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Three Reasons Why Our Agile Culture Needs More Leaders Who Coach

Over the years, the coaching profession has grown and matured significantly. Twenty years ago, coaching was utilized as a remedial activity. Leaders were coached because they were not doing well in their role. About 10 years ago, coaching matured into a practice that empowered leaders to improve. Today, coaching has matured further into a practice that helps organizations improve culture. Culture dictates success, and leaders must be able to navigate culture to drive change. Leaders are not only coached but learn to coach others to drive transformational change.

With increasing adoption of methodologies such as scrum, lean, agile, design thinking, rapid development, etc., we are in an age where organizations are challenged to deliver better and faster results in complex environments. Organizations realize that choosing the right delivery methodology depends on how well it fits the culture. Providing leaders with coaching skills helps to ensure not only the implementation of the right methodology but that it is successful and working within the cultural context.

While coaching is a complex skill that encompasses many different disciplines, it can be practiced with agility in small doses, evolving over time. Let’s look at three ways coaching empowers leaders in today’s agile culture.

Coaching improves the way leaders manage relationships in changing environments.

Managing relationships creates win-win situations by establishing clear agreements, trust and strong engagement. First, let’s look at agreements.

Have you noticed how many agreements are created in your day? When you wake up in the morning, you might have agreed with yourself to go to the gym. You might have made an agreement with your partner that you will drop off the dry cleaning, or you made an agreement with your manager that you will submit a new idea for improving team morale. How do you feel when you have kept those commitments? How does it feel when you do not? Leaders who coach help others make and keep agreements with themselves and others. This helps in setting expectations that are clear and agreed upon.

Trust is another key coaching capability that empowers leaders. By having coaching conversations, leaders learn to master the art of establishing trust with themselves and others. Paul Zak of Harvard Business Review conducted a research study on the neuroscience of trust. He found that high-trust companies reported 74% less stress, 106% more energy, 50% high productivity and 76% more engagement. Establishing trust will ensure that your teams are productive and customers engaged.

Finally, leaders who coach create stronger engagement with those they interact with. Engagement, from a coaching perspective, happens when leaders practice being present. Do you recall a conversation where you stayed present with someone without having to relate, judge or analyze? Being present creates opportunities to experience different perspectives and gain insights. This leads to better decision-making and stronger relationships. By establishing agreements, trust and engagement, leaders can be more agile in supporting and challenging their teams.

Coaching creates greater insight by improving creativity and communication in complex environments.

Leaders who coach create insight by actively listening and asking powerful questions. This helps in generating a greater sense of clarity and awareness.

Consider two principal components: (1) model of the world and (2) model behavior. Your model of the world is everything that you believe, perceive and experience. It is the makeup of your culture and experience that exists internally. Your model behavior is how you express yourself to others. It exists externally in the form of verbal and non-verbal behavior.

The cultural makeup of any team or organization is a combination of the two. Let's assume that you walk into a meeting with five people present, including you. Each person is having two conversations, one in their mind and one with their behavior. So effectively, with five people in the room, 10 conversations are happening. This can create significant complexity in communicating. To create insightful solutions with agility, you must have a genuine understanding of the problem by actively listening, and challenge your team through powerful questioning. This helps to eliminate biases, assumptions and judgment that can happen in those 10 conversations. You are then able to bridge what is thought and what is said to co-create solutions and improve communication.

Coaching empowers self-managing teams to develop realistic goals and hold accountability.

Setting goals, building plans and holding accountability are critical coaching skills that empower leaders to create powerful actions.

We saw earlier that insight helps in gaining clarity; actions help in aligning that clarity to positive outcomes. One coaching method of creating actions is the GROW model. This translates to establishing a Goal, assessing current Reality, navigating solution Options and, finally, establishing the Will to take action.

This process can happen in a short 10-minute conversation. The GROW model also does not assume the leader is an expert in any specific area. The goal is to facilitate the discussion for creating actionable solutions to which teams can hold accountability.

Whether you are utilizing Kanban, agile, scrum, lean or any other delivery methodology, they all expect the delivery of a solution within a given time and quality. Leaders can utilize coaching methods (such as GROW) to create actions and results independent of the delivery methodology. This is particularly effective in organizations that support self-managing teams.

No matter how organizations deliver solutions, they should consider providing their leaders with the coaching skills that foster strong partnerships and create insightful solutions and positive results. Coaching is a powerful capability that can help organizations bridge the gap between delivery methodology and cultural adoption to that methodology.

Leaders who coach regularly are able to assess what is truly working, what is not and make the decisions to support and challenge their team’s progress. They become the transformational change agents that lead powerfully in an agile world.

[Originally posted on Frobes]

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