Leaders today invest in coaching more than ever before. In fact, between 25 to 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies hire executive coaches. According to a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on the subject, leaders “see personal involvement in the development of talent as an essential activity for business success.”
Research supports the investment in coaching in organizations, with meta-analytic reviews showing that coaching significantly increases “performance and skills, well-being, coping, work attitudes, and goal-directed self-regulation” (Theeboom, Beersma & Van Vianen, 2013).
In today’s highly competitive and turbulent market, organizations cannot afford high turnover or the loss of their greatest talent, so there has been an increasing priority on attracting, retaining, and cultivating top talent.
Coaching is seen as a key strategy in doing this. Managers who are either trained to coach internally or hire external coaches do so to invest in and accelerate the performance of their top talent and steady performers.
In our experience collectively, leaders don’t just hire coaches to retain and accelerate the performance of their top talent. Leaders hire coaches because they want their teams to think and act like coaches.
Coaching Mindset Contagion
On a personal note, I first fell in love with coaching in 2006. Participating in a coaching certification course changed my orientation to the world, my mindset, and what I saw as possible for both myself and others.
Prior to that time, I had more rigid views of myself and the world, often judging myself harshly for setbacks or making fear-based decisions. The process of both coaching and being coached shifted my mindset to allow more flexible and growth-oriented views of myself and the world, being more empathetic and emotionally agile, learning from setbacks, and making decisions based on resonance.
After speaking with hundreds of coaches over the years, I have found that this experience is not uncommon. There is power in the process of being coached — it can fundamentally shift how one views oneself and others in a way that has positive ripple effects going forward.
I believe that this coaching mindset and the opportunity for positive change is what leaders seek when they hire external coaches. They do so with the hope that the process will fundamentally shift those who go through it in a transformational way that leads to more effective decision-making, better problem-solving, greater well-being, and more flexible approaches. These shifts benefit not only the client, but also the team and organization at large.
Companies that want to cultivate a coaching mindset culture do not have to send all of their employees to coach training programs, though. These mindset shift and skills can be learned through the process of being coached or even through an internal company training or peer-coaching program that focuses on key characteristics.
Five Characteristics of a Coaching Mindset
Although a coaching mindset includes many different qualities, the following five characteristics align tightly with organizational success. The majority of our clients over the past five years have identified these characteristics as top priorities for their talent to ensure business success:
1. Deep, Full-Body Listening
Coaches are trained to listen deeply with their bodies, eyes, and ears. They listen to what clients are saying verbally and look for what’s being communicated non-verbally. They listen for “resonance” — the emotion behind the words.
And they listen to their own bodies as clues for what is happening for clients. Leaders who more deeply tune in to their team, their customers, and their stakeholders have a better understanding of their needs. This leads to stronger interpersonal connections and better decision-making.
2. Radical Curiosity
Coaches learn how to ask powerful questions. These are questions that have no clear answer and cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Instead, powerful questions open up clients to think about a problem differently.
The most powerful questions are those that make clients stop in their tracks, get quiet, and go deep to answer them. Radical curiosity and deep, full-body listening are essential elements of empathy, which has been shown in recent research to be directly linked to commercial success in business.
3. Practical Empathy
Coaches are trained to be empathetic, but in a practical way — with some emotional distance from their client. This allows them to get into their clients’ heads and hearts to understand what they are experiencing without getting pulled in too far. They learn how to be empathetic without experiencing “compassion fatigue.”
Empathy is a critical skill in coaching and in business. As I wrote in a recent InspireCorps blog post and according to a recent HBR article and the 2015 Global Empathy Index ratings: “there is a direct link between empathy and commercial success.”
4. Possibility Focused
Coaches learn to be possibility focused, rather than problem-focused. They look for emotional “resonance” — what is leading to excitement, joy, optimism.
Leading coaching researcher Anthony Grant has studied the impact of solution-focused versus problem-focused orientation in coaching. He has found that when people focus on possibility and future solutions, they create more concrete and actionable plans towards achieving their goals. A possibility focus can benefit everyone, from managers working with their team in performance reviews to employees generating new ideas for a product launch.
5. Relationship First
Coaching is often referred to as a way to accelerate performance. However, at its core, coaching is about the person first and foremost and the coaching relationship — a relationship that focuses on strengths and possibilities. When the person feels supported, inspired, and motivated through the coaching relationship, the growth in performance happens as a result.
Leaders at all levels struggle with many personal challenges that can affect their business. And it can be lonely at the top, especially for women. The process of coaching often reminds people of their own humanity, the importance of seeking support from others, and cultivating key relationships.
How a Coaching Mindset Leads to Business Results
My appreciation for the impact and power of coaching is rooted in both personal and professional experiences. The positive paradigm shifts I’ve seen my executive clients and their teams go through as a result of developing a coaching mindset includes greater emotional agility and empathy, more flexibility and openness, stronger resilience, and better decision-making.
In a business environment characterized by a fast-paced culture and rapid change, hiring an executive coach and developing a coaching mindset is one of the most sustainable, cost-effective, and agile interventions a leader can make today. It is not only an investment in the performance of that leader, it is an investment in a mindset shift that can lead to cascading positive impact across the organization.
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