April 12, 2022

The Purpose of Coaching

By Strata Leadership staff

While the field of coaching continues to expand, there are still those in the business world that frequently ask, "does coaching really have purpose and value?" Coaching is an investment of money and, more importantly, time. Many of us have been introduced to coaching in the past. We've found that the conversation with potential clients usually begins from one of two views of coaching. The first is more traditional and is known as compliance coaching. For example, a coach was brought in because there was a need for specific areas of development because something had most likely gone wrong. While this stigma is still out there around coaching, and about 15% of inquiries still stem from this idea, the good news is the enlightenment around the value of coaching is spreading beyond compliance. 

The second stance on coaching is what I personally call the Nolan Ryan. I grew up playing and watching baseball. One of my favorite players was Nolan Ryan, who at the time pitched for the Texas Rangers. If you aren't familiar, he was good, like really good. In fact, he was one of the best pitchers to play the game to date. Did Nolan have a coach 100%? Was he at the top of his game? Yes. Did he need a coach to accomplish what he did? Maybe. Did the coach maximize his potential even when he was on top? Absolutely. This second approach to coaching is what excites us at Strata and is at the heart of coaching. One sentence can summarize this new wave of strengths-based coaching. "How do we take a leader and maximize their full potential within alignment with who they want to be, and what do they want to be able to do?" This idea can feel meta, so let's bring it down for those of us like me that like specific application from coaching. The following should be outcomes of great coaching. The value of coaching is not limited to this list, but these are strong foundational ideas to address. 

You will find an increased self-awareness. 
Self-awareness is the act of understanding and seeing ourselves clearly. Tasha Eurich, a leading expert, and researcher on self-awareness discusses self-awareness's importance in her 2018 article in Harvard Business Review. It can be found HERE. Self-awareness produces confidence for the individual. The confidence will be felt internally by the coaching client and translated externally to those around us. Self-awareness is the pillar of leadership and executive presence. This presence will permeate our entire lives. It will influence our peers, our teams, our clients, our families, our friends, and our communities. A great coach will provide you with candid, real-time applicable feedback through the form of powerful questions or championing. Genuine coaching explores and sheds light on blind spots that will assist leaders in identifying reality versus their possible blurred understanding of themselves.
You will define and align your values. 
Our values reinforce our influence from what we do with our lives to where we spend our money and how we make decisions. They are the core of what matters to us. When leaders maximize their potential, there is no doubt that they are in line internally and externally with their values.
Clarify the vision. 
A leaders' primary role is to clarify the vision consistently and constantly for the team. While I don't personally believe that leadership must be lonely, I believe that it can create an environment of a vacuum. In this vacuum or bubble, leaders can find themselves in the weeds and lose sight of the vision. Coaching can help the leader focus on the vision and help the leader craft consistent messaging for the team as they increase performance by working through the team. Imagine that your vision has gone black and white; coaching can help reinstate the vision's depth and color. This can be especially crucial for new leaders that are learning to get the work done through others versus being individual contributors. Many times, leaders lose balance and forget to "be" as they make the common mistake of just doing. Common questions that leaders will be asked in coaching are where do they want to go, what do they want, who do they want to be, and how might they make that happen? These questions bring back balance for the individual in their leadership.

Establish strong goals. 
Even the highest performing leaders can focus on the wrong goals. I enjoy the analogy of the leader and the ladder. Leaders get things done. They take hills and climb ladders that no one else can imagine climbing. Unfortunately, sometimes we climb the wrong ladder and end up on the wrong hill. Coaches can help the leader ensure that they are choosing the right path before they throw valuable resources at accomplishing it. A coach can assist with identifying the right goals and help in holding accountability around those goals moving forward. The power of having a third-party help set goals and ensure that they are in line with the leaders, mission, vision, and values is immeasurable.

Coaching challenges belief. 
Who else in your life speaks with blunt, courageous truth and questions your leadership actions? Our actions are an external picture of our beliefs. While there are some leaders that have created a community of trusted peers who might be able to speak honestly to them, the reality is very few have access to that kind of candid feedback. A coach has the power of neutrality to go several levels deeper in helping the leader explore their belief system. Vision and goals end up being hallow if we don't believe that we have what it takes to accomplish them. Many times, in my experience, this moment in coaching usually revolves around how leaders see themselves. It might surprise you that around 70% of leaders struggle with imposter syndrome. Because leaders are great at identifying areas for improvement, they are keenly aware of their own short fallings. This reason alone is why leaders need someone consistently highlighting their strengths, championing their accomplishments, helping them dream, and naturally expanding their belief in the possibilities for their life, both personally and professionally. (International Journal of Behavioral Science, 2020)

Honest, confidential feedback.
The idea is simple. Coaches get paid to say what others don't have the courage to say to you directly. Another way to put this is that we get paid to care enough to say what you need to hear. We have a rule for our coaching team here at Strata. It is that a coach must be the most courageous one in the room. We don't shy away from powerful conversations with our clients. We aren't a yes friend. Like any training regimen, coaching will hurt. If coaching doesn't provide some level of discomfort, we suggest interviewing a new coach.

Equipping for self-coaching. 
If you have been through Strata training on coaching, then you may have heard the idea of the "lamp post-effect" and coaching explained by Dr. Nathan Mellor, author of Sleeping Giants and founder of Strata Leadership. The idea is that if you were to schedule a time to stand in front of a lamp post for an hour a week and talk to it, your results might be similar to coaching. Coaching isn't about the coach. It is about the commitment of the client to themselves, their development, and their agenda. The coach only acts as a guide provoking powerful thoughts and firm challenges. Personally, my goal as a coach is to set you up for success. This means providing the tools for you to succeed in the absence of a coach. These may be templates, developmental resources tailored to your journey, or personalized self-coaching techniques once the coaching engagement has ended.

Pacing for purpose. 
Many leaders already understand their mission, vision, and values. They have clearly defined goals; they communicate well with those that follow and have no problem delivering. In fact, they deliver so much that it can be too much. This can be a pacing problem. While coaching can drive strategic thinking, it can also provide reactionary tactics that can anchor the client. A large focus of coaching is ensuring that the client is present in the moment, aware of their emotions, their health, and their pace. Just like Nolan Ryan, he was a fast-paced producer, but he also had a coach asking about that tingling in his elbow that needed intentional rest. Leaders can push through. They can get results, but what is the value of driving results if the leader is burnt out. Coaches can anchor the client to the appropriate pace.

Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine, 35(4), 1252–1275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1