The Leadership Paradox: Why Coaching is for Everyone, Not Just your Top Performers

The Leadership Paradox: Why Coaching is for Everyone, Not Just your Top Performers

In 1986, a Harvard educationalist and author of the book The Inner Game of Tennis, Tim Gallwey, introduced coaching for individuals and teams to help them overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent them from accessing their full potential. This was inspired by his work as a tennis instructor in Monterey, CA.

“The opponent within one's own head is more formidable than the one on the other side of the net.” ~ Tim Gallwey.

And that is what coaching helps you overcome — it helps shift your mindset for better clarity and maximising performance.

Coaching is a process where a coach helps a coachee to achieve goals, learn something new or perform better. It is action-oriented and focused on self-awareness, generating insights and creating behaviour shifts. Coaches use questions, exercises, and frameworks to personalise the experience for each coachee.

Leadership Development Paradox

Traditionally, companies engage coaches for senior leaders when they need to work on their leadership skills, communication skills for high-stake situations, setting strategies that can change the course of a company, and other mindset and behavioural improvements.

Companies that actively promote a culture of development and well-being engage coaches for their top-performers to help them do even better, avoid burnout, and get that extra edge to add momentum to their success rate.

Most companies stop there. The business case of investing in the top performers and leaders is valid since they are a company’s best bet as they have proven capabilities to grow and are more invested in the growth of the company as well.

But here’s the flip side: since top-performers are already self-driven and doing well, aren’t they the ones who need the least amount of coaching?

While coaching can help high-achievers and senior leaders get better at their role, coaching efforts can go a long way in helping young managers and employees who are struggling or at a stagnant point in their careers.

Coaching only the leaders and top performers also creates these two problems:

Often, these leaders and top performers are expected to coach others and bring them to their level. This is to be done on top of their existing responsibilities and KPIs, resulting in overwhelming workloads.

Secondly, it creates a disparity and perceived inequities between people who do and do not receive coaching. And we know that unequal societies/communities with large gaps between the haves and have-nots have more conflicts and poorer performance in all areas of life.

From the perspective of organisation structure, let's understand why coaching should be available for everyone.

A company’s organisational chart is generally top-down — the CEO is at the top, followed by the executive team, the manager and then there are individual contributors at various levels under them.

Intuitively, it feels that to bring out any change in the organisation, whether to increase efficiency or reduce employee churn, you train people at the top who will take care of trickling down the changes, telling exactly what needs to be done.

That’s why most companies invest heavily into coaching top performers or leaders. But what if the individual contributors and workforce are not ready to think at the levels of leaders, or don't feel any sense of competency because they are always getting instructions on what to do?

A more meaningful way might be to think of an org like a tree with CEO as the main stalk, the managers as branches and employees as fruits and flowers at the end that use resources and help from stalk and branches to execute things till the end.

Using that analogy, we can see that an organisation has to make sure that individual contributors perform at the same level as leaders who get regular coaching.

Real-life Examples of Impact of Coaching

Coaching in the Field of Medicine

Dr Atul Gawande is an American surgeon, writer, and public health researcher who noticed that he had stopped getting better in surgery. His rate of complication was not going any lower. He contacted a retired surgeon to observe him in the operating room and give insights on what could be improved. This led to higher efficiency in his operations and more work satisfaction.

Taking a lesson from this, Atul created a program to coach doctors in the delivery wards of hospitals in Uttar Pradesh, India. Coaches helped doctors to develop systems to execute the steps, speak up if something is wrong and not give up if there’s a critical situation. This saved the lives of many children and their mothers.

Check out the full story here.

Saba Imru's Approach to Coaching at the Workplace

Saba Imru Mathieu is a coach who believes in creating coaching cultures within organisations. According to her, there are three fundamental needs that human beings have to have met in order to feel fulfilled and these are particularly conspicuous in the workplace.

“The first one is autonomy, self-directing freedom. The second is competency feeling that you know how to do something. The third is relatedness feeling connected with other people. When these three needs are met people will be able to work and function in a way that is very satisfactory for them and also for their employer and clients.”

Leaders who use coaching for their workforce end up respecting people's fundamental needs & creating healthy work environments.

Check out her TED Talk to know more about Saba’s approach.

Benefits of Coaching Your Workforce

Support for New Joiners

Research suggests new starters are 24% more likely to leave their organisation if they feel disconnected from the company culture or feel like outsiders with their new colleagues.

If new joiners are coached well to adapt to new surroundings, they are highly likely to integrate well with the team and think of working long-term with the organisation.

Increased Retention among Existing Workforce

According to a study by Gallup in the US, 93% of employees leave their existing jobs for career advancement. Only 7% take a new position within the same company.

When employees see that their career is plateauing, instead of developing skills to advance at the same company, they choose to switch to a place with better and holistic career growth.

Companies that are struggling to keep their employees engaged for long can improve retention by investing in their development and coaching them to find their next challenge within the company.

Keep Employees Engaged and Stay Motivated

The fundamental idea of coaching is that when you coach a person, you don’t give them answers to their problems but rather ask questions to help them find answers.

If you tell someone the answer to a problem it would be helpful for them but doesn’t boost their sense of competence or autonomy. By asking them a few questions, you can often get to the same answer but have them feel like they've had a part in solving the problem.

When you make someone feel competent, they stop being defensive and start being creating. This leads to better work and a more motivated workforce.

Thus, keeping them motivated to work on the company's mission.

Groom In-House Talent

When companies grow quickly, they need to promote talent internally to keep up with the demand. But if that talent is not coached gradually, even before they become a manager to learn how to think clearly, they can fail.

A study showed that 44% of new managers felt unprepared for the new role. They often face challenges around conflict resolution, evaluating employees, and finding the right ways to bring about any change in the team.

Coaching can address these problems by providing an unbiased thinking partner who can help them think through these issues. It can also help them deal with situations in a way that creates a long-lasting impact and not temporary improvements.

Bottom Line

The ultimate goal is to help your team succeed in achieving its mission. You've already put in a lot of effort to build a team. You hired the current team members because they add value and bring talent to the table. So it's worth continuing to invest in everyone's development through coaching and not just leaders and top-performers. It's better for people's sense of purpose and fulfillment, which helps them bring their best self to work.

To wrap up, here's a real-world example of the impact of coaching at AT&T, as reported by Timothy Gallwey.

After coaching, leaders enjoyed creating a new company and a new buyer-centered approach to selling. The technicians became as curious as children, losing their fear of seeming unprofessional, while thousands of telephone operators learned to enjoy and truly benefit from their seemingly routine work. For AT&T, this was a game-changer. (source)

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