What coaching teaches us about businesses and people

Executive coaching can give business leaders new understanding of their teams, empowering them while also encouraging them to challenge themselves.

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In order to enable transformation in the workplace, I’m currently completing accreditation as an executive coach. Change happens more effectively when people become change, versus feeling co-opted into someone else’s change agenda. Coaching skills can unlock the new thinking required to help solve big brand, business, and individual problems and opportunities. Coaching helps when things get stuck, or people get lost.

Executive coaching, grounded as it is in positive psychology and other well substantiated theories, is distinct from mentoring, and the on-the-job coaching most of us do. In that sense ‘coaching’ may need something of a rebrand itself, but It is becoming increasingly common for marketers to upskill in this area to help empower their teams, or with an eye on a later portfolio career.

On my journey to become a coach, I was fortunate to join a pilot programme with a cohort of CMOs and other C-suite leaders. The experience was heightened by people in roles requiring transformation, those seeking transformation themselves and those who recognised the value of these skills in the boardroom. This was the power of the cohort – supporting, challenging and inspiring each other in equal measure.

Here are some of the things I learned that will help me be a better marketer and a better leader. They are the areas which I think can help marketers, their teams and their brands achieve the growth they seek.

1. Meet people where they are

Too often, the pace of work means leaders come at people and problems with their own experiences and assumptions, often acting hastily and predictably as a result. Stepping back to understand the context and unique perspective of other people, and putting aside your own ego, can create breakthroughs and foster a more inclusive workplace.

2. Coach the whole person

At their worst, businesses can be judgemental. Often, managers see their team through the lens of a task or a project and fail to grasp the totality of experiences past and present, in and outside work, which led to that moment. Enabling your team to make connections across the different facets of their experience can improve performance, motivation and self-awareness.

Though my focus is on enabling people to unlock their potential, helping people attune to their whole self can be especially useful when people get stuck. Recognise how resilient and resourceful people are – that they are doing the best they can.

3. Be attentive

As the world whirls around us, it is easy to get distracted. Coaching helps you to remain grounded, to be objective and calm. Being truly present for other people, sometimes observing things they may miss, is powerful. How often do people truly listen without interruption, without preparing a response?

4. Unstructured thinking

Alongside being attentive, using different techniques to provide time and space to think unlocks new perspectives. Encourage your teams to go deeper and deeper, embrace silence, enable thoughts to flow without the distraction of hierarchy and without the chaos of people speaking at once or over each other. Too often, real thinking in the workplace is in short supply, exacerbated when every minute needs to be accounted for, for the sake of ‘being busy’.

5. Understand the system

Culture in organisations is the interplay of individuals and the system around them. Provoking people to consider things such as strategy, tools, processes, capability, decision making and power dynamics can help them see why they or their work might be ineffective, and it can inspire innovation.

6. Balance of challenge and support

Where do you sit as a manager on this continuum?  While it is important to acknowledge and bear witness to the views of someone in your team or business, if you are too supportive you may let self-limiting assumptions hold someone back, perhaps even causing performance issues in the longer term. Conversely, be too direct with someone and it may feel as though their perspectives are not valued, or worse invalidated.

A great manager or coach will create an environment that empowers individuals or teams, but also gets them to interrogate themselves.

7. Find solutions

Managing change, be it personal or organisational, is tough. Great coaching is not a cosy conversation; rather it seeks to find new insight into how to achieve extraordinary goals and then breaks them down, one piece at a time, into a plan. New insights crystallise new actions, which can be tracked and measured.

8. Show appreciation

During my accreditation, I recognised just how much I’d been trained in various businesses to appraise, judge or identify the limitations of people – even in organisations which believed in nurturing strengths and leading through purpose. It only takes a moment to celebrate something or someone remarkable. How good does it feel to be appreciated?

I’ve learned from becoming a coach that more deliberate conversations can lead to different paths, more growth. This is the stuff that can change lives. To coach, you must be ready to be coached. When I have felt lost or stuck, coaching has given me the courage to explore my thoughts outside my own head. As a result, new thinking is flowing with the force of a torrent and I feel energised for 2024.