Business coaching is a powerful tool.
It can motivate and empower employees, helping them think differently about their work, become more creative, solve problems and adapt to change.
But not all coaching is equal, and leaders often fall into the trap of solving the problems and challenges their team members face rather than empowering them to find the solutions themselves.
This is something independent executive coach Tienie Loubser is passionate about.
“You can coach for 45 minutes successfully, asking questions, letting someone think differently and making them feel like they are making headway,” he told me.
“But as soon as you say ‘what I think you should do is…’, you have disempowered them, ruined the coaching and wasted those 45 minutes.
“Why? Because you had got them to a place where they were feeling encouraged and believing they could tackle the issue for themselves. And then you give them the answer, and they feel flat, thinking ‘I thought I was going to do that’.
“Anyone coaching needs to be aware of this. Even if you have been coaching for a long time, you might become complacent and think, ‘this is what I did last time I faced something like this’.
“You need to coach in the moment rather than anticipate what is going to happen.”
That makes sense, but what else can leaders and organisations do to ensure coaching is empowering?
It is crucial to consider how coaching is viewed in your organisation.
Traditionally, coaching has been seen as an activity aimed at helping those struggling and performing poorly to get better.
That has shifted, and coaching is now far more often seen as a way of helping those who are exceeding get even better and achieve their full potential.
How is it viewed in your organisation?
Tienie said: “Executive coaching should be seen as a positive engagement. It should be seen as an organisation believing enough in someone’s talents and abilities to invest in helping them improve their game.
“By working with them to help them clarify their goals and think creatively about how they go about achieving them, an executive coach can help team members accelerate their career development.”
Business coaching theory can be full of buzzwords.
You’ll hear people say things like ‘active listening’ or ‘proactive listening’.
We believe these phrases are pretty meaningless. You are either listening or, you aren’t.
And you do need to listen for coaching to work and to create a connection.
You can show you are listening in different ways. Some coaches replay what has been said back to the person they are coaching.
Another good technique is to bring in supportive and reinforcing feedback when you see the person you are coaching do the right thing.
But ultimately, listening is shown best by the questions you ask. If you are present in the conversation, you will ask the right questions. You’ll ask the questions that provoke different thinking and help the person move forward.
It is also vital leaders spend time considering the impact of their coaching.
Are you creating the right experience? Are you asking the right questions? Are you making assumptions based on what you know about the person you are coaching or people in similar situations you have previously coached?
Tienie said: “It is about asking yourself what experience you are creating for the person you are trying to help.
“Are the questions you are asking helping or hindering them? Are you asking the right questions at the right time? How are you offering supportive feedback to their approach or attempts to succeed?
“You need to create an environment where you can help that person be the best they can be. It is not about you. You need to adjust to the person in front of you whether their capability exceeds or is below yours.
“For example, you don’t have to be a chartered accountant to coach a finance director. You just need to be a strong coach, or have coaching at the core of the conversation.”
And that leads us neatly on to awareness. An empowering coach has good awareness about both themselves and the person opposite them and does not feel daunted by their abilities.
“Sometimes, the person sitting in front of you is a far stronger individual than you are,” said Tienie.
“And you as a coach need to navigate that and ask questions that get that person to be better than they are.
“If I was coaching Usain Bolt, I wouldn’t coach him on how to run the 100 metres. But I might ask questions that challenge him on the way he approaches it, the impact of the limelight he is in and how he thinks he can get to a better place.”
Arguably the best way of finding out whether your coaching is meeting the empowerment goal is to ask the person you are helping.
Get their feedback on your performance. Is the coaching helping them? Do they need you to do something differently?
“With a lot of my coaching, I am putting aside 10 minutes at the end for us to talk about the coaching,” said Tienie.
“I ask questions like ‘where did I challenge you?’, ‘where could I have challenged you more?’, ‘what were some of the questions you felt worked for you today?’, ‘what are some of the questions that didn’t work for you?’.
“And I do that in my second or third coaching session, once we have got into the coaching a little bit and built up that trust and rapport, so I get that feedback and can adjust my style for that individual.
“For some, it will be a challenging conversation, and for others, it will not be challenging enough.”
We started this blog by saying the worst – and most disempowering – thing a business coach can do is to provide the solution.
So, what happens when the person you are coaching can’t find the solution themselves or does not sound like they are committing to the answer.
“There are two signs someone is stuck,” says Tienie.
“One is if the answers they are giving you sound insecure or that they don’t feel they can commit to what they are saying, for example, ‘I think what I maybe could do is...’,
“The other is when they tell you ‘I don’t know’. In these situations, you need to abandon coaching and jump into a mentoring mode, give them the information from a mentoring point of view, and then restart the meeting again back to coaching.
“Then you can see how they will use the information you have given them. ‘Now that you have got this information, what are you going to do next? ‘What would an ideal outcome be now you know what to do?’”
Ultimately, empowering business coaching is about putting the person you are coaching first. I’ll leave you with a quote from Tienie that neatly sums this up.
He said: “Coaching is about helping someone because you want to help them, not because you want to be rewarded.”
The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.
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