Coaching: The advice I would give my younger self

In advance of the Transition to Leadership programme, which commences this December,  Jean Chandler, programme director, shares her thoughts on coaching as a skill set, approaches to leading others, and her own leadership lessons.

As a young manager in the NHS in the late 1980s, I recall conversations with my late father (who was also a trade union representative), about the challenges I faced early in my management career. Although I felt confident that I had the answers to the challenges my team was facing, I did not have that same confidence addressing those senior to me with solutions, even though they were without the benefit of ‘proper’ management training scheme.

My dad tried to convince me of the benefit of listening first to ensure I understood the challenges of my senior colleagues, before wading in with my advice and latest management thinking. Unfortunately, my dad was up against it, I was on a mission and determined change the face of management and leadership in Support Services in the NHS.

Since that time in my early management career, and now in my role as programme director of Transition to Leadership, I understand the importance of having a coach when you are making the transition to leading and managing others like I had my dad. Coaching is therefore a key programme component as it is a really practical and useable skill, which has earned its place in my management & leadership toolkit.

Why coaching and what can it offer?

What is coaching?
Jonathan Passmore defines coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

It is also about future potential and building self-awareness, responsibility and self-belief.  As a leader, building the self-belief of others has the potential to transform the relationship you have with that individual and their performance.

When is coaching useful?
Coaching is particularly useful for people when they are transitioning from one role to another. As coaching can help individuals (coachees) to be more aware of themselves and their impact on others. Coachees become more willing to take responsibility for and be able to respond to situations, and be better able to learn from their experience and increase their self-motivation.

As part of Transition to Leadership, participants also learn about a coaching approach to leading via Daniel Goleman’s research on the six distinct leadership styles and, why a coaching leadership style is recognised as one of the most positive leadership styles. Participants also have the chance to practice coaching skills face-to-face and as part of the programme’s online peer coaching groups.

Once you understand the fundamental principles of what coaching is and, adopt a framework for a coaching discussion, it becomes essentially an exercise in attending to and listening deeply to the coachee to better understand them. To learn to not advise or give answers but to acknowledge that people are inherently resourceful and have the knowledge, insight and motivation within to make a decision.

This is something that we don’t always deploy as we have been schooled to believe we should have and that we must be the expert given our role or status.

I came to coaching quite late in my career, in my mid-40s but how I wish that as a young manager and leader I had listened to the advice of my dad or others to understand there is a better way to do this. I would have then learnt to develop key leadership attributes including listening deeply through asking helpful questions and attending to and allowing others in my team to personally develop while feeling supported with their particular challenges.

I also realise that as a young manager the challenges I found in trying to better connect and understand those I managed, could have been solved by adopting a more coaching approach to leading. This is something I hope that Transition to Leadership, with its focus on coaching and a coaching approach to leading, can help develop for others.

Personally, I apply the skills I have gained through coaching in many aspects of my working and personal life whether it be my ongoing challenges with my teenage son and his life choices about education and the future, or a close friend facing a personal crisis, I ask myself how can I help here? Is it to be in the moment and attend to their issue primarily or what question might help to reframe this or help to look at things a bit differently? I really try not to be the expert or give advice. It invariably does help both them and myself feel that we have made some progress and that they are choosing the best option for themselves.

So, the one piece of advice I would have given my younger self, apart from my dad was probably right about “that guy,” would have been to take his advice and listen hard, seek to understand and ask helpful questions to unearth the inner resourcefulness that we all possess when it comes to our challenges at work and elsewhere in life; to keep myself out of the way and support and enable others to find their own answers.

Jean Chandler is the associate director for membership in Scotland and contributes to a number of other Leadership Foundation programmes. Jean is also a qualified Institute of Leadership and Management level 7 executive coach with coaching experience both within and outside higher education. Get in touch with Jean, jean.chandler@lfhe.ac.uk 

Transition to Leadership is our blended leadership development programme for those who are new to leadership and looking to influence change. The next run of Transition to Leadership will run from Wednesday 6 December 2017 – Wednesday 11 April 2018 with face to face sessions taking place in Manchester.

Find out more: www.lfhe.ac.uk/ttl