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What sports stars and businesses have in common [Coaching]

BY: Leigh Bowden|4 June 2019
BLOG| Business leadership and strategy

Currently the world’s sporting enthusiasts have their eyes glued to epic games between goliaths like South Africa and the West Indies as the Cricket World Cup commences. Additionally, the titans of tennis are acing it out on the courts of Roland Garros. What do all these sporting stars have in common? A coach. All good teams have great coaches behind them and that rule applies to the world of business just as much as it does to sport.


Entrenching a mature coaching culture in an organisation is an excellent way to ensure established and emerging leaders learn from each other. In a nutshell, coaching allows coachees to ask questions, analyse challenges and talk through solutions in a safe space for self-reflection. It enables them to receive honest, objective feedback and to verbalise an issue of concern, with a view of solving it through speaking about it. I am of the belief that, for the most part, we have all the answers within us, and a coaching relationship allows these to be brought to the fore.


Why would experienced leaders want to become coaches?

It’s important to note that experienced leaders don’t necessarily have an effective ability to coach – but they can learn! Having coaching capabilities in a company means you can implement sustainable leadership. You support your team and people in the best possible way and, by doing so, allow your team to not only learn and grow, but also to start believing in themselves, which means long-term motivation – which is first prize. Coaching allows experienced leaders to see things with fresh eyes. It’s like having a mirror held up to enable people to reflect on their choices and to question whether the way they’ve always done things is still the best way. This is good for growth and learning, and should be part of any leader’s journey, irrespective of experience level.


Upskilling experienced leaders to become coaches through continuous learning is one way to bring coaching in-house. SGI’s Leading the Leaders course empowers leaders to select first-line managers for specific positions, plan how to coach the emerging leader and measure the success of coaching sessions.


What’s the most important quality for a coach to possess?

The most important qualities are the ability to listen and be objective. An effective coach has the ability and desire to really hear what a coachee is saying and not to impose their own or anyone else’s experiences onto that individual. By being a good listener, a coach demonstrates his or her interest and investment in understanding the coachee. This is the purpose of coaching – to provide a neutral and authentic space for coach and coachee to converse and allow ideas and thoughts to flow. Ultimately, we all want to feel heard and validated. This is one of the greatest benefits from coaching, which can be a powerful tool in boosting a coachee’s journey of self-understanding and improvement.


What’s the theory behind coaching?

Marc Kahn’s Coaching on the Axis provides some of the theory SGI’s course draws on. He provides valuable insights into how it’s not constructive to call either a person or a work environment ‘bad’, but rather, it’s better focus on how the relationship between the two is giving rise to a problematic situation. That changes many of the narratives around ‘toxic’ or ‘unhealthy’ workplaces.


The book perceives both the individual and the organisation as clients, which adds complexity and value to the coaching process. You must see and address both parties for the coaching to be beneficial.


This approach is centred around systems thinking. Systems thinking means that you consider the context and environment that the person is in; any issue, matter or concern exists as a result of the interaction of that person in that specific context. This way of thinking allows for the impact of outside influences to be considered, which catalyses a more comprehensive 'unpacking' of issues.


As a coach, how do you set the right KPIs for your first-line manager?

As the person setting the KPIs, you need to be fully aware of the needs of the role and the goals of your organisation. First, and foremost, you need to empower a new people manager to understand how to support and guide his or her team. I believe a line-manager should 'work for' and support their reports as their primary focus. They essentially work for those that report to them. Most KPIs should support this.


How does a business entrench coaching as a sustainable part of its culture?

Firstly, organisations need to recognise the value coaching can harness for an organisation. It’s an ongoing process and needs to be invested in as such. Adhoc coaching can have benefits, but often, it’s like a band-aid that covers a bigger issue, without allowing for the in-depth, sustained conversations that have the power to lead to a transformative coachee experience – and a transformed organisation.


If Roger Federer had on and off tennis coaching, would he be the legend he is today? Probably not. Which means he wouldn’t have transformed the institute of tennis in the way he has, either.

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