Talking Leadership

Making the Most of Coaching

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on August 29, 2017 at 8:00 am

Personal Development Career

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that 14 years have passed since I resigned as president of a large daily newspaper to pursue a new direction in leadership development. Maybe not new so much as a sensible next step. I spent much of my newspaper career developing the men and women who served on my leadership teams. I did a lot of coaching.

In the years since, through Gaynor Consulting, I’ve provided a lot of coaching to a great many clients in many different industries – both in group workshops and individual sessions. Some have been more successful than others, I believe because they took the right approach. So how do I think you can get the most benefit from coaching?

Be an active honest learner
I can quickly tell those who want to learn from those who are across the table because they have to be. Those who want coaching come prepared with questions. They know where they want to get to (they have goals for growth) and they are open and honest about their situations. With coaching you really get more out when you put more in.

Make it a priority
We spend time on the things that are important to us so if you just squeeze your coaching session in when you can around everything else you are speaking volumes about what matters. As I have often observed, without coaching people under pressure usually just to the same things harder faster and you know what Einstein said about that – doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result is insanity. Developing better, more refined leadership skills is the key to meeting old challenges in more effective ways.

Be teachable
I’m sure most people would like to think of themselves at teachable. The reality is, for many pride closes the door to learning. It’s humility that opens the door. Too many of the leaders I meet don’t make it to a workshop or a coaching relationship at all because they are too proud to be open to learning. It’s as if they believe that finding out they didn’t know something, like how to provide expert feedback, is an admission of weakness, when in fact it’s just the opposite.

A few years ago I was presenting workshops to a large organization. I had to present each workshop several times to cover the group. The CEO, (one the most accomplished leaders I’ve ever known) attended each and every session. His opening comments included the observation that he picked up something new in each one. Now that’s the posture that leads to continuous learning and sets the right example for every other leader on the team.

Keep an open mind
Too many people are so committed to a belief that they cannot see the value of a new way of doing something even in the face of the most compelling rationale. I often see people defend a flawed position far too long. Admitting a mistake, even to oneself, is an act of strength and a key to learning.

Revisit and reinforce
Over these years presenting workshops I’ve also come to appreciate the value of reinforcement. You simply will not attend a workshop or learn something new in a coaching session and lock it away for good in one pass. Learning requires repetition. I see the evidence when I do a brief knowledge check to discover time and time again that too many people have forgotten some of the most important fundamentals. This is why I encourage everyone to take lots of notes on the handouts and revisit the material from time to time. With enough repetition knowledge starts to stick.

Apply what you learn
I once heard it said that information alone does not lead to transformation. It’s information and application that gets the job done. The goal of good leadership development is to help people build strong new leadership habits but new skills don’t start as habits. Discipline always precedes habit. Nothing new, whether it’s an exercise regimen or a new approach to providing feedback, starts as a habit. It starts as a discipline that says, “I’m not going to miss that daily workout” or “I’m going to find at least one opportunity every day to apply the feedback skills I just learned with a member of my team.”

Over the years I have coached I’m sure hundreds of men and women, first as a newspaper executive and now through my own company. There are undeniably two groups: those who became better more skilled leaders and went on to produce great results and those who remained stalled right where they were wondering why the next promotion never came. Reflecting on this experience it seems to me that those in the first group knew how to make the most of coaching.

For more on timeless leadership practices check out my workshops or consider some individual coaching.

Dan Gaynor

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