the ceo magazine, organizational culture,
Gregg Thompson, Author, THE MASTER COACH:  Leading with Character, Building Connections, and Engaging in Extraordinary Conversations

When I was growing up, coaches were the guys with the loud voices and even louder whistles out on the sports field. But these days, coaching is everywhere. From the basketball court to the boardroom, coaching is recognized as a critical element in the pursuit of high performance and accelerated learning. We have life coaches, parenting coaches, relationship coaches, wealth coaches, health coaches—the list goes on. And within the business world, coaching has soared in popularity, becoming the fastest growing human resource development process today. Why? Because it works!  

The great thing about coaching is that it is not a role reserved for those with specialized expertise or in positions of power—anyone, at any level of an organization, can coach those around them. It does not only flow from the top down; it can occur between peers, across reporting lines and even with customers. Although it may be difficult for those accustomed to the traditional hierarchical model to grasp, the most junior people in an organizational ladder can very effectively coach people above them. When you understand the true nature of coaching, you will recognize that the receptionist can effectively coach the CEO.

When senior leaders decide to make coaching everyone’s business, it becomes much more than a set of performance management or career development conversations -- it starts to become part of the culture that pervades organizational life.  Culture is one of those terms that can be hard to define. I like to think about it as the operating system of an organization—the underlying code that creates its distinctive quality. It's what makes a particular workplace unique. It's the company’s essence, its ethos, its character. Culture exists both within and between individuals, and has a life of its own that defies attempts to reduce it to individual traits. One of the simplest and best ways of describing culture is one learned from a former college professor: “It’s the way we do things around here.” I also like Jason Barger’s definition of culture as how we “…think, act and interact.” One thing most researchers agree upon is that the beliefs, values, and aspirations that are shared by the most influential people in a company, the senior leaders, likely play the single most critical roles in  shaping it’s culture.

So what does an organization with a coaching culture look like? Here are The Seven Characteristics of a Coaching Culture.

1. Personal and organizational learning is greatly valued.

Many organizations proclaim that human resources are their most important asset. Really? In organizations, we measure that which we most value. We measure profitability, revenues, market share and new customers. Are you measuring the return you are getting in your investment in learning and development throughout your organization? If you are not measuring it, it is not important.

2. People are excited about their personal and professional development opportunities.

Coaching, at its core, is an act of faith in others. It is through this expression of faith that people get excited about their future in the organization. Are leaders throughout your organization held accountable for being catalysts of learning, development and high performance for their team members?   

3. Leaders are seen as trustworthy, selfless, and competent.

Coaching is unlike any other managerial role. It is not assumed by virtue of one’s job title. Nor does one become a coach simply because they want to be one. Leaders need to earn the right to coach. It is a relationship and conversation in which the leader needs to be welcomed in, and this welcome is earned by the quality of their character. Have your leaders earned the right to coach?

4. Promises are readily made and faithfully kept.

Accountability has earned a bad name in many organizations. Unfortunately, it has become associated with the search to root out underperformers rather than the way we honor people… the way we let people know how important their work is. A coaching culture is built on a foundation of personal accountability, an accountability that is instilled in the organization by the example set by senior leaders. Do you set such an example?

5. Difficult conversations are routine.

These days it is common to hear exasperated senior leaders declare, “We got rid of our performance appraisal system. We asked them to coach. Why don’t they coach?” Here is the reason: Fear always trumps satisfaction. Leaders need to become confident in shifting beyond directing and advising to function as a coach. One of our greatest fears at work is the shame of incompetence. You cannot create a shift in the culture until you have equipped leaders at all levels to master the art of the coaching conversation, which is often a difficult conversation. Do your leaders have the skills required to coach?

6. People delight in the success of others.

I appreciate that this characteristic sounds a bit syrupy but it may be the most prominent indicator of a coaching culture. To be successful, a commercial organization needs to have a fervent sense of competition; in fact, the more the better. The challenge is to direct this into the marketplace and not the organization. Look around your senior leadership team. How many members are deeply committed to the success of their peers?

7. Well-intentioned feedback flows freely throughout the team or organization.

The outcomes of great coaching are two-fold: insight and action. Insight can only occur if the person being coached gains a new perspective, and feedback makes this possible. It is, however, all about the leader’s intention. In your organization, is feedback provided to sincerely help others gain new perspectives or is it given to fix, correct or change them?

As you will note from the above list, senior leaders need to be champions of a coaching culture, not just advocates.  The key: You cannot drive a coaching culture throughout the organization; you must model it, nurture it and energize it. It is not easy, however, the payoff is enormous.


About the Author

Gregg Thompson is the author of THE MASTER COACH:  Leading with Character, Building Connections, and Engaging in Extraordinary Conversations.  He is President of Bluepoint Leadership Development, recognized as one of the finest providers of coach training programs in the world.

Adapted from THE MASTER COACH:  Leading with Character, Building Connections, and Engaging in Extraordinary Conversations (SelectBooks, Inc.) by Gregg Thompson.  Copyright (c) 2017 by Gregg Thompson.  All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

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