Leadership coaching has become a popular tool to support leaders in organizations today. There is evidence that coaching works to support leaders’ professional development in a variety of ways. The benefits of professional coaching include:
• Increased self-awareness
• A better understanding of how to leverage strengths
• The ability to recognize other people’s strengths
• Learning new ways of doing things
• Challenging existing bias
• Accountability to implement and take action
The biggest benefit of coaching as compared to traditional leadership training is implementation. I’m sure you’ve sat in a day-long training session and learned a ton of new leadership techniques, but then never had the chance to apply them. Coaching holds the participant accountable to come up with their own solutions and when people come up with their own ideas, they are more likely to follow through with them.
Coaching can take different forms depending on the needs of the participant. The most popular format is individual one-on-one coaching, with group coaching growing in popularity. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each style.
Individual coaching typically happens in 30- to 60-minute blocks of time in person or via phone or video conference. The only participants are the coach and the client, and the coaching program is 100% customized to the individual’s leadership development needs. The kind of people that can benefit from one-on-one coaching include:
• People who have recently been promoted to a senior level of leadership and need to adjust their specific behaviors to meet the expectations of their new role.
• Individuals with challenging schedules, as one-on-one coaching offers flexibility and is an effective use of time as the focus is 100% on the client’s development.
• Leaders who are dealing with situations that require complete confidentiality.
Unfortunately, this approach can be expensive. As a result, in my experience, most one-on-one coaching has historically focused on senior-level leaders. This means younger up-and-coming leaders often do not get the benefits of coaching because one-on-one engagements are cost-prohibitive.
Group coaching is growing in popularity, with many realizing the benefits of group coaching are not just for up and comers but for executive leaders as well. The kind of people who can benefit most from group coaching include:
• Up and comers and people who you can see getting promoted to a leadership role.
• People experiencing a transition in the way they interact with others. For example, a manager’s role may be focused on delegating and implementing a strategy that comes from the top down. When they move to the director-level, their role may shift to be about engaging others and contributing to the strategy versus simply implementing it.
• People who want to feel empowered themselves and learn how to empower others. It’s for people who are open to feedback who want to better themselves personally and professionally.
After working with hundreds of leaders in a group coaching setting, I’ve found a variety of benefits:
• Instead of being accountable to one person (your coach), you are accountable to your coach and a group of your peers. If you don’t take action and implement what you said you were going to do, you have a whole group to report back to.
• A professional community is formed where high achievers spend time together and collectively share ideas and support each other through tough times. Being a part of a community reduces the risk that the participant will become dependent on their coach, and, if the coach is not available, they can reach out to other members of their group for support.
• In a group coaching setting, you have six to 10 perspectives to draw from, all giving you feedback on your behavior and new ideas to tackle a situation.
• When people from an organization receive coaching together it creates a model for building trust through vulnerability and curiosity. Each participant can then take these behaviors back to their individual teams and create a culture of trust.
• It’s also a model for the coaching style of leadership. When people participate in group coaching they learn in real-time how to ask better questions, stay curious and hold people accountable. They practice these skills in their coaching group and then can use them when they are back with their own teams.
Group coaching can be a powerful tool, however, it is not a fit for everybody. In order for group coaching to be successful, two things are required:
• There needs to be a common thread among participants. For example, women who are at the first level of leadership in the construction industry. Having an executive-level leader in a group with an individual contributor won’t set either up for success as they are dealing with different issues and the group can’t tackle them together.
• All participants need to be open, vulnerable and actively engaged. The magic of coaching happens when everyone contributes to the group. Passively watching on the sidelines will not yield results.
If you have someone in your organization who could benefit from coaching, the first step is to determine the type of coaching they could most benefit from and get buy-in from the participant. You can mandate that someone sit through a training session, but for coaching to work the person needs to actively engage in the process. When having this conversation, remind them that coaching is meant for high-potential people to take what’s already great and provide them with the edge to be even better.