including the transition back to the office after COVID-19—smart employers provide their employees with the tools they need to succeed—from day one. For new leaders, that includes coaching.

In this article, I will talk about what coaching is, the transformative power of coaching, what new leaders can expect from employer-sponsored coaching and how to get the most out of the gift of coaching.

Attitudes About Coaching: Then and Now

Some time ago, I was a young mother working my way up the corporate ladder. Shortly after I secured a management job, I was called into my boss’s office. She told me, “We see your potential and we’d like to support your transition from employee to manager. You’re a young employee with a bright future and it’s important for us to invest in you.” She then announced that they had secured six sessions over the next few months—all confidential—with Susan, a retired HR professor from a Toronto university, who consulted as an executive coach.

Sounds amazing, right? I didn’t think so. Back then, coaching wasn’t popular or common, so I didn’t know how to handle this information. The only time I had heard about a third party being called in was to assist employees getting back on track before they went down the termination road. Prior to having this conversation, no one had ever mentioned coaching in the management transition process. I ran home and said to my husband, “Oh, my God, I don’t understand what’s going on. They just gave me this job, I thought I started off well and now they want me to talk to someone.” My mind raced with questions like, “Was I not communicating properly? Was I not handling myself during meetings? Did I do something wrong? Do they want to get rid of me already?”

After a brief panic, I reflected on what my boss really had said, which was nothing like my initial interpretation. Why was I doubting myself? I had worked so hard to get here. I deserved to be at the table. I decided to trust myself and the process and I called Susan the next day. To my wonderful surprise, getting coaching changed my life—I continued up the ladder and became one of the top female executives in the organization. I was ambitious and hard-working, so I probably would’ve got there anyway, but I’m positive my path was smoother because of the opportunity to work with Susan early on in my management transition.

Fortunately, times have changed; coaching is no longer a mystery or reserved for the executive suite and misbehaving employees. People at all levels—whether they’re in the office or on the shop floor—appreciate coaching for what it is: a gift that brings positive results for months, years and decades.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a developmental practice; coaches use their knowledge and skills to help their clients achieve specific personal or professional goals. Coaches create a learning environment and, as such, there shouldn’t be power struggles in a coaching relationship. Coaching is a two-way communication and feedback process between the employee and the coach with the intention to reinforce strengths and bring awareness of possibilities.

For those that are fortunate to participate in employer-sponsored coaching, it typically starts with six sessions lasting from 60 to 90 minutes each. Coaching often begins with discovering a bit about yourself, setting goals and making solid progress when dealing with issues that might arise in the future. Coaching is a tool that your employer purchases to put in your hand. For leaders—especially new leaders—coaching is essential, just as a measuring tape is essential for a master carpenter. Coaching is an opportunity to help people understand new concepts, learn about themselves and make positive change in their lives.

Coaching sessions are meant to be confidential; this means that what you and your coach talk about stays between you and your coach.[1] In the context of workplace coaching, coaches are accountable to the organization which means they provide attendance updates and perhaps a sentence or two about progress. If the sponsor has asked the coach to work on specific areas, this will be discussed briefly. However, progress reports are generally vague such as, “I met with Taylor, and we worked on some goals. Taylor is a pleasure to speak with and I can see why you consider Taylor leadership material.” The content and limits of the reports are discussed and reviewed during the first coaching session.

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching is different than mentoring though a coaching relationship can transition into a mentoring relationship. Coaching is goal-oriented and focused on gaining the skills required to navigate issues that come up at work. Mentoring is relationship-oriented; a mentor is a role model you can turn to for guidance and support. Some examples of mentors could be a school principal mentoring a vice-principal or a help desk team leader assigned to mentor an employee working in IT as a clerk, who would like to move to the help desk team to provide IT support.

The Transformative Power of Coaching

Coaching is ultimately about change. Coaching transforms professionals by helping them engage in different ways of thinking, become more effective working with people and increase their ability to handle challenging situations. At the core, coaching helps people learn about themselves and identify what they need to move forward in pursuit of a personal or professional goal.

When Susan and I sat down for my first coaching session, it was in a coffee shop. Despite my reservations, I immediately took to coaching with Susan and was grateful to have the skills and expertise of a female HR executive at my disposal. It was great to have someone to talk to. With Susan, I didn’t have to be “on” all the time; I could be myself while learning about myself. She taught me a different way of looking at things and helped me work through issues and goals so I could go to work and perform.

After our sessions, Susan became a friend and mentor who I spoke to for many years before she passed away. As my career progressed, I became a mentor to other young leaders; one of those women recently sent me a note about how I helped her and her colleague when they reported to me years ago. She said, “You are a huge part of our confidence, giving us a chance. It didn’t matter what we asked, you always had another question for us to answer, and made us walk out of your office feeling like we could conquer the world.” I trace their success back to my time with Susan; this multi-decade legacy perfectly illustrates the transformative power of coaching. It becomes natural to pass on the power of coaching when you’ve been coached.

