Carolyn Maue with Colleen Bastian
What does leadership coaching do? What makes coaching most effective? What qualities should you look for in a coach? In other words, what are the “ingredients” of successful coaching?
Earlier this year, I compiled data on my own coaching services by sending a survey to gather information and insights from leaders and key stakeholders who had participated in the coaching process with me. To build upon this subjective information, I turned to my friend and colleague, leadership coach Dr. Colleen Bastian, knowing that she was familiar with this topic through her research for her doctoral dissertation.
An interesting and thought-provoking article Colleen mentioned piqued my interest with the reference of “ingredients”, as my upcoming book is Gourmet Leadership: Turn Up the Heat on Your Secret Sauce! McKenna and Davis made a bold claim that the active ingredients of clinical psychotherapy could be applied to coaching. Based on empirical research, McKenna and Davis explained that the active ingredients of clinical psychotherapy included:
- client extra-therapeutic factors (which explain 40% of the variance in client outcomes),
- the therapeutic alliance (30%),
- expectancy, hope, and placebo (15%) and,
- theory and techniques (15%).
The first ingredient is the client’s ability and willingness to change, which according to the authors, determines 40% of the positive outcome. As Colleen described, “Even though the article was somewhat controversial, since many people see psychotherapy and coaching as very different disciplines, there are certain things that we know are similar. For example, the success of the coaching engagement is directly impacted by the client’s desire to change.” Colleen went on to describe how she uses this technique in “chemistry” meetings with her prospective clients: “I look to see how open they are to the process of development and change and how suspicious they are. For example, are they worried who’s going to know that they are being coached? I listen to their voice, the way that they talk about it, and the way they express their curiosity vs. skepticism about coaching. And if overall they seem to have a relatively high level of commitment, then I have a good sense that we should proceed.”
The second ingredient is the relationship between the client and the coach, which attributes to 30% of the success. Colleen says, “When I think about the coaching engagements that I’ve had, the ones that I find that are truly successful usually have a strong relationship component. There’s a lot of trust that we have in our working relationship. They’re hiring me because they want me to challenge them, in a respectful and empowering way that helps them grow. So that’s what they come to me for. And that’s why I’m able to help them be successful.”
I find this to be true my own coaching practice as well. This quote from the survey I conducted earlier this year illustrates this ingredient:
“I felt seen by Carolyn. In her own quiet way, she helped me identify strengths I was underutilizing and encouraged me to think bigger and aim higher in my goals for my team and the faculty. After working with her, I now feel excited about exercising my leadership in areas that are important to me like diversity, inclusion and equity.”
An interesting phenomenon that Colleen and I discussed regarding the relationship was the aspect of “fit” in coaching – the chemistry between the coach and the leader. We both have had the experience of meeting a client whom we initially wondered about in terms of fit – stylistically, would we click and resonate? And yet, inevitably, once the choice was made and the coaching relationship ensued, those issues of fit abated as we delved into the issues and solutions generated from the coaching conversations. So both of us have learned that a strong coaching relationship can be built among many different types of leadership and style of coaches.
The third ingredient, the client’s expectations and hope, determines 15% of the coaching success. Colleen pointed to suggestions from the article on how the coach can activate hope within the clients, including sharing stories of success with other clients, connect clients with others who have faced and surmounted the same issues, and recognize that the coach is part of the successful equation. This quote from my survey exemplifies this ingredient: “As I was trying to find my footing in a new role with greater responsibility, she was both a sounding board and a support, validating my observations, encouraging my decision-making, and providing ideas and strategies for addressing certain problems.”
The fourth ingredient is the coach’s theory and techniques, which is 15% of the successful outcome. Colleen and I agreed that it is an essential aspect of coaching to assist the client in clarifying what they hope to achieve in the coaching process. To achieve that, the tools coaches use need to be customized to achieve the outcome of the coaching to the clients. Colleen said, “ I might use a specific assessment tool, or use a visual technique like metaphor, or hold reflective space to encourage the client to think deeply in quiet for a few minutes.” Helping the client focus on what they want to achieve, and finding the tools and path to achieve that, is an essential ingredient of the coaching process.
