Imagine being an athlete who, from humble beginnings has risen to unimaginable heights through a string of heartbreaking defeats and exhilarating triumphs; the courage, motivation and determination of beating the odds to realize the impossible. How did you train? Who was your coach?
One of my clients recently asked me, “Why is this big hype about coaching leaders? What is it? And how is it so different from training?” I, in return asked him, “Who is a leader and what do you really expect from him?” His response: “Someone who dares to be himself – authenticity. If people were all real in their thinking and action, we would be booming.”
Coaching is traditionally a sports concept but is now used in the business world for its strategy, anticipation, goal setting, problem solving, critical thinking and tackling problems arising from rapidly changing circumstances. Business coaching is for enhancing well-being and performance in personal life and work domains with non-clinical groups of people. It is underpinned by models of adult-learning and psychological approaches.
Leaving the issue of authenticity in leadership aside for the time being, let’s look at what training is, what learning is, and how these are different from development that comes with coaching.
Training is normally group focused, discrete, intensive, and occurs in a short time frame, say for instance sales training. Its basis is an organizational need and is deficit-performance oriented. It is also specific and is about doing the same things in a better way or refinement of what is already there. It addresses the troughs of the development curve and builds upon the peaks. It is associated with current processes and job requirements. This is also called single loop learning or adaptive learning.
Learning is about here and now and is concerned with the increase in specific knowledge or skill and not necessarily development. It is similar to acquiring knowledge in a course or attending a specific training program.
Development, on the other hand, is individual focused and incremental. It involves medium or long term time durations and is continuous over time. It is often self-motivated and broad in scope. It is heavily tied up with experiential learning and life long learning and is integral to work and is growth-performance oriented. It is about doing things differently or generative learning (innovation and creativity). It is also called double loop learning and it challenges the nature of the problem, redefines the problem and perhaps transforms the situation or the current organization. The main function of coaching is to facilitate this personal development.
Is coaching possible? Can a person be coached to improve performance? Some of the questions to be explored are as follows: How ready is the person to be coached and to make a difference in his/her life and willing to reflect and learn? Is he/she prepared to receive feedback and see situations as learning opportunities? Where exactly is the individual in the career curve? Is he/she in the stage of career entry, career advancement, career maintenance or career withdrawal?
As a result of our history and past experience, we have learnt a set of rules that have somewhat served us, almost similar to our habitual ways of thinking, feeling and acting. It is all well and good when these patterns of thinking support optimal performance at work and general satisfaction in life. But, what happens when they no longer help the current environment or situation and hinder one’s development? Is ‘unlearning’ them or changing them an option? Of course, yes!
This is where the coach comes in, to ask the right questions at the right time, to listen and to probe, in order to highlight the factors that may be affecting the status-quo. A coach is on an equal footing as the client and helps the client to realize the solutions himself, by helping him to clearly see the overall view of what might be taking place. Coaching sometimes shakes rigid belief systems, challenges the existing thinking, inappropriate routines and working or leadership styles. This is why one-on-one coaching has proved itself to be effective time and time again.
Coaching is about action learning which does not occur naturally but rather will be derived from ongoing experiences. Learning has to be managed consciously and self-awareness is crucial. Reflection, through which one could learn from the past experiences and gauge the prerequisites for appropriate action, is also important. The role of a coach is to structure the process of action-learning and help the person move towards a certain goal.
Coaching is also about fostering the authentic personality. We live in a society where the reality is distorted by advertising and marketing to entice us to acquire products that may be secondary, that may in the short or long term shift us from our autenticity towards the herd’s preference – the ‘in thing,’ the vogue, the avant-garde. Sometimes, we may feel that there is some misalignment but it is never too late to narrow the gap between ‘who you ought to be as per norm/fashion’ and ‘who you really are.’ It is about recognizing what matters to you most, what you value most and where your real talent is. Coaching is all about channeling this knowledge to the right pathways.
Coaching is actually different from training and merely learning or intellectualizing a concept. It is about continuous commitment, directed attention, fostering of strengths and breaking of dysfunctional patterns of behaviour we have learnt over time.
As I conclude this article, I remember one of my all time favourite quotations by George Bernard Shaw who said, “You see things as they are, and ask why? But I dream things as they never were and ask, why not?” ‘Educated’ does not always mean ‘competent.’ Age is not always a good predictor of maturity. We might need coaching and might have to coach people at some point in our lives. In the journey, possibilities are endless, but choices are few. What choice would you make about your personal race, battle or pursuit? The track is ready but, are you?