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As organizations attempt to transform themselves in order to meet the ever-changing demands of customers, shareholders and employees, there is increasing pressure on leaders to adapt new, more productive, leadership practices and behaviors. Often, the leadership styles that were utilized to ascend the organizational ladder work directly against the outcomes that the organization now seeks to accomplish in the competitive marketplace. In short, prior strengths have turned into liabilities.

Questas is frequently called upon to help change those very behaviors that threaten to defeat the organization's attainment of its strategic objectives or threaten to derail the career of a valued manager. In fact, coaching is often the best alternative the organization can employ to make the most of its valuable resources.

Successful performance coaching employs a highly practical philosophy in developing people. It's based on applying the hands-on experience of the coach and the on-the- job knowledge of the leader being coached -- rather than textbook or theoretical training solutions -- and focuses on specific, real time business problems.

The Coaching Relationship

Performance coaching requires a special relationship between the leader and his/her coach that is both personal and professional. This relationship is characterized by the following conditions:

  • readiness in that the leader being coached recognizes his/her need to improve and is open to attempting to use more effective workplace behaviors
  • open communication that is two-way, on the same level, and with the same language so that the meaning is always clear
  • freedom from fear so that the leader can try new techniques and behaviors, and perhaps make some mistakes while doing so, without fear of retribution
  • personal interaction to allow coach and leader to get to know each other as real human beings and develop genuine concern and interest in each other
  • acceptance so that the relationship is neither judgmental nor intimidating
  • honesty such that the person being coached believes he or she will always hear the truth from the coach and willingly shares truth in return
  • trust which can only be established if the relationship is personal as well as professional, based on mutual respect, and strict confidentiality is practiced
  • enhancing self-esteem so that the relationship fosters a synergistic cycle of respect and self-respect and self-confidence

When this kind of intimate and intense coaching relationship is established, the coach is well positioned to help the leader to develop personally and professionally.

Four Roles of the Performance Coach

After an appropriate coaching relationship has been established, the coach typically performs four roles in improving individual and organizational performance: training, mentoring, confronting, and career counseling.

The coach as trainer. In almost every coaching situation, the person being coached lacks some knowledge or skill(s) which limits his or her effectiveness. In the Questas practice, this has often involved addressing interpersonal skills and the transition from manager to leader. We generally conduct an extensive individual assessment to establish an individual coaching plan tailored to each participant's particular needs. The primary assessment tool we often use is The Center for Creative Leadership's Campbell Leadership Index, supplemented by in-depth personal interviews, workplace observations, and Questas' proprietary INSIGHT Profile. The resultant individualized coaching plan forms the basis for an agreed-upon behavior change process with each person being coached, and specifies for all parties the expected milestones and indicators of coaching effectiveness.

The coach as mentor. As a mentor, the coach serves as a confidant in terms of professional and personal difficulties and provides helpful feedback on performance. The coach helps the leader secure insight about the organization's mission, goals and strategic direction and explores the leader's potential roles in their attainment. The coach helps the leader develop political savvy and insight into the philosophy or culture of the organization. The coach encourages risk-taking and involvement in visible projects or programs to improve advancement opportunities.

The coach as confronter. As a confronter, the coach continuously challenges the leader to meet or exceed performance standards and the expected milestones defined in the coaching plan. Coaching requires facing some unpleasant truths about one's strengths and limitations while suspending judgment long enough to figure out how to help. The coach must be straightforwardly assertive in stating clearly problems identified by observing the leader perform in real-world business situations. These critical incidents become the basis for the practical application and mastery of the techniques and behaviors agreed to in the coaching plan. The focus is on helping the leader permanently alter his or her behavior for increased effectiveness. In addition to pointing out problems, an effective coach knows when and how to give praise and to provide needed support. Clearly, this "trial-feedback-adjust-retry" behavioral cycle requires a relationship of significant trust and courage.

The coach as career counselor. The coach is in a unique position to act as a career counselor since the coach knows very clearly the unique strengths and competencies of the leader and can help objectively examine alternatives in making career decisions. From the organization's point of view, the coach can assist with succession planning and help get the right person prepared for the right job as well as help the organization avoid investing too much time and resources in people who are ill-suited for certain responsibilities or jobs. Success as a career counselor depends on the ability to get leaders to willingly confide in the coach and in fostering an environment of open, honest communication about what is in the best interests of the leader(s) and his/her organization.

Our Point of View

Successful performance coaching will, by its very nature, reflect the complexity and difficulty of consciously changing behavior. It can only be accomplished in an environment of shared accountability between the coach and the leader in which they identify weaknesses or limitations and devise strategies to address them. This shared accountability does not usurp the leader's right to decide, ultimately, what and how much to change of his or her behavior. Rather, it provides the leader with the support needed to take the risk of attempting new, more productive behaviors and examining their results.

Behavior change requires understanding one's impact on others. This process can sometimes be painful, especially in that one may now be limited by the very behaviors that have been viewed as success-producing or appropriate in the past.

Our experience suggests that the process of personal change is made more palatable and more effective by partnering with a sincere, objective, imaginative and capable coach. In fact, we view the ultimate measure of our success to be equipping those we coach with the capabilities necessary to be effective performance coaches for others.

As more organizations consider investing in coaching for those people who can and will make the greatest impact on the business enterprise, we believe that these are a few critical success factors that should be taken into consideration.

Our experience indicates that those coaches who are able to establish genuine personal relationships and deal pragmatically with real business issues, rather than academic concepts, will produce the highest probable return on that investment.

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