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What I’ve learned from five years of coaching people

Photo by  Jamie Street  on  Unsplash

It’s amazing to see the transformation that workplace coaching can have on people.

To me, coaching is a process which helps individuals dig out solutions that are already hidden away somewhere within them. As long as they’re open and committed to the process, people’s confidence and ability to problem-solve can increase immensely with support and facilitation from a coach.

Sometimes people come to me for coaching when they’re feeling fed up at work and want to get out of their organisation. Which leaves me thinking that if the HR team had acted earlier and provided coaching (or other learning and development opportunities) as a preventative measure, they wouldn’t be losing talented people so easily.

People who struggle to get out of bed to go to work (as a few of my coachees have described) perform less well. Yet it’s seen as controversial for charities to spend their money on stopping that from happening.

The reality is that most charities – in fact, most organisations in general – don’t have committed learning and development teams. Instead, it’s added to the heavy load of HR teams, who are necessarily focused on day-to-day delivery. I was first introduced to coaching at an old workplace and absolutely loved it. But after 12 months that budget was cut. Whenever money gets tight, staff development is one of the first things to go. But it’s a false economy. Organisations lose talent and institutional knowledge.

Finding your compass

I once coached a woman working in digital for a charity who came to me feeling fed up, with her self-esteem shaken. She’d been managing a complex project that cut across most of her organisation. A talented digital strategist, she had tried to introduce a new way of working to a traditional strategy development approach. The process was abandoned half way through without a clear explanation as to why. The organisation then went on to do the strategy planning as they always used to.  

She came to the conclusion that she was too action-oriented for the charity and wanted to discuss with me her options for moving on. Like with many of my coachees I asked her to mind map a range of options – from those that she knew were safe and achievable, to scary ones that she only ever dared to think about once or twice.

She was upset, hurt and frustrated, but was leaving her job the only solution? Is the grass always greener, or was it about her seeing her situation differently?

We had our next meeting a month later. The moment she walked in she looked more relaxed and was standing tall. It turned out that she’d had a total change of heart. Our chat had encouraged her to change the way she looked at things.

She had a great time and enjoyed her work and her team colleagues. What frustrated her were things that are basically not within her power to change. She felt relieved to have come to this conclusion, instead of walking away from a job she enjoyed, feeling like a failure. She was full of energy and looking forward to new challenges of her role (challenges she had control over!)  Everyone has an internal compass, but sometimes they just need a little help figuring out how to use it.

Coach, don’t just manage

Over the years I’ve been discussing with peers and digital transformation strategists what skills are needed in order to lead digital transformation in organisations.

Some leaders feel that they need to have better technical skills, but they’re missing the point. What is most often needed is an upgrade to their leadership skills. As coaching pioneer John Whitmore writes, if a senior leader is a good coach “they should have no difficulty creating a high-performance culture, whether they have less technical depth or not. As soon as they do this, any credibility gap that may exist in the minds of some of their employees will disappear.”

Having a coaching-style approach to management – which often, though not always, leads to a less hierarchical working culture – can also boost the self esteem of team members. I love this quote from the same book by John Whitmore: “Self-esteem is the life force of the personality, and if that is suppressed or diminished, so is the person… Offering someone choice and control wherever possible in the workplace acknowledges and validates their capability and their self-esteem.”

This so clearly describes what I so often see in my coachees – they  just want to feel trusted and valued at work. When this doesn’t happen they get disillusioned, frustrated and, sometimes, angry. This is the polar opposite to what working in a non-profit should look like. And it’s a loss to an organisation when a digital talent who loves the cause and understands the organisation leaves out of frustration.  

Charities may struggle to justify the costs of coaching right now but an investment in developing leadership for the digital age is increasingly becoming a necessity.


Branislava MilosevicComment