Carpe diem coaching

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Written by Leigh Chattington and Richard Graham on 1 October 2014

Still don't think coaching's for you? One or even two dimensional leadership comes at a price – low confidence, demotivation, unprepared leaders, lost creativity and in the worst case scenario, lost talent. It's time to seize the moment and start coaching.

Coaching is definitely not everyone’s preferred style. We are often met with an apathetic stare at the mere mention of the word. With a growing workforce under the age of 30, evidence is mounting that individuals prefer a coaching or mentoring style of leadership. A joint study carried out in 2011 by The Institute of Leadership and Management and Ashridge Business School found that “today’s Generation Y graduates are likely to have a distinct set of expectations from the people who are managing them.” 56 per cent of grads want a manager to coach/mentor them, and only 26 per cent actually believe that their manager is currently fulfilling this role. Managers surveyed held a paradoxical perspective – 75 per cent believe they are fulfilling the role of coach/mentor. This makes synchronizing expectations very difficult indeed and where there is a lack of synchronicity, there is usually lower performance.

Crossed wires
The disconnect could be fuelled by opposing definitions of coaching. The more mainstream definition of coaching in the workplace involves encouraging people to generate their own solutions through the use of good questions. A more traditional view, and perhaps one held by many managers, is a sports coaching comparison, i.e. giving instruction and feedback. In reality, great leadership involves delivering a combination of both. But many find it challenging to recognise when coaching is the needed, finding it easier and more fulfilling to give advice. They understand the intention and benefits of coaching, but are moving so fast that to leave their comfort zone feels uncomfortable and contrived.

Seizing your moment

Once committed to experimenting with a bit more coaching here’s a couple of things you can do to help you prepare:

  1. Check your mindset – holding onto the belief that ‘you know best’ is not going to help here. John Whitmore, one of the pioneers of coaching in the workplace says you must have faith in people’s potential to deliver more: “Unless the leader believes that people possess more capability than they are currently expressing, they will not be able to help them express it.” This simply means spending more time talking about future possibilities, rather than past mistakes


  1. Switch on your radar for ‘coachable moments’ – practically speaking, this is not as difficult as you might think. Try this experiment for one month: for at least one day a week make a personal commitment to look out for opportunities to coach throughout the day. Below are a few typical scenarios where coaching might be an appropriate response. There are also some examples of simple questions to ask, so that you can respond in a natural way:


One of your contributors arrives at your desk and explains that she’s having trouble with a difficult client.

  • What exactly do you think the problem is?
  • What are your thoughts so far on how to fix this?
  • Have you ever had a problem like this before?

A peer asks for your help with business planning.

  • What are your big priorities for the coming months?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What does the business need you to achieve?

A colleague complains that he just can’t seem to close a sale.

  • What does this customer really need?
  • What’s stopping them from buying?
  • What do they need to hear in order to sign on the dotted line?

One of your contributors confesses that he’s experiencing friction in a relationship with a peer.

  • What’s causing the friction?
  • What would make the experience you give each other better?
  • How important is it that you fix this?


And if you’re still not convinced…

Remember, not only will coaching save you time in the long run, by helping you develop more confident and competent people, it will also help you to motivate them. In a previous blog, ‘The empowerment challenge’, we talked about how difficult it is for leaders to access the motivational driver, ‘Autonomy’, by getting the balance right between freedom and control. Coaching offers a powerful way of giving people freedom to seek their own way forward. And finally, if you’re still not swayed, ask yourself, ‘can I afford not to?’ In his best-selling book, ’The Fifth Discipline’, Peter Senge states: ‘…the only sustainable competitive advantage is your organisation's ability to learn faster than the competition.” If we are constantly giving our people all the answers, how will they ever learn to think for themselves?


About the author
Leigh Chattington and Richard Graham are part of the leadership, learning and organisational development team at Bloomberg

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