Supporting your managers with a coach

Isn’t coaching too expensive and just for the leadership?  

The value of supporting your managers with a coach is now undeniable, it is in fact the development mechanism of choice for most C Level executives and senior managers.  It’s also increasingly desired amongst middle management too.  

According to Harvard the top three reasons that coaches are being engaged are to: 

  • Develop high potentials or facilitate transition (48%).
  • Act as a sounding board (26%).
  • Address derailing behavior (12%).  

The benefits are multiple.  Coachee’s will speak of being helped towards great action against their goals; increasing resilience and the ability to handle pressure; improvements in contentment and job satisfaction; being able to contribute in increasingly effective ways; more ownership and accountability; improvements in being able to work with a wider range of people effectively and a greater ability to communicate in a powerful way.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, the ICF in 2009 proposed that 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment on coaching and more.  These are astonishing returns on investment.  

When all is said and done, coaching is a phenomenally effective way of developing your people and creating organisational competitive edge, yet there still seems to be some reluctance in engaging coaching at the middle management level; unless it’s to address ‘derailing behaviours’.   In those situations it can often be ‘tried’ as a last resort in facilitating individual changes of behaviour rather than being an intervention of choice.  

The truth is, coaching at middle management can deliver benefits way beyond the investment.  Yes, it’s sometimes true you can ‘train’ a whole team for the cost of one individuals coaching stream, but individual transformational change is always better facilitated via coaching (and I’m writing this from the perspective of 22 years of being the trainer!).  In 2022 Harvard are saying the median hourly cost of coaching is just £370 ($500), so in the grand scheme of things, it’s not at all expensive, especially when you look at the benefits.  

Supporting your managers with a coach is way more accessible than you may think.  It’s certainly something you ought to consider seriously if you are responsible for organisational development in some way.  In a sense, nobody needs coaching, you can get through life without it, but if someone wants it, then it can be transformational!  Here are ten questions you can ask your middle managers to ascertain their appetite for coaching:

  • Are there any boundaries that are limiting your progress or ability to achieve?
  • Are you struggling for ideas about how to breach the next performance frontier?
  • Are their relationships within your network that are proving challenging?
  • Do you want to aspire to a new level?
  • Are there patterns of behaviour that are limiting your potential?
  • Are you in too much of a comfort zone?
  • Are you up for a new challenge?
  • Do you seek higher quality, achievement, results?
  • Do you need to problem solve with greater confidence?
  • Has the dynamic shifted in some way leaving you struggling to find your feet?

How to prepare to be coached

Coaching is like a car journey. As the coachee, you’re in the driving seat. You’re in charge of steering, and you control the speed of the car. The coach is in the passenger seat, and they offer navigational assistance. This is a well worn but useful description of a positive coaching relationship, and you’ll notice that it puts a strong emphasis on the contribution of the coachee. The coachee is not a passive passenger, in fact their role is at least as important as that of the coach. They have the power to pick up the pace or to slow things right down, they ultimately control the direction of travel, and they dictate the destination. Drivers on the road aren’t permitted this level of power without a great deal of preparation. We are prepared well so that we can safely get from A to B. So let’s explore the question, how can I prepare to be coached? 

In one sense there is very little preparation required; you don’t need to study hard, and there is no list of tasks to complete. If you are not self funding your coaching there may be a need to sit down with your manager to identify and agree some areas that would be helpful to focus on throughout your sessions. However, there is some psychological preparation that will put you in a great position to get the most out of your coaching programme. 

So let’s continue to stretch the car analogy for three points of useful psychological preparation. 

Firstly, get in and strap in! One could take that metaphor in many directions. In this case I mean to say; be present in the car, physically and mentally. Your sessions will be a very unique time of total self indulgence in the sense that they are all about you! Don’t waste this rare opportunity. Instead, enter the coaching space in as present a way as possible, put aside the many distractions that compete for your attention, choose to engage fully, and trust the process. 

Secondly, use your mirrors. What do mirrors do? They reflect, and so will you in your coaching sessions… See what I did there?! A great deal of the value of your coaching sessions will be dictated by your willingness and ability to be self reflective. If you keep things superficial the impact may well be unremarkable. If you are ready and willing to do some deep reflection, the power of coaching will become evident in your life. So be prepared, your coach might challenge you to go deeper than you’ve ever gone before into your own beliefs and values, asking questions that dig down into the nature of who you are, what you think, how you behave, and why. 