How New Leaders Can Get the Most Out of Employer-Sponsored Coaching

I’m known for saying every manager needs five superpowers and I believe coaching makes it easier and faster to develop and harness these superpowers, especially when you engage with the process. The more accountability and responsibility you take, the more you’ll get out of your coaching sessions.

Here are my five recommendations for getting the most out of coaching:

  1. Commit to the process – Your coach is there to help you grow, navigate challenges and achieve your goals and this only works if you go all in. Coaching isn’t about going with the flow; it’s about being an active participant in your own journey.
  2. Prepare for each session – Be on time, take notes and be ready to revisit unfinished business from previous sessions. If you have a pressing concern—such as an emerging power-struggle with an employee or colleague—bring it to your session and be ready to think differently about how to approach it.
  3. Be willing to give and receive feedback – Your coach doesn’t tell you what to do; instead, a coach asks questions to help you come up with solutions. These conversations aren’t always easy, so a successful coaching relationship involves two-way feedback. Listen to your coach’s observations with an open mind and tell your coach what’s working and not working for you. Both parties should try not to take feedback personally.
  4. Choose the right meeting place – Coaching can bring up emotions, so it’s important that you feel comfortable in your meeting place, whether it’s a private office, busy coffee shop or virtual.
  5. Speak up if there’s truly not a great fit – With employer-sponsored coaching, you don’t get to pick your coach and, most of the time, it works out well. However, if there’s truly a bad fit, talk to your director of HR or the person in charge of the coaching program. Keep in mind that having a coach who asks tough questions isn’t the same as a bad fit!

What New Leaders Can Expect to Get Out of Coaching

Transitioning from individual contributor to a leadership role is hard, especially without a formal system of support. When new leaders get coaching, they can expect to increase their on-the-job effectiveness, due to gaining new skills and setting their mindset right. With coaching, new leaders learn about themselves, become comfortable enough to be themselves at work and develop the confidence to address issues and create an effective working environment that facilitates success. The coaching process provides space and structure for the reflection necessary for learning and growth and, in many cases, helps people reconnect with what they love about life and work.

In my years as an executive in the HR, financial and operational fields, I’ve seen countless coaching success stories, including my own. Most people go into coaching expecting it to be somewhat helpful and are shocked at how transformative the process really is.

Supporting the First 90 Days: Why Employers of Choice Hire Coaches for New Leaders

“There is a pervasive lack of leadership management training happening when people are moving into management.”

  • Scott Miller, Executive Vice President of Thought Leadership, FranklinCovey

In many organizations, new leaders commit to a plan for their first 90 days on the job. The transition from employee to leader—sometimes described as drinking from the fire hose—is incredibly stressful, challenging and, at times, discouraging. Top employers provide coaching support when their employees move into leadership roles (and often when they welcome new leaders to the company). Employers of choice believe there’s no need for anyone to fail within the first 90 days; coaching mitigates this risk and gives new leaders a strong start.

And, in the era of the great resignation, employees want to work for organizations that care about their people and align to their values. Companies that offer coaching demonstrate their commitment to leadership development, succession planning and helping employees fit into their roles. They know that coaching helps employees feel a sense of belonging, find meaning in their work, and achieve greater happiness, productivity and performance. One great leader creates many others; that’s why top employers are thrilled to provide coaching to their leadership team at all levels.

If you’re a new leader and your employer offers you an opportunity to meet with a coach, take it! It can change your life and the lives of others, now and far into the future. So, what are you waiting for?

Further Reading

I highly recommend these two books to help you understand the transformational benefits of coaching:

  • Developing Leaders by Executive Coaching by Andromachi Athanasopoulou.
  • The First 90 Days, Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael D. Watkins.

About the Author

Filomena Lofranco

Filomena Lofranco is a management consultant and executive coach with more than 25 years of human resource, finance, and leadership experience. Filomena strives to share her knowledge and expertise with professionals looking to grow and succeed in the workplace. She understood that there was a profound need for up-and-coming professionals to have the proper training and foundation from the start. Filomena works to identify areas within organizations that require attention and improvement, evaluating potential options and providing practical solutions that are cost effective. For Filomena, fostering relationships at every level of an organization is key when building a strong and prosperous business. She believes these relationships hold great value for an organization and can help mitigate problems when challenges arise. She has been instrumental in staff development, staff empowerment and in driving successful results across a wide range of cross functional teams. She is passionate about promoting and inspiring workplace culture that supports physical, psychological and emotional well-being for all.

