Remember those organisational and operational barriers we looked at last time? The ones that get in the way of establishing coaching programmes and a coaching style of interaction in organisations? Well, we’re not finished yet. There was a third category of barriers to tackle, so this time we’re turning to individual barriers to coaching.
I don’t know about you, but I felt encouraged that, by facing up to the reality of organisational and operational barriers, we could design ways of overcoming them. In good coaching style, examining the reality meant we could think of options, and that meant we could tease out things we could actually do. The same is true for individual barriers. Let’s take a look at what they are.
Individual barriers to coaching
Organisational and operational barriers are embedded in the very fabric of an organisation, whether due to matters of culture or prioritisation, focus or structuring. Individual barriers, by contrast, pertain to individual personnel, usually appearing as misunderstandings, fears or confusions about coaching.
Where organisational and operational barriers exist, individual barriers are more than likely to be present as well. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that when organisational and operational barriers are successfully dealt with, individual barriers will never crop up. They’re often not any easier to tackle, and make no mistake, they can be the kiss of death to coaching programmes if they’re not dealt with appropriately.
With individual barriers it can be helpful to look at the prospect of coaching or a coaching style of management from the individual’s point of view. Imagine you’re an employee, a manager, a leader in an organisation. Why would you welcome coaching? Coaching might be a new concept, or there may some niggling pre-existing negativity. Whatever the case, perceiving the issue from the particular individual’s point of view will reveal a lot.
Below I’m going to describe a few scenarios and suggest ways of dealing with them. We’ll look in turn at possible scenarios involving coach managers, coachees/staff, and finally coaches.
1. Coach managers
- Problems What if a manager relies on ‘power’, ‘authority’, blame and ‘expert’ status as tools of management? Clearly, at first glance the prospect of adopting a coaching style of management would mean losing those tools, and a manager might fear consequent loss of respect among staff. Frequently connected to this is the fear of not having the required skill-set to carry forward a coaching approach, and/or not having the time or ability to acquire that skill-set. Worse, some managers might fear that building the self-belief of others by adopting a coaching style of management could detract from their own power.
- What can we do? The key word here is ‘fear’. From the point of view of such a manager, these fears are entirely justified. Strategies to overcome them include offering one-to-one coaching or mentoring to the manager in question, helping him or her in a safe environment to uncover and deal with the deep-seated issues which may be causing those fears. The individual can be helped to rethink how his or her expertise is used and why. In parallel, training and workshop opportunities can be offered to managers which allow them to explore, learn and practise the skills necessary to adopting a coaching style of management. Part of the programme could include the study of alternative modes of management, which would increase appreciation of what a coaching style offers in terms of advancing individual, team and organisational priorities, as well as building genuine respect among staff.
- Problems Individual staff can have a variety of issues with coaching. Where a manager is attempting without prior explanation to adopt a coaching style of management, team members may individually and severally begin to fill the vacuum by fearing the worst. Why the change? Will it lead to loss of promotion or wages, or even to possible dismissal? When it becomes clear that a coaching style of management is a two-way relationship that requires the employee to take personal responsibility for work and actions, some may in addition not relish the prospect. This can lead to negativity and non-cooperation. And where staff engage in one-to-one coaching with a coach, previous negative experiences may mean they fear giving ‘wrong’ answers to questions and consequent ridicule.
- What can we do? Coaching and a coaching style of management should not be introduced without due preparation on the part of coaches and coach managers. This takes time. Change should be introduced sensitively, and modification of management style needs to be clearly explained beforehand, along with the benefits it will bring to staff. Coaches and coach managers need also to be patient. Staff should be put at their ease, and coachees in particular should be assured of confidentiality. Take time to build trust and take care not to respond judgmentally in interactions with coachees and staff. The upside of all this is that if the new style of management is applied consistently, staff will become comfortable with the added levels of awareness and responsibility that are involved.
- Problems Suppose an organisation has or is planning to introduce an internal coaching capability. It may be that individual coaches don’t have a clear understanding of their role. Lack of formal training or professional qualifications can often mean that, whilst individuals have enthusiasm and mean well, they are not sufficiently self-aware to recognise aspects of their own approach or character which lead to failure of coaching processes. These characteristics might range from being too ‘directive’ (for example, diagnosing and telling the coachee what she or he should do) to being so ‘non-directive’ as to be unable to challenge coachees sufficiently. Coaches might also not have the skills to help coachees identify workable goals, or to engage in effective contracting. Whatever the case, the coach in question does not have the awareness to diagnose the problem when things go wrong.
- What can we do? Most of these issues can be avoided if those who are leading on creating coaching programmes take time to define what the preferred characteristics and skills of participating coaches need to be. These may vary somewhat according to context, but in general it helps to select individuals who already possess the desired characteristics (if not as yet the specific skill-sets), and where necessary to provide for them relevant professional accredited training in the core skills, knowledge and personal attributes required for coaching roles. This helps assure the quality of an individual coach’s skills as well as the consistent quality of the overall coach pool’s standards. It is also essential to provide ongoing continuing professional development opportunities so that coaches can upgrade their skills, as well as supervision for each coach in order that she or he can benefit regularly from periods of reflection guided by a more experienced coach ‘mentor’.
So, individual barriers to coaching can come in all shapes and sizes. In order to make strategies to deal with them, look at coaching from the particular individual’s point of view.