Lastly, look ahead. There will be time dedicated to looking at your past experiences, but this is likely done with a view to where you want to go in the future. What role do you want to pursue? what qualities would you like to develop? what burdens would you like to shed? These are future focused questions, and although it’s alright not to know all the answers before you head into your coaching programme, be prepared to look ahead and consider what it is that you want. 

How can you prepare to be coached? Strap in, use your mirrors, and look ahead. 

The road to coaching | Part 2: Lightbulb moments

I am now 8 weeks into my coaching course, and it would be fair to say that a lot is changing for me. I expected to learn new skills that I would use in a work context. I did not expect a fundamental shift in the way I think and communicate in all walks of life. I expected my feeling of general disconnection and scepticism around the practice of coaching to continue indefinitely. I did not expect the high level of buy in to the value and necessity of coaching that I am experiencing just half way through my (initial) training.

A lot is changing for me, and there have been several lightbulb moments in my journey so far. One of the most important was the realisation that the coaching room offers a space that very likely does not exists anywhere else for the client. It might sound obvious to some, but for me this was a big turning point.

I have always been a very introspective person. I reflect a lot, both on my own actions and thoughts, and on the behaviours and words of others. I actually believe this tendency contributes in no small part to my issues around anxiety. Good thinking can lead to overthinking, reflecting can lead to dwelling, consideration leads to concern. So it’s not all positive! However, there are good things about this attribute, and one of them would be the level of understanding I feel I have about myself, the things I desire, love and pursue, and the things that I dislike, fear, and avoid. And this reflection is not only done in isolation. My wife is a verbal processor. Throughout our relationship she has delved into her unconscious mind through conversation with me, and over the years we have fostered a relatively high level of communication. We spend a lot of time talking to each other about situations and how we feel about them in order to arrive at what we want and how we are going to get there. It turns out this is coaching, I just didn’t know it yet!

Here’s the thing though, I thought everybody worked like that…

I have to be careful not to sounds like i’m elevating myself now, but I think its pretty uncontroversial to think that there are levels to this. Some people are more reflective than others, and some people are more reflective than most! Im not sure where I ultimately sit in this picture, but I do know that I had a deeply held assumption that coaching is unnecessary because people already have the equivalent space they want and need in their lives. People know how they feel and why. People know what they want. People know how to get there.

It turns out that is not true. People often do not have the time, space, or will to do this level of thinking. Furthermore, I now realise that even those who are highly reflective are absolutely able to reach new levels of insight through the objectivity of a good coach, and the dedication offered by a good coaching environment. How often in life are we given 60, 90, or 120 minutes for nothing but our own personal development, dedicated time to delve into our experiences, thoughts and feelings, and uncover how they are impacting our lives?

I now believe that what coaching offers is virtually unique! Part of the value that a coach brings is creating a space that most likely does not exist elsewhere for the client – a safe container which actively cultivates exploration and growth.

The road to coaching | Part 1: The first hurdle

To learn and progress often means to have ones presuppositions exposed and challenged. Although I expected this, i’m not sure I anticipated such a challenge so early in my journey to coaching. The first hurdle I must clear is the concept summarised in this extract from Coaching For Performance: 

“That our beliefs about the capability of others have a direct impact on their performance has been adequately demonstrated in a number of experiments from the field of education. Unless a coach believes that people possess more capability than they are currently expressing, he will not be able to help them express it.”

Whitmore, J. (1992) Coaching For Performance. 3rd ed. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 

Although this idea is fascinating and illuminating, it’s not accepting the premise that I find challenging. The challenge is to my own presuppositions; I tend to believe that other peoples abilities are fairly limited! Even as I write these words I am aware of how harsh that sounds, however I would guess that it’s not a massively uncommon belief, even if it’s a subconscious one for many. Furthermore, I would estimate that an even larger number hold this belief in relation to their own abilities, thinking that there is a very definite ceiling on what they can achieve. 

Where do these limiting beliefs come from? As I have reflected on this question, I have come to see at least two important factors at play; the evidence of experience, and the narrative of “talent”.

