Project Management Institute

Send in the coach

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BY SONYA DELGADO

Instead of encouraging bright ideas with open communication, some top executives and managers inhibit others, and they are inhibited by their own communication shortcomings.

Today's savvy executives and managers understand that it takes more than years of experience and the right title to be a leader. They know that they need help learning to correct ineffective habits. Therefore, they seek help from an outside source: an executive coach. A highly skilled coach has the ability to quickly identify with clients' needs and form a trusting learning relationship.

Perception is Reality

When peers and employees witness a lack of communication and respect, they find it difficult to be productive. Such was the case for Mac Brown, vice president and division manager for Brown-Forman, a family-owned liquor business in Louisville, Ky., USA. “I had a real problem getting along with people in the company,” says Brown. “I really didn't know how to deal with employees and their issues. Basically, I thought that my way was the best way. When you think a certain way for a very long time, you will continue down that path until someone taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘Not everyone looks at this issue the way you do.’”

The very idea that Brown could be blind to other ways of looking at the business produced a real jolt to his ego. “There were people who were not speaking honestly to me because of who I was,” says Brown. “There was one person who finally admitted that he always told me what he thought I wanted to hear, which not only surprised me, it disappointed me terribly. The point is, because of the way I believed the world was, I was not able to see other people's reality.”

Four years later and after significant coaching, Brown has learned how to effectively interact with others. Although he is the first to admit that he still needs periodic coaching, his business day now consists of really listening to what his peers and employees have to say.

“It's like peeling an onion,” says Brown. “You learn how to deal with your shortcomings one layer at a time and eventually you get to the very tiny pieces.”

The Learning Curve

Some learners begin to see an impact on their interpersonal skills after six months of coaching. Others say they see an immediate result after identifying their needs.

Samuel Phillips, director of human resource management services for The City University of New York, has been coached for the past 10 years. Executive coaching provided Phillips with a perspective on how others interpreted his actions and words.

“Whenever I am stuck, [it] usually means that I am unable to observe what is creating a breakdown in communications,” Phillips says, stressing that he has learned how to observe and design conversations that create a communication solution.

Having recently been promoted to president of Lenox Collections, a Langhorne, Pa., USA-based retailer of gifts and collectibles and a division of Lenox Inc., Martha Curren recognized that she had to become a more effective leader and a better communicator. Recognizing that she was not always at the top of her game, she sought an executive coach three years ago. “My success as a leader, a team member and a mentor to others is reflected in the growth and profitability of my division,” says Curren. “Ultimately, what a good coach does is give you alternative perspectives on a particular situation that you find yourself in.”

ULTIMATELY, WHAT A GOOD COACH DOES IS GIVE YOU ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVES ON A PARTICULAR SITUATION THAT YOU FIND YOURSELF IN.

A Commitment to Learning

Good coaching involves the introduction of a basic model that sets in place the roles of both the coach and the learner:

Clearly define roles. The coach's role is to teach the client to improve his/her performance through self reflection, awareness, taking responsibility for the perceptions or impact he/she has on others, and effective communication skills. The client's role is to be open to the coach's offering.

Quantify the purpose for coaching. There is a specific reason that coaching was suggested in the first place. Either the client recognized his/her shortcomings or coaching was suggested by others within the organization.

Understand that learning new behavior will change what has come naturally to the learner. For many years, the learner may have been communicating poorly.

Expect to experience physical sensations once new behavior has been learned. These feelings may include sweaty palms, tightening of the throat or nervous gestures. Physical sensations are connected to interpretations of change.

Take responsibility for the results. The coach promises to work one-on-one with the learner to produce the best positive results, while the learner promises to acquire new behavior.

Create a bond in which each party promises to expend a significant amount of time to gain the desired results.

Recognize the Results

In most cases, the first to observe a change in an executive's/manager's behavioral skills are those who experienced conflict with the learner in the past.

“I always had a difficult time listening to what my employees really had to say,” says Curren. “Now they thank me for the way I handle a meeting. They are not afraid to tell me that they noticed I was no longer trying to push back, which is really hard for me. They comment that I listen to their ideas, and although I may feel strongly about an issue, I now take time to hear them out.”

“One person who has been working with me for a long time commented that I was doing things very differently after I had been coached for a while,” says Firestein. “I think it's very noticeable. You tend to handle situations differently, including the way decisions are made. The triangular formula is you, the other person and the work that needs to get done. After coaching…I play a much different role in that equation than I used to.”

Executive coaching can result in better relationships with bosses, peers, employees and clients. It can also lead to greater job satisfaction, a heightened capacity to accomplish goals and the ability to eliminate stress, enhance self-awareness and improve communication skills. PM

Sonya Delgado, Ph.D., president and founder of Delgado Consulting, New York, N.Y., USA, is a noted educator, trainer and lecturer who specializes in staff development and executive coaching, specifically within the area of leadership.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK | FEBRUARY 2002 | www.pmi.org
FEBRUARY 2002 | PM NETWORK

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