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How to make your coaching experience the best it can be
By Kim Gregory, executive coach and principal associate of TSO Consulting.
You're a successful executive, busy managing a huge budget, striving to meet challenging targets, satisfy exacting clients, and leading a professional team. But there's a nagging voice in your head saying that you could be even more successful, if only you could do one or two things even better.
Someone, somewhere (was it you?) suggests that you might benefit from talking to a coach. You know that his will probably mean investing some time and money in your own development, maybe listening to some pointed feedback, potentially adjusting some of your well-loved and familiar behaviours. Here are some ways of ensuring that your coaching experience really works for you.
1. Don't cross your arms, sit back and wait for the coach to tell you how to fix things. Take ownership of the issues. Executive coaches specialise in listening, questioning, empathising, summarising, and hearing what's not being said. We are quite likely to have some ideas and will be happy to share them with you, but only you really understand the options, their pros and cons, and the context. We'll support and challenge you to develop the ways forward but ultimately it's up to you.
2. Make sure you choose a coach you really trust. There has to be good personal chemistry between you and your coach; after all, you will both be expecting a high degree of trust, confidentiality, and sharing. In most circumstances, people tell their coaches things they don't tell others: the customer account you messed up big time, the pricing error you blamed on procurement, the time you shouted at your team because your boss had just shouted at you, and so on. Good coaches will know other coaches they can refer you to if you're not sure he or she is the right one for you. Choose a coach you respect and trust, and these experiences can become learning opportunities, not shameful reminders of the old you.
3. Somehow, somewhere, find some time for reflection and observation. Time with your coach is likely to be energising, enlightening, and reflective, but this time is only enhanced if you build on the ideas and insights during the hours and weeks between meetings. You'll benefit from investing some time in noticing how others behave, and from analysing the impact of your own behaviour on yourself and others. Put aside some concentrated time and effort to notice how you and others behave.
4. Do it because you want to, not because someone else tells you to. Coaches quite often get calls from Chief Executives asking them to fix' someone. It is, of course, usually a wasted effort. The only person who can change you is you, and if you can't see the point, can't make the commitment, or have too many other issues to deal with, refuse it. Otherwise, make it your own and if you don't know how to do that, use the time with your coach to find out how.
5. Only start coaching sessions when you're ready to commit the necessary time and effort. Coaches get their motivation and job satisfaction from helping others gain insight into themselves, and from supporting and challenging them through their personal development. We'll always undertake a pre-session discussion with new clients, to explore their hopes and fears from the coaching process, and if we suspect the client only intends to pay lip service to the process, we'll save your time and money and find other people to work with.
6. See yourself as others see you. Effective leaders know themselves: they know what they're great at, they know what they're not so good at, and they understand the impact they have on others. This generally comes about from observing themselves and others, and from inviting and listening to feedback from other people. They're not self-obsessed, nor do they agonise over their shortcomings. Rather, they have an accurate perception and they use that information when choosing how to behave in a given situation. Coaches see self-awareness as one of the major bridges towards effective leadership, and will help you achieve an accurate perception of yourself and that includes accepting others' perceptions of you.
7. Raise your expectations of yourself. It will take courage and commitment to take a good, long look at yourself and your impact on others, and to undertake adjustments to the way that you behave. Coaches are skilled at helping people understand themselves, their motivation and their impact; and we enjoy cheering from the sidelines when our clients practise new ways of working (and offering words of encouragement when they don't work as well as you hoped). If you don't try, you'll never know what you might have achieved.
8. Make your coaching appointments sacrosanct in your diary. Most of the valuable insight and training takes place when you're doing the real work: meeting your clients, planning a presentation, or training a member of your team, not when you're meeting your coach. After all, this is where you try out those new techniques and identify the impact your outburst or inaction had on others. However, undertaking change is hard work, and without some support, challenge, and perhaps some new ideas from your coach, the changes are likely to be smaller, slower, or maybe non-existent. Put aside some quiet, uninterrupted, undistracted time for your coaching meetings.
9. Practise, experiment and explore. Coaches are generally quite practical and experienced people, keen to support you as you assert yourself for the first time at a Board meeting, or propose substantial investment to the Finance Director. However, we also know that sometimes it is easiest to forget' the alternative ways of working or behaving, and to stick to the tried-and-tested ones. Examine why you are not practising the new behaviours are they too frightening, do you need to give yourself some more preparation time? and then give them a go.
10. Keep at it. It takes practise and time to make new things your own. Anyone who has had some sports or musical-instrument training will know that you often go backwards before you go forwards. The old ways worked (just about), and this new way can be uncomfortable, stressful, and a real challenge. Keep persevering and remember why you chose to leave the old way behind. Coaching can make a real difference to people's lives, and it takes two people to make it work. Choose the right time and the right coach and you'll be well on the way to making this a rich, insightful and exciting phase in your life.
TSO Consulting provides management consultancy to public and private sector organisations.
© 2005 TSO Consulting. Reproduced with permission. Any opinions or views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Training Reference.
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