How To Build A Coaching Culture At Work

"Command and control" leadership is giving way to a coaching mindset in the workplace. Learn how coaching skills are vital to the future of business.

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A Strong Coaching Culture Is Just Good Business

Have you ever felt micromanaged, over-directed, or controlled in the workplace? Many traditional businesses are run with an iron fist, revolving around a “Do what I say” management philosophy. Command and control leadership is familiar to most of us: decisive, authoritative, and top down. It’s also (thankfully) going out of style.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the disruption to “business as usual” caused by the pandemic, it’s that work doesn’t have to be this way. Telling people when to show up, precisely how to complete a task, or what time to take lunch is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Employees are increasingly demanding to be treated like adults at work, with more decision making authority, flexibility, and opportunities for creativity. They also recognize that the bright line between “work” and “life” is often an illusion in our 24-hour wired culture, and want to be met in their full humanity in the workplace.

“In the face of rapid, disruptive change, companies are realizing that managers can’t be expected to have all the answers and that command-and-control leadership is no longer viable. As a result, many firms are moving toward a coaching model in which managers facilitate problem solving and encourage employees’ development by asking questions and offering support and guidance rather than giving orders and making judgments.” - Harvard Business Review, The Leader As Coach

The idea of training managers and leaders in coaching principles is relatively new. It’s only in the last few years that research in this area has really begun to take off.

Heavy hitting human resource firms such as Gartner, academics like the Harvard Business Review, and publications such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have all been calling for coaching skills to supplement (or replace!) hierarchical management practices as we know them today. 

According to Brian Kropp, chief of human resources research at Gartner, management of the future will require less technical experts, and more social-emotional expertise. 

So what does that mean? 

We have a lot yet to discover about what this can look like. What we know for sure is that our current situation isn’t working. 

Right now, if someone is good at their job the reward is often a promotion into management. However, when a skilled individual contributor moves into a leadership role, there is usually very little training provided. Instead, most new managers are expected to magically develop the soft skills and Emotional I.Q. necessary to empathize, motivate, inspire, and lead teams of their fellow humans.

As anyone who's worked for a difficult boss knows, technical savvy doesn't seamlessly translate into effective leadership!

Managers who are trained as coaches are able to create psychological safety for others, and draw out the unique talents from each member of their team. Now here’s the rub: if you were to ask the managers and leaders that you know if they are able to do this… more than a few of them would probably say YES (even if that's not actually the case!)

Many leaders sincerely believe they are coaching their staff, but what you’re likely to find when you take a closer look at their “coaching” is something quite different. What managers are often doing instead is giving advice.

Advising provides answers, which in effect shapes behavior. It’s different from coaching, which supports employees in finding their own solutions and developing self-efficacy at work. 

Many managers can learn to make this shift in thinking in a relatively short amount of time, but most will need some actual training in order to do so!

Here at Lumia Coaching, a large percentage of our students come from business and industry backgrounds. Many attend coach training not out of a desire to leave their current careers and become full time coaches, but to enhance their skills as leaders and managers where they're at. They train with us in order to level-up in their existing career by bringing a coaching philosophy and frameworks back to the office.

Benefits of A Coaching Mindset

So what does this look like in practical terms? Let’s take a look at several classes of employees, and what they gain from approaching their work through a coaching lens.

New Managers

  • Empowering a team versus micromanaging, or taking on all the work 
  • Communication skills to foster collaboration and feedback
  • Self-awareness and empathy building 
  • Developing vision for long term strategy versus putting out fires

Check out this handy guide to support new managers from Harvard Business Review

Mid-Level Managers Destined for Greatness

  • Playing to strengths: assessing the unique talents of individuals to customize team roles in order to create autonomy and ownership
  • Understanding the importance of both recognition and triggers
  • Creating psychological safety
  • Asking the right questions and capitalizing on talent

Here’s a guide from Harvard Business Review to support managers who want to level UP

Executive Leadership

  • Directing the attention of others as well as harnessing your own
  • Holding a concurrent view of the self, others and the wider world
  • Mastering self-awareness and self-control
  • Mastering the use of empathy and relationship management

Check out this Harvard Business Review Guide for harnessing focus as a leader.  

From Theory to Practice

There's a big difference between showing a management team the great (and they are really great!) Harvard Business Review Guides listed above, and actually GETTING those results. That difference lies in training and ongoing professional development. 

In order for new managerial behaviors to take root, people need safe ways to practice, make mistakes, and learn. It’s not enough to read an article and have an “aha moment." To implement those good intentions, managers must be fully supported and resourced to make the behavioral shifts that adopting a coaching mindset requires.

A true coaching culture is one in which managers and leaders receive the coaching that THEY need to in turn become effective coaches for their staff.

Ready to Level Up?

People enroll in Lumia's coach training program for a variety of reasons. Some come with the clear intention to build a career in life coaching. But not all plan to “go pro”. Many of our students seek to apply coaching skills to roles they may already be playing - as business owners, managers, advisors, human resource specialists, therapists, personal trainers and career mentors. Sound like you? If you'd like to learn more, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training

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