Colleen and I agree that the most important ingredients that make coaching successful are the client’s desire and willingness to grow and change, and the relationship between the coach and the leader. So, if you are considering engaging with a coach, consider the areas of your leadership and work that you’d like to change and improve, and then seek a coach in whom you have confidence and has the skills and experience to help you grow in those areas.
Bastian, C.C. (2015). Does Academic Training Influence Executive Coaches’ Stated Beliefs and
Practices? (Publication No. 3729358) (Doctoral dissertation, California School of Professional Psychology). ProQuest Dissertations.
Maue, Carolyn (2020). Coaching Evaluation by Coaching Clients and Coaching Evaluation by
McKenna, D.D. & Davis, S.L. (2009). Hidden in plain sight: The active ingredients of executive
Coaching, Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2 (3), 244-260.
What does leadership coaching do? What makes coaching effective? What approaches are most effective in coaching, for yourself or someone whom you believe would benefit from it?
These are questions that I continue to explore in my evolution as a leadership coach.
One way to identify these variables is to gather data from coaching clients and their constituents. As part of this ongoing effort, I sent out a survey in 2020 to two groups who have experienced my coaching practice first-hand: 1) leaders who had work with me in leadership development coaching; and 2) key stakeholders in the coaching process, including those who referred or recommended coaching, or decision-makers, peers and staff who had participated in a 360° process to provide feedback regarding the leaders’ effectiveness.
The survey results provided rich insights into what the leaders and key stakeholders I have worked with found most useful in coaching. They also gave important recommendations as to how I could continue to improve my coaching services and delivery. Their input helped inform my objective – to continue to identify what makes coaching most effective, and to clarify what coaching approaches are most useful.
The focus of coaching is often to assist the leader to build skill and competency in specific areas. Here are areas of improvement as seen by leaders and stakeholders in key leadership competencies, accompanied by specific comments when applicable:
- Increased strategic thinking – 80% of the coaching clients and key stakeholders reported significant improvement in the leader’s application of strategic thinking to opportunities and challenges.
- Increased confidence – A high percentage of the respondents noticed increased confidence, executive presence, and composure. ““Thanks to coaching, the self-confidence of each of the emerging leaders soared. Each one became more decisive and sensitive to how they impacted the people around them. Critically, these leaders also became more willing to address poor leadership or behavior in others; their coaching showed them the ‘right path’ and they weren’t willing to accept anything less in the workplace.”
- Leading Others – Over 90% of the clients reported improvement in leading and mentoring direct reports. “The coaching has made me think about my leadership role more intentionally and this has helped our faculty get through a very challenging time with the Covid19 epidemic. Carolyn helped me to see their trust in me as an asset that I can utilize to help when we are asking faculty to do difficult work for the good of the institution.”
- Career Advancement – “Following the completion of coaching, the leader I referred to you was promoted to a newly-created position in a higher-ranking office, built her own team, took on a much larger portfolio of responsibilities, and was recognized by leadership for her accountability and innovativeness.”
- Positive reputation – Key stakeholders noted a strong return-on-investment due to the positive impact on the leader’s reputation with customers, within the department and throughout the organization.
The results also identified the specific approaches used by the coach that they found effective:
- Focus on strengths: “I felt seen by Carolyn. In her own quiet way, she helped me identify strengths I was underutilizing and encouraged me to think bigger and aim higher in my goals for my team and the faculty. After working with her, I now feel excited about exercising my leadership in areas that are important to me like diversity, inclusion, and equity.”
- Provide support and suggestions: “As I was trying to find my footing in a new role with greater responsibility, she was both a sounding board and a support, validating my observations, encouraging my decision-making, and providing ideas and strategies for addressing certain problems.
The surveys were invaluable in identifying ways in which my coaching services could be improved, including:
- Helping clients build their capacity to assume more responsibilities
- Increasing their collaboration skills with peers and stakeholders
- Helping leaders develop their mentorship abilities more fully
- Requesting (Key stakeholders) to be kept in the loop as to how the leader was doing in their development process
I have integrated these into my coaching practice, in the effort to continually improve my coaching effectiveness.
What should you expect from coaching, and what should you look for in a coach? Use this data to help you consider areas of leadership in which you’d like to improve and consider the approaches and qualities in a coach that will be most useful to you!
In this day and age of so many texts and emails, it is hard to know how to get our point across and assure we are heard. Here are some great tips. Enjoy!
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