Let’s consider first the evidence of experience. Clearly not everybody does achieve greatness. A huge number of people in our lives, whether peripherally or more closely, don’t seem to perform at a very high level. A simple outlook might conclude that don’t equals can’t.  And then there is me. Maybe I don’t perform at a very high level, or have experienced failures and set backs which have lead me to conclude that I am not capable. Once I believe this about myself then it is totally rational for me to apply this world view to those around me. 

The second consideration is the narrative of “talent”. There is a healthy debate to be had around the idea of nature verses nurture. I wrote a relatively extensive essay on this topic during my degree in professional musicianship. I studied the literature and interviewed music educators in order to gain some insight into their view on whether some students exhibited levels of performance that must be attributed to something beyond discipline, or opportunity, or passion. My conclusion looked something like this:

Talent = Natural Predisposition + Opportunity + Passion

Natural predisposition – Usain Bolts physiology is perfectly designed for sprinting. He has the perfect combination of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres, enabling him to explode out of the blocks and maintain his pace through the finish line. He is tall and lean, giving him long strides and an outstanding power to weight ratio. His reaction times are blistering, so he never gets a bad start. We could go on, but the point is natural predisposition is real, and it makes a huge difference to high performance. 

Opportunity – If Usain Bolt was never introduced to the sport of sprinting, never coached, never provided the equipment or the space or the time to work on his craft, then he would not have broken the world record. He may not have even raced at all. 

Passion – If Bolt had the natural predisposition, and the opportunity, but did not have the desire to race, then his performance would either be severely compromised by a lack of intense training and commitment, or altogether non existent if he decided not to participate!  

So these things matter. I don’t believe that anyone can go and break the world record for the one hundred metre sprint, just as I don’t believe that anyone is capable of being a CEO of a transnational corporation. But perhaps I am not required to go that far.

“A coach must think of his people in terms of their potential, not their performance. A coach must believe and recognise that ordinary people do extraordinary things when they have to. The question is, is crisis the only catalyst? And how long are we able to sustain extraordinary performance?”

Whitmore, J. (1992) Coaching For Performance. 3rd ed. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 

In philosophy, Aristotle distinguished between twin ideas of an actual infinite and a potential infinite. Actual infinity is complete and definite, and consists of an infinite number of elements. Potential infinity is never complete: elements can be always added, but never infinitely many. Sometimes it is helpful to postulate infinity as a limit even when we know that an actual infinite is not possible. 

Perhaps we ought to regard peoples potential as a potential infinite. Theoretically we know that a person has limits, their capability can only go so far. However, It seems sensible to think that there is never a case where a persons performance could no longer be fined tuned. Therefore, as long as we are able to continue adding elements, fine tuning a persons performance, then we are able to conceive of their performance as unlimited, and their potential as potentially infinite. 

That’s a lot of thinking, but it gets me over the first hurdle. Only a potentially infinite number of hurdles to go! 

The road to coaching | My journey from novice to pro coach in real time!

When I was a child I dreamed of growing up and becoming a coa… Hold on, lets try that again. 

When anyone ever asked me “what do you want to do when you grow up?’, I always said the same thing without hesitation, I would love to be a coa… Okay, third time lucky. 

The truth is, I didn’t dream of one day becoming a coach when I was a child. In fact it’s taken me until my mid twenties to even understand the basics of what a coach is and does. So, leaving aside childhood ambition, my reasons for diving into the world of coaching are a mix of pragmatism, aptitude, and fascination; not so much in coaching, but in people. 

I’ll return to this train of thought momentarily, but first the reason for this blog post. As a complete novice in the field of coaching, I am aware that I am about to embark upon a substantial educational voyage which will take many hours, months and indeed years. As part of my learner journey I have already begun writing down my thoughts, not only to consolidate my learning but to begin for myself something of a glossary of the key concepts and techniques. And what better way to hammer my stake of commitment into the ground than to make those writings a public blog series! I invite you then to join me in real time on my journey from complete novice, to professional coach. 

So why coaching, and why now? First, the pragmatics. I have been working as a content creator behind the scenes at iManage Performance for around 6 years now. Through sheer proximity to the material, I have developed over these years a clear understanding of the tenants of great training. And although they are different in many ways, coaching and training overlap in several areas. Thus, I am not stumbling in the dark entirely, for me there is somewhat of a grounding. 

