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Successful Coaching: Why It Takes More than Email

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IT prides itself on its technical prowess, but technology is not the way to grow people. A good IT leader knows how to coach each individual to learn to leverage individual strengths toward meeting the company goals. Lou Russell helps you clarify the actions required to be a successful coach.
Lou Russell will be presenting a two-day workshop (October 21-22) on the topics covered in the book at the Warren Conference Center in Ashland, MA. Additional information can be obtained at www.russellmartin.com
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Leadership is about recognizing the untapped potential within those you lead and nurturing that potential to fulfillment. It is about supporting the growth of others as we model the growing process within ourselves. Leaders juggle the roles of boss, evangelist, guidance counselor, parent, servant, disciplinarian, best friend, and worst enemy. Leadership is about adding value to your enterprise, specifically about using your abilities as a leader to inspire the value-adding performance of others.

Many IT leaders could use help with the following opportunities for growth:

  • Define and quantify the coaching role you play for your staff and peers.

  • Apply a template to begin a coaching engagement.

  • Help others develop measurable, achievable, pragmatic goals.

  • Leverage assessments for those you coach, so they can better leverage their own strengths and minimize their own weaknesses by identifying areas of potential growth.

  • Deliver effective feedback.

What Is Coaching?

Many IT managers shy away from the coaching, usually because they mistakenly believe that coaching is therapy, and they don't feel qualified as therapists. They're afraid that coaching may uncover psychological problems that they won't be able to manage. Yet the people working for these managers crave someone to connect with. They would like useful and non-judgmental suggestions from others. This combination of IT managers who are afraid to coach and IT staffers who are hungry for feedback can limit the growth of IT capacity.

The first step to resolving this situation is to clarify the coach's role. A coach provides support, not therapy. Simply put, therapy looks back; coaching focuses on going forward. The coaching you do with your staff should focus on present challenges and future opportunities. If issues from a person's past do emerge in the coaching process, you should proceed with caution because additional support may be needed. If the employee appears to need help with past situations (for example, a challenging family relationship), it's prudent to refer the person to a therapist. In addition, coaches should avoid bringing up work problems from the past because that meant they weren't addressed in a timely manner. Focus on the present—or at least the very recent past and future.

At this point, we should clarify the difference between coaching and mentoring. Coaching is a limited-term, skill-specific development role that focuses on behavior. Mentoring implies a longer-term, deeper into the future-focused, career-guiding kind of relationship. A coach offers performance feedback based on observation, while a mentor offers advice based on the wisdom of experience. An internal coach in IT will focus primarily on behavior, but may find times when mentoring is more appropriate.

Coaching another is based on a three-step maturity model, which will help you identify both the starting spot and the end goal for each unique individual. The three steps are as follows:

  • Awareness
  • Performance Improvement
  • Transformation

Awareness is where a person starts when she is unaware of the gaps in her behavior. Identifying trouble areas is the focus of coaching here. Performance improvement follows awareness, when the person is ready to change behaviors. Transformation occurs when the person is ready to make drastic change. Most coaching begins with the awareness stage, and usually ends with performance improvement. While transformation is valuable in the right setting, that intensity is not needed for most situations.

As you'd expect, transformation takes a greater time investment for both parties than simple awareness. And while the potential return on the investment is greater when you progress through transformation, the risk of failure is higher, too. No matter what the goals, both parties must agree on them from the start. Later, we'll share ways to help the people you coach create appropriate development goals that are unique to their situation.

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