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Are you making one of these coaching mistakes?

Considering Coaching to Support Learning?
Be Sure to Avoid These Common Mistakes

Coaching helps an individual take something they’ve learned and turn it into new behaviors—and that’s true whether the coaching is a follow-up to leadership development training or is a part of a broader executive coaching initiative.

But organizations often underestimate the time and effort required to help leaders change.

You need a good partner who can help you identify some of the common pitfalls and who can guide you to success, says Patricia Overland, a master certified coach who helps to head up the Coaching Services Division at The Ken Blanchard Companies.

A Change in Mind-set
leadership-1The most successful coaching initiatives occur when an organization sees learning as a way to constantly help their people develop new skills instead of just checking a box saying that they completed a training program. The better goal is to create an organization where people are continuously learning and continually improving their skills.

Overland explains that The Ken Blanchard Companies is unique in that it has access to a network of 140 professionals who are coaches first and foremost—but who also have deep knowledge in the subject of leadership. This dual skill set allows Blanchard coaches to identify and redirect the subtle mistakes people make when they first get started improving their leadership skills.

For example, one tenet of Blanchard’s Situational Leadership® II model is that leaders need to adjust their leadership style based on the development level of their direct report; a beginner on a task requires a more directive style than someone who is experienced.

As Overland explains, “A common mistake is assuming that a person who is highly experienced in one aspect of their job will easily pick up any new task that is assigned to them.” Situational Leadership® II teaches that leadership style needs to be very task specific—even a very experienced person can be a beginner on a new task. “So when a new leader describes how they are applying a hands-off delegating style to a veteran employee struggling with a new task, the coach can step in with a midcourse correction and make that important distinction.

A good coach also recognizes that people do not learn new skills in a vacuum. That means taking into account the work environment and successfully managing a dual agenda—that of the sponsoring organization and the individual leader. Every coaching situation is unique because every human being and organization is different.

Overland explains that as a coach, “You are balancing the needs of the organization to build new leadership capacity while at the same time working with the values, belief systems, strengths, and weaknesses of individual leaders. “A skilled coach takes all that into consideration and helps to create an environment that closes the learning-doing gap. So it gets people into action and keeps them in action around the learning.

Common Mistakes in Coaching to Support Learning
Coaching as a follow-up to a traditional one- or two-day leadership development program can greatly improve the transfer of learning. But to be successful, sponsoring executives need to avoid a couple of common mistakes that even the best-intentioned organizations can fall into when looking to apply coaching to support learning. In Overland’s experience, the three biggest mistakes made are

  • Underestimating the amount of attention and follow-up that is required for people to apply what they have learned. Change is leadership 3difficult under the best of circumstances. Research identifies that only a fraction of learning ever sticks without repetition, reminders, and reinforcement. Don’t underestimate the time required to make real change.
  • Underestimating the challenge leaders have in balancing their workload and engaging in their own learning and development. Time and competing priorities are the two big challenges. What usually happens is that well-meaning managers put their own personal development at the bottom of the list because it doesn’t feel central to the business of the organization. Coaching helps with that because it provides some structured time where people can slow down a bit and think about their leadership and how new behaviors can improve their effectiveness managing people and situations—it can help them address things early in the process.
  • Outsourcing responsibility for behavior change. According to Overland, to be successful, any leadership development initiative needs organization sponsors to support and push for a cultural environment that helps to sustain learning and change efforts.

leadership-3Sometimes when we go into organizations, sponsors will want to offload everything to Blanchard. And while we are very, very good at what we do, that does not substitute for the impact a message from a senior leader will generate. One of the greatest ways to demonstrate the importance of any initiative is to have a senior leader check in on progress. That type of tactical approach makes a huge difference.

Involvement Leads to Success
As much as Overland would like to promise clients that they can just turn over the process to her and the Blanchard network of coaches, the reality is that senior leaders need to stay involved every step of the way. The good news is that the level of involvement required is no more than that required for any other successful leadership initiative. The difference here is that you have a strategy and a partner to help you along the way to make sure that you give your people the support they need to practice and acquire the new skills.

As Overland explains, “You can’t look at leadership development as a one-time thing and then go away, come back a year later, and expect everybody to be done. You’ve got to water the garden along the way.

Her advice? Bring in a trusted partner and invest in coaching to support learning—it’s the best way to make sure your training time is well spent and achieves the results you are looking for.


Johan Mathson blog: http://www.johanmathson.com/wordpress/2014/09/09/are-you-making-one-of-these-coaching-mistakes/