 

[1] Limits to coaching confidentiality are much like limits for counselling. For example, if a client discloses threats of harm to oneself or others, a coach is obligated to alert the proper authorities to make sure the client gets the help they need.

Five Superpowers Every Manager Needs

Do you remember the day you became a manager? You were told, “Congratulations, you’re a manager, you start next week! Let us know what you need, and your assistant will have your keys and access card waiting for you.”

Did that amount of support turn you into a respected and effective manager overnight? Probably not. The sad reality is that many new managers do not receive the training, coaching and support they require to excel in their role as people leaders. Learning the ropes for measuring metrics, updating the team schedule, and filing reports on time is administratively important but only part of the managerial picture. Real success comes from mastering the five management superpowers, which are all about navigating human relationships. It does not matter what company you work for, how long you have been a manager, nor what your title is.  These management skills are required to build healthier relationships and increase productivity.

In this article, I will illuminate the five managerial superpowers, why they are important and provide tips for implementing each one.

Think of them as slices of a pie. You wouldn’t bring a housewarming pie that is missing a slice or two, would you? Nor would you want to be a manager who is a few slices short of a superpower pie.

Manager Superpower #1: Know the WAY

Who Are You? Before you can do anything well—communicate, solve problems or be a mentor—you must know who you are. Self-awareness is the first part of being an effective and respected manager. By knowing who you are and your default position for approaching situations, you can work through your limitations and double down on effective strategies.

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.
  – John Maxwell

To know the WAY, ask yourself these questions (and answer them):

  • What’s my communication style when I’m calm?
  • What’s my communication style when I’m feeling stressed?
  • What’s my understanding of emotional intelligence?
  • How do my emotions influence others? And in what way?
  • What’s my leadership style and does it work? For example, are you an open-door policy person? Do you sit around the table with your team or stand at the front of the table? Do you yell at people in front of others or address individual concerns in private? These are difficult questions to face but answering them shows you the WAY.

Communication skills support all five managerial superpowers so use these communication best practices often:

  • Be brief but specific.
  • Communicate in a positive manner.
  • Express yourself calmly.
  • Engage in active listening.
  • Acknowledge what the other person says without disagreeing.

Manager Superpower #2: Manage Transitions Effectively

Businessman Robert C. Gallagher once said, “Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.” So true! In a workplace context, managers are expected to manage change and transitions even when (and especially when) team members are resistant to the change. Even good change is stressful, and your team will remember how you supported them through change, for better or for worse.

Tips for managing transitions effectively:

  • Understand your own reactions to change. For example, are you overwhelmed by change? Or does it hardly faze you? How flexible and adaptable are you?
  • Communicate clearly and often with employees affected by the change.
  • Listen to employee concerns about the change.
  • Help your team understand why the change is happening and what’s expected of them before, during and after the change.
  • Be strategic, anticipate issues and create a plan for handling them.
  • Manage your own change-related stress so you don’t inadvertently transfer your stress to your team.

As a manager, the first transition to manage is always your own transition into a new role and team. When you become a manager, there are so many unknowns, especially if you’re new to the organization. What happened with the other manager? How were the relationships with the team? Good? Bad? It is important to remember that you and your new team are making the transition together and you are not all starting at the same place. Some people will be thrilled you are there while others will be unhappy about their previous manager’s departure. It can also be difficult to transition from a team member to the team leader. Using the tips above can help you manage these types of transitions.

Manager Superpower #3: Take Ownership

Employees crave leadership so take ownership of your role and your responsibilities as a leader right away. Employees take cues from you, including your emotions and attitudes, which sets the stage for the team culture. How do you want to influence your team? With positivity, enthusiasm and integrity? Or some other way?

Simple ways to take ownership as a manager:

  • Be passionate about your job and enjoy it (or get a new one).
  • Learn about your company’s strategic initiatives and share that information with your team. Too many managers avoid sharing relevant information with their team. This is a wasted opportunity as sharing knowledge builds trust which creates strong relationships.
  • Set standards for team performance and behaviours and help people achieve them.
  • Be or become an effective communicator.
  • Balance the needs of your organization with the needs of your team and make this tightrope act visible to your team (within reason).
  • Be proactive about your own personal and professional development by working with a coach and/or mentor.

If you don’t take ownership of your role, who will?

Manager Superpower #4: Managing Conflict

Self-aware managers know how they deal with conflict and are open to exploring the results they get. Managing conflict is often difficult because most people don’t like it. But it’s the managerial superpower that makes the difference between a good day and developing an ulcer. How do you deal with conflict and what are your typical results? Does your approach generally help or hinder conflict situations? These questions are essential for managers to consider.

