On the Fence About Coaching?

Career in Management 2.jpg

Some members of the professionally educated work force are eager to learn and advance. Among them, some are keen on gaining subject-matter knowledge and expertise, while others are equally or more excited to gain the skills to lead, manage, and get things done through others. Of course, companies need both, those motivated to excel as experts and those who want to become leaders. 

But there is a further distinction to be made among those aspiring to positions of leadership. Some can readily appreciate the value of mentoring from a more senior colleague on the ins and outs of leading people and managing processes. However, they may not see the value in a more psychologically-based kind of coaching that challenges them to become more self-aware and interpersonally skilled.  

On the Fence

By and large, most hi-potential candidates for leadership roles do “get” why coaching emphasizes self-awareness, interpersonal skills, and social-emotional intelligence. They know from observing their boss that management gets things done through others. Bosses must not only understand the nuts and bolts of business, they mu skilled at how to get roles, goals, and efforts aligned to produce results. 

That takes skill. But in firms that are very technically, tactically, and operationally focused, it may be difficult for HR leaders and even line executives to help next-generation leaders see how important the “soft skills” really are.  

So, I’ve been using a practice with coaching clients who are in a “pre-contemplative” state with respect to coaching. Its intent is to facilitate their “informed consent” to participate in a psychologically-based approach to coaching. Quotation marks are used here because these concepts, often used in the clinical arena, have a different meaning when applied to candidates for coaching.[i] Let me explain.  

A Simple Plan B

If I am asked to talk with a coaching candidate and discuss her questions about how the process works, I will often describe two options with HR or the sponsoring manager. If the candidate is clearly “all in” on the coaching opportunity, we’ll proceed with discussion of that. If on the other hand, the candidate is more hesitant, I want HR to know that there is a plan-B approach. Here it is. 

I can describe to the candidate a short initial course of action that it intended to help them see how the more psychologically-based approach to coaching can be of practical value to them. It will consist of three meetings, and the insights and feedback they receive is totally their own. Nothing will be shared with management except as they agree to do so, and even then, they control the disclosure. 

The main value of the plan-B experience for candidates is that it provides them with exposure to how work-relevant psychological coaching can be of practical benefit to them. The experience yields insights into how their personality, presence and interpersonal style may have a practical bearing on their goals for performance and growth.

In most cases candidates end up wanting to share insights with their supervisor. And they often express more interest in a longer-term coaching engagement. But some organizations have also found that this brief, time-limited engagement is just enough to raise awareness of essential soft-skill needed to succeed in a stretch assignment or vital team project.


[i] For more on the pre-contemplative stage of change, see Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward by Prochaska et al (2007), New York: Harper-Collins. As for the notion of informed consent, it’s been defined as “the process by which the treating health care provider discloses appropriate information to a competent patient so that the patient may make a voluntary choice to accept or refuse treatment” (from Appelbaum PS. Assessment of patient’s competence to consent to treatment. New England Journal of Medicine. 2007; 357: 1834-1840).