Creating a Coaching Culture

Barry Goldberg on Leadership

Creating a Coaching Culture

“We have done lots of research over the past three years, and we have found that leaders who have the best coaching skills have better business results.” — Tanya Clemens, vice president of Global Executive & Organizational Development at IBM

Coaching is trendy. Since the earliest days of the GROW model, first popularized by Sir John Whitmore in the 1980s, coaching has morphed from the Wild West through a process of professionalization and credentialing — and back to the Wild West. There are people coaching about everything, many with no training or professional peer review.

This is an Opinion

We'd also like to hear yours. Leave a comment below, tweet to us at @ArkBusiness or
email us.

But we have also come a long way since the early days. There is a depth of research about the value of coaching to business outcomes. And there has been a sea change in coaching over the last few years. Traditionally, companies hired an executive coach to work one-on-one with a high-potential leader or a senior executive being groomed for larger responsibility or to abet the business project lead in a sprint to deliver. I am biased, of course, when I say that there will continue to be those kinds of assignments for credentialed executive coaches.

But the broader, deeper and more scalable application of coaching is to teach coaching as a leadership and managerial competency at all levels of the organization. What was unthinkable in a purely top-down environment is now becoming mainstream. The basic proposition reverts to the adage, “If you give someone a fish, they eat today. If you teach them to fish, they can feed themselves for a lifetime.”

A coaching approach is not appropriate to all managerial circumstances, but for problem-solving, ideation, initiative and leadership, it can build depth and sustainability into an organization. And the leader who learns to coach benefits as well. Direct reports who learn to problem-solve and ideate need less supervision and can contribute more. Meetings become more future-focused and there are more candidates for promotion.

But creating a coaching culture faces challenges. On a recent visit with a client, she and I were walking to her office after getting coffee and were waylaid by one of her direct reports asking for advice on a project that was stuck. The situation was familiar, and she was able to give him a suggestion and send him on his way in about five minutes. 

While that was efficient, it was a single instance of training her direct report to be dependent on her judgment and experience. A little spot coaching might have taken longer, but would also have increased the manager’s capacity to problem-solve and work independently. 

A big deal? Nope. But multiply it by the eight direct reports she has — and those of her peers — and those who report to them and what appears to be an efficient exchange becomes a drain and a loss of leverage and creativity. Run that same model vertically and we can begin to see the power of a coaching culture.

But beware — there are challenges to a coaching approach. Naturally, it takes time and expense to train leaders and managers to coach. It is not rocket science, but it is a skill that needs training time and practice. That investment pays off sooner and more effectively in a culture that focuses on effectiveness at least in parity with efficiency. Coaching is a learnable skill for organizational managers and leaders, and a powerful force for retention and effectiveness at all levels of an organization.

I. Barry Goldberg of Little Rock is a credentialed leadership and executive coach. He trained for coaching at Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.