The Gift of Workplace Coaching

How Coaching Helps New Leaders Harness Their Superpowers
The Gift of Workplace Coaching
Human Resources

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.

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