by Justin Standfield
I undertook my first coach training course in 1998 and have been developing myself in that area for the last 20 years. Some of my coaching work has been as an independent coach working in my own business or other people’s consultancies, but around 11 years of the last two decades has been operating as an internal coach within corporate environments where I’ve been an employee. I’ve had the opportunity to set up and manage a number of corporate coaching schemes as well.
Within corporate environments like this, when coaching has been identified as a development tool for an aspiring leader or a high potential employee, it’s usual for the individual’s line manager to provide the person overseeing the coaching scheme with an outline of the proposed objectives of entering into a coaching arrangement. Ideally, this is a conversation that should involve the individual (the ‘coachee’) themselves but it’s not always the case; either way, this means that their line manager has a chance to put their ideas forward for the individual’s goals. Sometimes, their views are also delivered second hand via someone from HR.
During these initial conversations, a phrase that arises with some frequency is “they need more gravitas”. With more questioning from me, the line manager is sometimes able to elaborate on this with some specific, behavioural, change-orientated feedback that gives context and examples of the development that the coachee needs. This is useful, although importantly it doesn’t yet involve the individual themselves and what they see as their areas of focus for the coaching relationship. However, more often than not, line managers struggle to articulate what they mean by “they need more gravitas” and are unable to describe what more gravitas would look or sound like, or what specifically their staff member would be doing more of or less of.
In an attempt to clarify, another phrase often gets offered up regarding the coachee – “they lack executive presence”. Again, this doesn’t include any actual examples or descriptors of what they believe ‘executive presence’ actually means to them. I’ve noticed a trend when the request for more executive presence arises: typically, it’s an extraverted manager discussing their introverted staff member (extravert/introvert in the sense of Carl Jung’s idea of where we obtain our energy from, not the everyday use of these words regarding social boldness). With that in mind, I wonder if there’s a bit of ‘mirror image’ syndrome going on? i.e. “I know I’m successful, so in order for you to be equally successful you need to become more like me”.
Anyway, let’s get back to feedback. If a manager is putting one of their team forward for some 1:1 coaching or mentoring, or nominating an employee for a leadership development programme, I believe there’s a responsibility to give some useful, specific guidance on why they’re being recommended for this learning opportunity. Most importantly, this should be discussed with the individual at the outset, not just passed on to the prospective coach, the Learning & Development Manager or the HR department. Here are my tips for ensuring that clear expectations are defined at the start and – as a result – there’s a good chance that the development delivers what’s needed by the individual, their line manager and the organisation.
Think ‘dialogue’ rather than ‘monologue’. Involve the leader in a conversation about the desired goals, what their current strengths are, their development points, how any potential changes will be measured and recognised. Ask them rate their own ability, motivation and self-belief in key areas; then, provide your observations too and ask for their reaction to this.
Behavioural and specific
Vague, subjective labels like “needs more gravitas” and “lacks executive presence” are of little use without more clarity. A leader needs to know that the behaviour they are demonstrating is creating an impression – this is what should inform your label. The key word here is ‘behaviour’. Useful feedback should focus on what a leader is actually accomplishing.
Factual, not interpretive
Too often, feedback is described with adjectives that interpret the leader’s behaviour: for example, you might say “she is self-centered” about a leader who fiercely protects their time boundaries between work and home. Even if you believe a leader’s behaviour stems from some form of self-centredness, that’s just your interpretation and may or may not be accurate. Another person observing the same leader might say “they have a good work-life balance” (by the way, that’s also interpretive!).
If you’d like to set up an in-house coaching or mentoring scheme, or you already manage a pool of corporate coaches/mentors and you’d like to increase its effectiveness, please get in touch with me on +44 (0) 1489 287267 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.