One resource that’s increasing for many organizations is that of having internal coaches— employees who have been selected (and hopefully trained) to serve as coaches for other employees. I think this is a good trend that has benefits beyond the immediate coaching, such as building relationships by connecting people who may not normally work together.
These coaching resources are an added resource to provide support for career development, reviewing and analyzing assessment feedback or for specific skill development, for example. In some cases, coaches are acting more as “advisors” than coaches. Having an advisor is fine, but we shouldn’t confuse the two. The assumption here is that you as the client probably have the answers and just need help in pulling them into the daylight.
Having received coaching and also served as a coach both internally and externally for organizations, let me share a few suggestions on what makes an internal coach effective.
1. Your coach focuses on your agenda and priorities. The coach does not come to your session with a “here’s what you need to do” approach. The only thing the coach should ensure is that you have a pretty good idea of what you want to gain from the experience, both in the immediate session and for the duration of the coaching engagement. There should be a clear beginning, middle and end to each conversation and to the whole engagement. The client (you) should set the agenda and drive where the discussion goes.
2. Your coach is present and listens more than talks. This seems like a no-brainer, right? I constantly see situations where the coach starts out with good intentions, but before long is driving the conversation and talking about themselves and their experiences rather than listening to what the client says or needs. Being present means that the coach is focused on you, clearing their own mind (and yours) so that both parties can focus on the here and now. They are not worried about getting to the “right” answer or pushing too hard for the “next steps”, or preoccupied in thinking about what they need to tell you.
Your coach should ask you a few direct, simple questions, then listen and help you explore your emerging thoughts and ideas. Your coach doesn’t have to ask brilliant questions, more than anything they need to listen to what you say and HOW you say it, for insight into your beliefs and behaviors. Occasionally, if requested, offering a tip or suggestion might be fine, but these should be less frequent.
3. Your coach helps you draw your own conclusions and find answers within you. Allowing the space for the client to “think out loud” and listen to themselves is powerful, and often is where the learning takes place. The coach’s role is help create that space and help the client reflect and deepen their own understanding of the situation and draw conclusions.
4. Your coach supports your accountability and ownership. Since the agenda is the client’s, then the accountability for progress is the client’s as well. Often just having a coach and knowing they will be following up in due time is incentive enough to take action. This does not mean your coach is “grading” your progress, but rather they should be offering support and encouragement by helping you clarify your next steps, their relative importance and potential outcomes.
If you find any of these characteristics lacking in your coaching relationship, or you feel like you’re not getting what you need from your coach, speak up! With time being such a precious commodity, make sure you’re getting what YOU want from the coaching experience. Perhaps just a little fine tuning will make a huge difference in the results.