I was working with the vice president of human capital at a multinational energy company when a familiar question was asked: “How do we get our supervisors to coach instead of telling and directing?” This was shortly followed by, “And how do we do this without the cost of one-on-one professional coaching sessions or hours-long remote training sessions?”
Sound familiar? As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to observe front-line leaders accepting the reality of managing remote or hybrid teams through various digital collaboration tools. However, what may not be as apparent are the changes in how they lead their teams. Not being able to physically see their team members at work can make managers feel a lack of control. It’s not uncommon for front-line leaders to rely on a “command-and-control” managerial approach to reach their goals — exhibited by a reliance on authoritative communication and operational control. In times of stress, it is the human tendency to narrow our field of vision and revert to controlling behaviors that feel safe, whether they are or not.
The hardest part of leading in this hybrid work environment is trusting and delegating work while being comfortable with ambiguity. It also means trusting employees will not abuse that responsibility. More than ever, frontline leaders must empower their team members to meet business goals while creating trust-based relationships with their employees. To get there, leadership development education and coaching has never been more important. The hybrid and remote work environment need front-line leaders who:
- Listen deeply and stay curious to learn beyond what is just being said by their employees and peers.
- Proactively seek coaching from others with an open mindset.
- Develop team members who are self-aware, self-correcting and independent.
- Offer specific, immediate and balanced feedback to others.
- Empower employees to reach their full potential.
Marcus Buckingham, head of people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute states that to retain employees during The Great Resignation, you need leaders that take advantage of employees’ unique skills and passions to attract and retain your top talent. This means minimizing standardized performance reviews and trusting people to accomplish their goals how they see fit. Coaching effectively in the flow of work is critical to making this happen.
So, how does an organization grow front-line leadership and coaching skills in a way that avoids more remote training hours or cost-prohibitive, one-on-one coaching interventions?
Integrate Coaching Practices into Leadership Training Design
Smart organizations tend to weave applied coaching practices into leadership skills, blended learning and reinforcement practices. They teach front-line leaders how to coach at every possible opportunity during a wide-range of leadership training programs (self-directed, virtual or in-person modalities). They challenge them to exhibit coaching skills in applied exercises and be open to insights from trusted expert coach-certified trainers. In addition, they do so in a way that considers adult neuroscience-based design that maximizes cognition. In Jay McTighe and Judy Willis’ book, “Upgrade Your Teaching: Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience,” this includes creating a series of smaller desirable goals and achievable challenges, offering constant assessment and feedback and acknowledging progress and achievement. Here are some best practices to making this happen.
To Start, Hire or Partner with Coach-experienced Educators
Companies that get this right are very selective about talent. They partner with leadership training companies that have a roster of coach-experienced leadership facilitators. They may also hire facilitators with coaching experience for internal positions. These individuals usually have at least 1,000 hours of professional coaching and ideally an international coaching federation (ICF) designation. as well as consistent client references of impactful leadership development knowledge and delivery. Educators with this background tend to offer the following benefits:
- They are positive models for coach-like behavior during leadership training delivery — facilitating from the back of the classroom — keeping learner’s development in focus (as opposed to lecturing or consulting on their problems).
- They apply techniques to develop trusting relationships with their learners.
- They are the bridge to provide holistic leadership development — connecting learners’ themes across behavioral psychometric and/or leadership skill assessment results; leadership skill methods and experiential practice feedback; and one-on-one or peer coaching methods to reinforce new skills.
Use Reputable Leadership Assessments to Connect Learners to their Coaching
There’s not much time to make an impression among busy professionals. A good rule of thumb is to never engage learners in solving issues unless they have really felt the issue. Assessments are key to not only do this, but to also offer a personalized connection to their learning.
Start by gaining a sense of their core leadership skill strengths and growth areas, as well as an awareness of their behavioral tendencies that might enable or derail them under stress. Some organizations may dismiss assessments as “nice to have” add-ons to leadership development training and something you save for more senior leaders. However, it is core to jump-starting a coaching culture. Assessments enable frontline leaders to know themselves, create goals for their own coaching and internalize what leadership actually means (and doesn’t mean) so they may transfer their knowledge to their team as they grow in their coaching skills. Senior organizational leaders also get an early look into emerging leaders at the frontline to support succession decisions and to resource accordingly.
Using assessments also helps facilitators with coaching expertise accelerate their ability to make an impact through personalizing some of the classroom content and/or exercises using group- or cohort-based results (with data access permissions, of course), as well as one-on-one coaching to review the results. Research is key when selecting leadership assessments — not all are built with the same currency, reliability or validity.
Flip the Classroom and Create Shorter Experiential Learning Labs
Growing leadership skills for Generation Y and Gen Z learners is about bite-sized learning and learning experiences. This lends itself to a flipped classroom design — new models or theories learned via self-directed microlearning or web-based training outside the classroom first, followed by shorter classroom time as learning labs — where they can experiment and “try on” new leadership techniques gained through self study. Learning labs might include a case-based debate, masterminds (see below), a hot seat discussion or a video-based business simulation. Labs are usually no more than two to two-and-a-half hours in length (in person or virtually). They are designed to have learners perform in a safe environment that maximizes opportunities for trial and error with rapid coaching by an experienced facilitator.
For self-paced learning, many learning management systems and established leadership training companies offer a mix of short micro-courses (modules under 10 minutes), mobile learning multiple choice challenges and video- and simulation-enhanced leadership modules. Success requires additional focus on tracking completion, effective (but not overbearing) communication and visible top-down support, but it’s worth it in the long run. This is how learners take ownership over their leadership development with phased-in, blended learning goals while avoiding long virtual or classroom sessions. For example, the energy company mentioned above found success using a three-phase flipped classroom approach for each leadership topical module for their frontline leaders. They added a phase three applied learning assignment and built community channels in their collaboration platform where facilitators engaged actively with assignment questions and challenges between phases and modules.
Up next: Part two: Learn about the specific coaching methods that can be deliberately integrated into learning design to maximize learning retention, helping to build a coaching culture from the ground up.