Coaching for Leadership or Management?

Like all leadership coaches, I start any engagement by reviewing all of the information at my disposal to get a sense of who my clients are and what they’re looking to accomplish from their time with me.  We all pour through the 360 assessment results, review the client’s profile, scan through their LinkedIn resume, and hopefully check out their company’s website to gain an understanding of their business.  From all this we begin to form some assumptions about our client and about the challenges they might be facing, as well as the areas in which they would like to focus their improvement efforts.  But I find that it isn’t until that first meeting or two that I really begin to understand who my client is as a person and how I can best support him or her.

I began my professional career as a management trainer for a major Southern California utility company in the early 1980’s, and since then have designed and led close to 500 workshops for several thousand managers over the course of my career.  Another major facet of my career has been as an Organization Development and Change Management consultant where I’ve had the opportunity to work with organizations and leadership teams struggling to implement new technologies, new strategies, and new organizational forms, all while trying to build cultures that encourage employee engagement and commitment.  

What my years of experience has taught me is that behavior change is best viewed and understood within the context of the client’s organization – its culture, its business, and its challenges – if there is to be any meaningful and lasting behavioral change.  It has also reinforced the basic precepts of experiential learning, in that coaching begins with where the client is “at”, and that any growth needs to be measured by where the client is beginning their journey.  

So, while the information we receive about our clients is very helpful, the kind of insights we need to effectively coach needs to come from a thorough “intake interview” and from our ongoing client conversations.  It requires a bit of detective work with some fundamental questions designed to help us determine just where to start and how to proceed with our coaching efforts.  

The model below suggests some areas of inquiry to help focus coaching efforts.  This article will focus on the area of Previous Training.  Future articles will focus on other key focus areas for coaching.

“What, if any, management training have you had?”  This is the most obvious question to ask, and the client’s response will provide great insight into their level of knowledge about the role and responsibilities of management and leadership.  

For novice managers, I find that many clients are promoted into a management job based on their technical or functional knowledge, and that they have good people skills.  But what they often fail to understand is that the job of being a manager is fundamentally a different job than they have ever had.  Even more difficult is when they are required to continue as an individual contributor in addition to assuming management responsibilities.  

Being a new manager is always a challenge, and it suggests some fundamentals be put into place such as how to coach, how to delegate, and how to develop. For this level of coaching I always fall back on the Situational Leadership theory and model as a good primer for new managers.  The Internet is replete with information on this model, and although the basic theory is decades old, it is a model that has stood the test of time and is still being taught through workshops conducted worldwide by companies such as Blanchard Training and Development.

Coaching needs to focus on two essential domains – one is behavioral, and the other is cognitive.

The cognitive domain focuses on helping the client to develop some fundamental conceptual distinctions that will serve to guide his or her observational and assessment skills regarding coaching, delegating, and developing.  Good models can provide the client with some essential assessment skills and distinctions to guide their efforts in these areas.  

The behavioral domain focuses on applying the model in day-to-day conversations with employees to coach, delegate, and develop their skills and competencies.  This, in turn, can lead to increased engagement and productive contribution.  

Some of the competency domains I explore with clients include:

Managing Conflict – The Thomas Kilmann conflict model is an excellent one for helping clients to understand their own, and others’, conflict styles. Kilmann’s model suggests five basic conflict management styles that can be mapped to the degree to which one is behaving in an assertive manner, and the degree to which one is behaving in a cooperative manner.  

Communication – Active listening is a critical skill for all managers.  If done well, this skill can increase empathy on the part of the manager and improve engagement on the part of the employee.

Behavioral Interviewing and Onboarding – This is a crucial skill for all managers that, if done well, can improve the effectiveness of hiring and on-boarding practices.

Time Management – Helping clients to improve their skills in managing their time can have significant improvements on their own and others’ productivity..

Decision-making – I find the Kepner-Tregoe method provides an excellent framework for clients to improve their decision-making skills.

Some of my clients have had extensive management training and have participated in MBA or Executive MBA programs.  For these clients, coaching needs to focus on distinctions regarding leading vs. managing.  

The essential differences are:

• Counting Value vs. Creating Value

• Circles of Influence vs. Circles of Power

• Leading people vs. Managing Work

For these leaders, coaching needs to focus on creating and communicating a strategic and compelling vision that others are willing to follow.  

Creating the vision requires a comprehensive understanding of the business, including the marketplace, customers, competition, opportunities, challenges, and the strategic advantage of their company.  Many leaders at this level have already become knowledgeable and proficient in these domains, but may benefit from additional refinement of their knowledge through research and strategic conversations.  In this case, coaching efforts need to focus on navigating these waters.

Communicating the vision is often the more challenging aspects of coaching these experienced leaders.  While some leaders seem to possess an instinctual or well-rehearsed ability to present their ideas to employees, shareholders, and other key constituents, many are underdeveloped in the skill of making a truly effective and engaging presentation. Here lies a great opportunity for coaches to focus on a key behavioral skills that clients can learn and benefit from throughout their career.  Executive presence, as well as crafting a good presentation, is a skill that can be taught through video based resources (such as “Ted” presentations and other YouTube videos) coupled with skill practice and targeted feedback.  I have had some of my clients practice presentations either online or in person, and coached them on verbal and non-verbal techniques to improve their skills in this area.

While an assessment of the client’s previous training is essential during the intake interview, I find that throughout my ongoing conversations with them that one or more areas of skill deficiency will surface as we discuss current challenges.  And while providing some level of skill training in these areas should not become the sole focus of coaching efforts, it’s great to have toolkit to dig into throughout the coaching engagement.

This article focused on “Previous Training” as an area to explore for the basis of coaching activities with distinctions between coaching for leadership vs. management.  Some clients will benefit from basic management coaching, while others will require more strategic coaching.