I increasingly find myself using a helpful - albeit quite obvious - analogy about the reasons for coaching in business.
“Professional sportsmen and sportswomen wouldn’t think twice about using a coach to improve their performance, so why would a professional in business not embrace the potential benefits of a coach?”
Each person I speak to would regard themselves as a ‘professional’; serious about their careers, keen to develop and grow their business, but seemingly happy to do it alone. Is there some badge of honour connected to isolated success? That to achieve incredible things independently without the help, steer or assistance of others is somehow a much richer achievement? Do we, in the UK specifically, fear exposure of our weaknesses, our deficiencies, and admitting to the challenges we face daily at work (and at home!)? I think we do. I think there is an inherent, deep-rooted pride in the UK, which can do us huge favours, but also hold us back, and doesn’t always allow us to realise our full potential.
I come from an environment - as a former Royal Marines Officer - where nothing significant is achieved without comprehensive mutual support. The collective ability of many individuals is harnessed in the team. Sure, they are all good (exceptional in many cases) in their own right, but a team of quality, highly-talented individuals is more than just a bit better than a few people working in isolation. The Royal Marines is unique in many ways, but the thing that resonates with me often, is their complete awareness of their own abilities. This is not just about understanding strengths; it’s more about understanding who you really are, what motivates and demotivates you, what you’re not that good at, and where you need support. Contrary to many beliefs, it’s absolutely fine and very normal to have a few chinks in your armour; I’d argue that those who seemingly don’t are pretty dull creatures; but what is key is how you address those deficiencies.
In the military, these attributes are usually highlighted pretty early on. In the Royal Marines, selection to just start training as an Officer is tough. You go through two challenging residential selection courses, to then have your scores assessed on a final selection board before finally – hopefully – walking through the gates at the Commando Training Centre. 60 Young Officers join each year and typically 50% will complete the course after 15 months. What is clear to me having instructed that training course, is the greatest learning outcome is probably in understanding yourself. From that point onwards achievements are celebrated; feedback – often rather robust – is the norm; failings are discussed and abilities – good and bad - are widely known about. It’s a healthy, open and continuously improving environment.
The Royal Marines have been enormous advocates of Coaching for years – the training establishment works on a philosophy of Teach, Coach, Mentor in fact. They have a Coaching & Mentoring Advisory Team at the Commando Training Centre, specifically to assist recruits and trainees to understand their new world, develop responsibility and enhance performance. This culture of coaching and mentoring is starting to proliferate into the mainstream Corps and is now becoming a normal facet of Leadership, at all levels. What is still perhaps lacking is the dedicated coaching support for individuals as part of a continual development programme…but I’m sure that will come in time.
Coaching is an incredibly effective way of preparing & assisting new leaders; aiding those already in leadership roles; and helping individuals who need specific support in a certain area of their behaviour or work. It is not simply the domain of the executive, and can have utility across an entire organisation by focusing on specific, targeted areas 1-1. Some of the benefits include:
Developing and retaining talent;
Developing an achievable action plan to improve performance of individual and team;
Bringing to life company values and enhance organisational culture;
Working through stressful situations or coping with external pressures;
Improving agility, adaptability and resilience;
Learning more about yourself and how you are perceived;
Leveraging your strengths and harness your potential;
Receiving honest feedback that others might not tell you;
Providing emotional support and encouragement;
Support to improve specific skills - how you communicate, your style (being confident and courageous), influence, delegation, managing crises, etc;
Creating a better work-life balance.
However, for coaching to work effectively, the fit also needs to be right; which I don’t believe is always considered. Rapport between coach and coachee; trust between the two; and an understanding and respect of each other’s position and experiences is key to success.
Despite coming from an initial career where coaching was sub-consciously conducted to good effect, I’ve been surprised by just how impactful this method of focused development is. I only wish more people would realise the benefit and admit to needing a bit of help along the way.