To continue with pragmatism; money! It would be silly to ignore the financial motivation that exists for me. Good coaches make good money, and with the industry connections that iManage affords me, it feels a pretty sure thing that if I can develop the skills the money will follow. Although it feels a little strange, I think it’s okay to admit that you want to make money. In fact I think it responsible for someone with a young family in an expensive part of the UK to want to provide to a certain standard. Money can be a strong motivator, and a healthy one as long as it is not the only motivator! 

That brings me on to aptitude. Here is a self portrait sketch for you: I would describe myself has a bit of a sceptic; very rarely do accept something I am told without some level of interrogation or investigation. I don’t like rules; if I am to do something, or not to do something, then I want to know why. I do not enjoy small talk; I am impatient with surface level exchanges, and would prefer to go deep or not talk at all! I am curious; when something interests me I tend to get slightly obsessed. I enjoy studying the subtext and the meta-narrative. I think these traits provide me the potential to become a very good coach, a coach who can navigate the tangled roots of specific scenarios while maintaining a clear view of the jungle canopy from above. A coach who can identify and address the root cause rather than patching up the symptoms. A coach who can harvest crucial information and guide conversations with insightful questions… that’s the goal anyway! I’m starting as a complete beginner, but I think I have an aptitude that will stand me in good stead as I move forward.

And lastly, fascination. What people do and why they do it is an endless source of fascination for me. Sometimes it’s because I am inspired by peoples choices and actions, other times it’s because I am bemused by seemingly irrational and unhelpful thought processes and behaviours. Either way I am interested in why people do the things they do, and I am often compelled to ask questions in order to understand! The idea that people can be coached towards higher levels of performance by having their methods and presuppositions challenged by and objective viewer  is exciting, and i’d like to be able to do that! Having a positive impact on somebodies life seems like a very worthwhile pursuit to me. 

And so it begins, my journey from novice to pro coach in real time. I will endeavour to keep the blog posts regular, marking my progress, thoughts and feelings along the way. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride! 

Why compassion must be our guide as we return to work

It’s almost unbelievable to think that we have now reached a year since the first national lockdown. Not because it’s gone so quickly, but because it hasn’t! We are now a year into this rather extreme social experiment; what happens when you remove all “unnecessary” social contact, almost all leisure sport and exercise, all avoidable travel, and dictate that people must live and work in their homes indefinitely amidst a constant and grinding narrative of danger and judgement. 

Tentatively, we are crawling towards a return to our previous way of life. Many people are now spending at least some time back in the office whether through hybrid working or going back full time. And although on the one hand we welcome the return to normality, in the other hand many people will deal with post lockdown trauma. 

What is this lockdown trauma? I think its the trauma of being starved and then force fed! Starved of all social contact and then force fed the social complexity of an office environment. Starved of all travel and then force fed the crowded commute. Starved of all extra curricular activities and then force fed the expectations of busy days and evenings out. Yes, we do want it all back, but for many many people this transition is going to be a little bumpy, and for others it may cause severe anxiety. 

This is why as we begin hybrid working or go back to the office full time, compassion must be our guide as we return to work. We need to have compassion on team members who are struggling to match the pace, who need a little more time and space than usual. Not everyone will need it, but keep your eye out for that person who seems to be struggling with the culture shock of expectations in the work environment. As Dr Dan Sherwood, a consultant psychiatrist at the Defence Rehabilitation Centre in Loughborough has said, “I think it is plausible that there will be a higher preponderance of workplace absences as lockdown lifts, and certainly in the early stages. And, if so, I think that that will have an impact potentially on the morale and psychological wellbeing of the reduced workforce, and increasing the likelihood of occupational burnout”. 

No doubt this transition back to office working will be a tricky one. We must be ready to respond with compassion , not judgement, when our team members and colleagues need support. 

What does it mean to be resilient?

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. In a recent episode of our podcast, Squeeze, we focused on Lucy Hone; an expert in resilience. Her Ted Talk on this topic is well worth a watch. Speaking from tragic personal experience and academic expertise, Lucy lays out three keys to being a resilient person.

