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The Great Coaching Paradox

There is something we need to address – and it’s called ‘The Great Coaching Paradox’.

Organisations have been training their leaders to ‘coach’, as a way of improving performance, since the 1990s. It has become so popular that you would be hard-pressed to find any leadership or management development programme that does not teach coaching.

And, while the sentiment is great (coaching techniques can be hugely beneficial to leaders), how the techniques should be used often gets lost in translation. Managers will often believe they need to ‘step into coach mode’ during performance improvement meetings, and then immediately abandon ‘coach mode’ outside of the meetings. 

This results in managers thinking that they should use performance review meetings only to ask coaching questions, rather than to give feedback, provide advice, or have honest conversations about under-performance (and whilst these things might not be ‘coaching’, they are still important, and should not be overlooked). Because managers feel they have to stay in coaching mode, they begin to ask sheep dog questions, like “do you not think that possibly maybe you could try ‘xyz’ to increase your performance?”; they become stuck in a weak half-way point between coaching and giving proper feedback or advice – and this will never be truly effective.

The problem is, we are teaching managers the tools and techniques to coach, but we are falling short on teaching them to properly apply it, in a way that works for them as LEADERS (rather than actual coaches – there is a difference). Genuine coaching means that the coach is not attached to the end result. But for leaders, this is not the case – they will always be attached to the end result. Therefore, simply turning performance meetings into coaching sessions is not going to work.

What we should be teaching leaders instead is that there are all sorts of different leadership conversations – we call it the conversation spectrum at Ivy House – and they are all important, from telling, instructing, giving feedback, facilitating and coaching. The key is to know what type of conversation style to use in what situation.

So, what is ‘The Great Coaching Paradox’? Firstly, managers are misusing coaching in what should essentially be performance review conversations, AND at the same time, they are not adopting a ‘coaching mindset’ often enough outside of the scheduled ‘coaching meetings’. For leaders to coach their team effectively, they should be using the techniques to form deep human connections with their team, outside of performance reviews.

What I am asking for here? I am calling for 2 things to change: firstly, let’s stop training our leaders to coach when they would be better off performance managing. To do this we need to teach them about the conversation spectrum and stop heralding ‘coaching’ as the only way to have an effective conversation.

And secondly, let’s train our leaders to adopt a genuine coaching mindset way more often in conversations outside of performance meetings, in order to develop deeper connections with their team! Coaching is a mindset, not a meeting, and it is certainly not a performance management meeting.

Want your people to develop a genuine coaching mindset and avoid The Great Coaching Paradox? We can help with that.





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