I have a burning question: What is wrong with leaders-as-coaches training and why do so few programmes succeed in creating a real change in leaders’ behaviour?
I’m an occupational psychologist and professional executive coach. Over the past five years I’ve been involved in teaching coaching skills to leaders and helping organisations to create a “coaching culture”. In most cases, the results were less than stellar – rarely leading to significant behavioural change in leaders or a shift in culture. In this blog I’ll explore the state of coaching training in order to find some solutions to the most prominent obstacles.
First off, I believe that most training programmes underestimate the complexity and mental energy required to develop coaching skills. Contrary to popular belief, coaching is difficult to learn – even for professional coaches. It requires a different, often counter intuitive mind-set, not merely the learning of new knowledge and skills. It is even more difficult for leaders – who are not professional coaches and for whom coaching is just one of a range of tools they can use to be effective. Unless training programmes address these, limited behaviour change will result. Below are a few more things that appear to impair coaching training and sustainable change:
- An absence of clear standards
If you want to become a professional coach, there are a number of accreditation boards with clear standards and guidelines, skills to demonstrate and exams to pass. But not for leaders-as-coaches. In the absence of industry standards, buyers of coaching training have no clear measure of quality against which to evaluate training providers or training outcomes.
- Inadequate Training
Four things are of importance here: training content, leaders are not professional coaches, time allocation, and skills practice.
- Training content. To be effective, coaching training must address four things: fundamental coaching knowledge and skills, the mind-set and beliefs of coaches, integrating coaching into leadership and lots of structured, supervised practise. The reality is that most training programmes only focus on coaching skills, skim over the mind-set changes required and are way too short to achieve sustainable behavioural change.
- Leaders are not professional (executive) coaches and training programmes should reflect this fact. In addition to coaching skills and mind-set, leaders must learn how to integrate coaching into their behavioural repertoire and how to apply it when it is often easier to just tell or give answers. This is why we need a separate set of standards for leaders and why sending leaders to professional coaching programmes rarely bring about behavioural change back at work.
- Training duration. The reality is that most training programmes are way too short to create significant behaviour change. Time starved programmes ranging from two hours to one day are simply too short to even start addressing the complexities described above. Is there any complex skill that you could master in that time frame?
- Skills Practice. To create new “neural pathways” in the brain of the coaching leader coaching requires lots of practise over an extended period of time. Think hours, not minutes. To be optimal, practice needs to be paired with feedback. Most programmes offer limited skills practice with very little structured feedback.
- No clear tracking or measurement
Most leaders-as-coaches programmes have no formal evaluations and don’t involve any behavioural assessment of participants’ effectiveness at coaching. If we follow the old adage that “what gets measured, gets done” you may realise that this is a gaping hole in coaching development.
- Failing to recognise coaching training as a change management intervention
Coaching training is often a stand-alone intervention without the required supportive processes and mechanisms to promote, encourage and embed the new behaviour into the organisational culture. Failing to recognise the need to manage this change from the top down will ensure that training programmes remain just that.
Four Quick Actions To Supersize Your Coaching Training
Ok, it sounds pretty grim, but there is hope. The fact that the challenges are so clear makes the solution really straightforward; do the opposite! Organisations can approach coaching training more strategically; decide what they want to achieve and adapt their strategies and resources accordingly. The following are a few guidelines based on our experience.
- Define your appetite. You may wish to go all the way to saturate your organisation with coaching oriented leaders or you may just want to create an awareness of the existence of coaching as a leadership tool. Both are perfectly fine; just adapt your strategy to your intended outcome.
- Invest in great training that is:
- Adequate in duration. In my experience it takes two days to teach basic coaching skills and at least another two days to properly contextualise coaching to leadership situations. Half days are wishful thinking; one day is just enough to create awareness.
- Addresses mind-set and beliefs. If leaders don’t believe that coaching works, they will not do it. Dialogue, and the opportunity to challenge and discuss are important for winning hearts and minds, allow plenty of time for that in training programmes.
- Leader focussed. Training should include a significant focus on the way leaders will apply coaching in their own context, as opposed to acting like professional coaches.
- Inclusive of supervised practice. Training programmes should include practical sessions where participants get feedback from peers and experienced coaches. Most importantly, participants need significant post training coaching practice – observed by peers or professional coaches who provide them with real-time feedback.
- Based on clear standards and assessments. If you want to create sustainable behavioural change, define clear standards of behaviour and build in accountability. Include skills assessments at the end of the coaching programme and use 180-degree assessments to track progress.
- Treat coaching training as a change intervention. You know what I mean, right? Strategic approach, leader support and example, consultation, communication… think John Kotter.
- Engage a professional. If you want to teach a complex skill like coaching, engage an experienced coach with real world experience, not a trainer who just presents training materials.
The HCC Coaching Blueprint approach is based on extensive research and practice in the area of training professional coaches and leaders-as-coaches. The Coaching Blueprint leads the way in defining verifiable standards for leaders-as-coaches. We train coaches who can really coach and we help our clients embed those behaviours in their organisational culture.