Resilient people understand that bad things happen

Understanding this simple idea is critical in removing from ones self the sense of victimhood. Reframing the question, ‘why me?’ to ‘why not me?’ leads to a rapid perspective shift. We live in an age where we think that we are entitled to a perfect, picturesque, instagram lifestyle. But the objective truth is different. We are not entitled to any of these things, there are no guarantees, bad things do happen to good people.

Resilient people are really good at choosing where they apply their attention

This means realistically appraising situations, and focusing on the things that they can change, and accepting the things that they can’t. This, says Lucy, is a vital and learnable skill. The idea rolls off the tongue with ease, but the biological reality that human beings are hard wired to be highly receptive to negative emotions (threats and dangers) makes it very difficult. Studies have shown how our biological hardware is lagging behind cultural and societal development. What we are left with is an over active stress response which, rather than helping us run away from a tiger, leaves us emotionally drained after seeing something triggering on twitter.

Resilient people do not diminish the negative, but they have worked out a way of tuning into the good

In psychology, this is called benefit finding. One study asked participants to think of three good things that had happened to them each day. 6 months into the study, the group were showing higher levels of gratitude, happiness and less depression than the control group. Making a deliberate effort to tune into what is good in your world is demonstrably powerful.

Lastly, resilient people ask themselves, ‘is what i’m doing helping or harming me?’. The answer in any given scenario will probably be blindingly obvious, you only need the courage to ask the question. And when you ask the question, you are putting yourself back in the drivers seat and regaining some control over your circumstances.

Three simple, readily available strategies to help build resilience, if only we are willing to give them a try.

Get the most out of your Webcam

Whether you love it or hate it, video conferencing is the new normal, and it’s here to stay. For team meetings and catchups we can be content to use our in built webcams, but what about important presentations, sales meetings, or coaching sessions? There are times when we want to make a little more of an impression, and in this blog I will outline a few simple techniques and principals to help you add a touch of class to your zoom-pearance… (that’s zoom and appearance stapled together!), and get the most out of your webcam.

Webcams

Most laptops have a webcam of sufficient quality these days, but the real issue with webcams is the framing. We end up with a close up shot at an upward angle towards the face because of the tilt we want to have on our laptop screens. It’s okay, it’s not great.

The simple solution is to get hold of an external HD webcam. Mount the webcam a good few feet behind and above your laptop. This will achieve a much more professional ‘news reporter’ style shot, which includes your desk and your laptop in the frame.

Lighting

We want to avoid the extremes. Poor lighting delivers a dark and often fuzzy picture as software tries to digitally lighten the image. Too much light and the image will be blown out. If we’re going for a super professional look, then we want to aim for three sources of light; a key light, a fill light, and a back light.

The key light is the main source of light in the video, and for our purposes is best placed at a 45degree angle from the subject, at a downward angle replicating sunlight. Light sources that are at an upward angle produce the unsettling horror movie look, and we certainly aren’t aiming for that! The fill light should be less bright than the key light, and fills in some of the shadows that are caused by the key light. And lastly, the back light creates separation between the subject and the background, creating a stronger silhouette. These light sources could be artificial, studio lights or even lamps, or you can just as effectively utilise natural light through windows, by placing yourself at the right angle from the window. In most scenarios, a combination of natural light and a lamp in the background will be perfect. What we are aiming for is a well lit subject, with some subtle shadows on one side of the face, separated from the background.

Background

You might think the plainer the background the better, and in some context you would be right. However, sitting up against a blank wall is not actually the most aesthetically pleasing choice. Don’t be afraid to have a dynamic and colourful background with books, shelves, lamps, or artwork in view. Just be sure there is nothing inappropriate or compromising in the frame! For a really professional look, get as much space between yourself and the background as you can in the room. This gives a sense of 3D depth to the frame, in comparison to sitting close to a wall which can feel claustrophobic and one dimensional.

So there you have it, three simple ideas that you could implement to take your zoom game to the next level.

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I'm Bob Bannister, owner, and trainer at iManage Performance, the specialists in training for remote workers and managers with over 20 years of experience in this sector.

As the UK has rapidly shifted towards working from home, this challenges the norms in which we work and manage We can help to fast track your remote management or team skills. Speak to us about our training options today.

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