Coaching is a support, not a threat

Matt Somers explains the importance of building trust in the coaching process, by positioning it as a means of support right from the start, rather than a punishment or threat

There can be few leadership interventions more supportive than coaching. This can help people find their focus against a background of ever-increasing white noise and rekindle their willingness to take action. But for this to work, coaching must be experienced as supportive, not threatening and the key component here is trust.

When an external coach is appointed, trust is a given in the relationship. An appropriate level of trust is established before the coaching relationship begins. Nobody would appoint a coach whom they didn’t believe they could trust.

Coaching at work, within the line management relationship, is far more complex. Being at work throws people together who may not otherwise choose to be. We may not always like the people we coach, and they may not always like us, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t establish trust.

There are three aspects to trust in coaching that have to be considered:

  • Trust in oneself
  • Trust in the coach
  • Trust in the process

Trust in oneself
To trust oneself to perform requires a high degree of self-belief. An absence of self-belief, ie self-doubt, can impede even the smartest performer. Coaches often have to spend time, particularly at the start of a relationship, encouraging people to give something a go and believe in their own abilities. We know that if we do this in coaching, we significantly improve the odds of their success. 

Trust in the coach
In order for people to trust you as their coach you need to be both a trustworthy person and behave in a trustworthy way. This means, for example, that what gets said in a coaching session remains confidential. It also means that performance difficulties are explored in a supportive environment, not used as a ‘weapon’ to deny progress or suppress a bonus.

I often get asked whether it’s better to keep coaching within the line management relationship or to bring in an external coach e.g. an HR manager or independent consultant. There is no easy answer to this and much depends on the circumstances. But I definitely believe coaching is compatible with a line management relationship. 

Yes, sometimes we may have to establish discipline or restrictions as a manager, but we have always had to do that. The advent of coaching has not changed this. 

The job of management is to produce results from resources, and we need to do what the occasion demands. The key here is to act with consistency and integrity. Act on your values and do what you believe is right. Treat people with dignity and respect, whether congratulating or reprimanding them, and you’ll not go far wrong.

In fact, I believe that trust is strengthened when managers take a strong stance on performance issues.

Trust in the process
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about coaching. These can mean that people are uneasy about being coached and somewhat mistrustful of it. 

Coaching as a reward not a threat
Common amongst these misconceptions is that coaching is only for poor performers. Managers who coach need to challenge this view. Yes, coaching can work well as a means of addressing poor performance, but only if there is a genuine desire on both parts to sincerely consider what the issues might be. But why limit coaching to addressing poor performance? A sideways glance at the world of entertainment or sport shows that those under the greatest pressure to perform value coaching, even when already operating at the height of their powers.

Should you whisper or shout about coaching?
There is also the question of whether to ‘announce’ that people are being coached or whether to just get on with it. Once again, your own judgement is best, and you need to consider the circumstances in your organisation at the time. Where people are feeling a bit jaded or suffering from ‘change fatigue’ you’re best advised to just get on with the business of coaching and worry less about giving it a label. 

To launch a ‘coaching initiative’ may unfortunately be sometimes seen as just one more change. Your people might keep their heads down and hope that you’ll go back to normal in a few days time! This attitude will mean that you’ll only get superficial responses to your coaching questions, which will spoil the outcome. So I don’t think it’s dishonest to coach covertly, as long as your intention is to raise awareness, generate responsibility and build trust. How could anyone be annoyed with us for doing that?

I once trained a group of senior managers, followed by their teams about six months later. I remember one participant in the latter programme suddenly saying ‘So that’s what my boss has been doing these last few months, I thought it was a bit odd!’

On the other hand, if there is an appetite for change and for learning and development in particular, then let’s specifically discuss coaching – explain what’s involved and outline the benefits. When people understand what coaching is all about they tend to get more thoroughly involved in the coaching conversations.

 

Sarah Burrell

About Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the founder and Managing Director of Coaching Skills Training Ltd, a specialist training consultancy focused on the idea of the leader as coach. It operates throughout the UK and beyond, working in partnership with clients to ensure that what is intended is achieved. It has a wide and varied client list including charities.

As advocates of the coaching approach Matt works hard to make sure clients are able to continue developing the skills learned long after any initial project has finished. 

He is a leading voice on training and coaching in the UK publishing Coaching at Work in 2006 and Coaching in a Week in 2016. He holds an MSc in Human Resource Development and is a Fellow of the CIPD. Find out more at: https://www.mattsomers.com/

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