There are five styles of conflict management. While it is tempting to label them as the proverbial good or bad, they can all be right—or wrong—depending on the situation.

The five styles of conflict management:

  • Accommodating – You put the other person’s needs before your own.
  • Avoiding – You evade the conflict and hope it goes away on its own.
  • Compromising – You attempt to find a solution that partially pleases everyone involved.
  • Collaborating – You attempt to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
  • Competing – You stand firm and don’t consider anyone else’s perspective.

Though some of these styles sound harsh and unproductive, an effective manager knows when to use each of them. For example, a competing conflict management style is appropriate when deciding on workplace safety or compliance protocols. There is no room for compromise when it comes to staying on the right side of the law and avoiding a harassment or worker’s compensation lawsuit.

Employees seem to hate the avoidance style of conflict resolution the most because it assaults people’s ingrained idea of fairness. When someone observes you seeing, hearing and saying nothing about something that’s obvious to everyone else, it kills the team spirit. Of course, sometimes, you must resolve things in a way that looks unfair, such as providing accommodations for one team member. This is yet another reason to develop strong communication skills: they help you navigate tricky situations as logically and transparently as possible.

If you’re uncomfortable with conflict, your conflict resolution skills probably need improvement. That’s okay but you must get help as soon as possible because this is such an important (and common) part of management. Always know, your employees are always watching you. Having poor conflict resolution skills is possibly the fastest way to lose the respect of your team.

Remember the responsibility for developing skills ultimately rests on your shoulders. To increase your conflict management skills, find and use all the resources available to you, including books, internal courses and mentors, or outside professional development. I promise that you will have many opportunities to use the conflict management skills you learn!

Manager Superpower #5: Managing People and Personalities

The first four managerial superpowers are about managing yourself and potentially difficult situations. Now it’s time to talk about the final managerial superpower that brings everything together: managing people effectively. If you don’t have this superpower, your other superpowers won’t be as effective as they could be. (Going back to the pie analogy, you need all the slices to make a whole pie.)

Here are my five tips for managing people effectively:

  1. Know your people – Go beyond names and get to know your team member’s strengths, challenges and career aspirations. When you know your team, you can add value by making connections and helping your people go where they want to go.
  2. Be a supportive coach – Create opportunities for the team to see you as a sounding board and someone who can facilitate career growth and transitions. Coaching allows you to use your listening and observational skills to help your employees optimize their performance and reach their goals.
  3. Provide training and development – Develop a team culture that values training and development opportunities by staying positive about continuous learning. Never frame training as a punishment or your team will quickly devalue any training you provide. Work with the Human Resources team to bring relevant opportunities to your team (and if the budget is tight, consider train-the-trainer sessions).
  4. Be kind – In a world of increased uncertainty, it’s extra important to be kind. When we are stressed or in a hurry, it is easy to forget the niceties that make human interaction meaningful. Kindness also means checking in on people. Is anyone struggling? Are people getting what they need? Skilled managers are kind even when firmness is required.
  5. Look after yourself – Being a manager is rewarding but nobody ever said it was easy! Self-care is rejuvenating and we can only tend to others if we tend to ourselves. Put your hobbies in your calendar and enjoy them. Disconnect from work regularly. Go for a long walk. Create your own professional development plan and work towards it. Taking care of your mental, physical and spiritual needs enhances your life and helps you be a more effective manager.

Leaders reveal themselves through their behaviour. You do not have to be a manager to be a leader, but to be a respected and effective manager, you must be a great leader. By learning and mastering the five managerial superpowers, you will be the best manager you can be.

To learn these managerial superpowers, consider looking into courses such as Building Trust and Managing Unionized Environments.

 

About the Author

Filomena Lofranco

Filomena Lofranco is an energetic senior executive with more than 20 years of human resource, finance, and leadership experience in the public sector. Through her countless leadership roles, she has steered the planning and execution of various specialized programs and projects. She has been instrumental in staff development and in driving successful results across a wide range of cross functional teams. Filomena has a proven track record for being passionate about promoting and inspiring a workplace culture that supports physical, psychological, and emotional well-being for all staff and stakeholders.

 

Further Reading

I highly recommend these two books to increase your managerial superpowers:

Reference List

Amaresan, S. (2021, June 9). 5 Conflict Management Styles for Every Personality Type. HubSpot Blog. https://blog.hubspot.com/service/conflict-management-styles 

Bridges, W., & Bridges, S. (2017). Managing transitions: making the most of change (4th ed.). Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Furlong, G. T., & Harrison, J. (2018). BrainFishing: a practice guide to questioning skills. FriesenPress.

Goodreads. (n.d.). Robert C. Gallagher Quotes (Author of The Express). Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/180697.Robert_C_Gallagher

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