Advanced Coaching: Coaching in Complexity

Most people come to work and want to be successful. If they are struggling with a part of their role or they are unable to progress, the reasons are usually complex. As coaches, we help people leverage their strengths, and identify self-limiting beliefs, blind spots or skill deficits. With this data, we work with them on a plan to help achieve their goals and realize their full potential.

But this is not enough. An effective business coach should also be adept at assessing the greater system that the coachee operates in. This system includes their boss, their team, their peer group, and the other systems and processes in the organization. An effective business coach should have enough broad business background to both assess the individual and understand that bigger system and how it may impinge on the individual they are working with. An effective coaching plan should include dealing with and leveraging that bigger system as well as personal development objectives.

To illustrate, I will use two examples.

Example 1: A CEO of a large global organization
Let’s say I am working with a CEO. That CEO answers to a Board, has a team of executives and will most likely be part of a bigger global organization. The CEO may be very good at her job but she might have a Board Chair who is difficult to work with or has different objectives than her. In addition, she may want to take the Canadian business in a direction that she knows will ensure success in Canada but the global organization may not be supportive of her ideas as they may not fully align with the global strategy. And then, there is her team. She may have lots of talent on her team but her CFO may not be strategic enough for what she feels she needs. A coaching plan that only outlines the CEO’s personal development goals but does not address her need to influence stakeholders and develop her team would be incomplete.

Example 2: A senior associate in a law firm
This time, let’s assume I am working with a senior associate in a law firm. This associate wants to get to partner. It is clear from the feedback that he needs to better delegate to his staff, build his relationships with senior partners across the Firm and develop his brand in the market. However, the senior associate is practicing in a new area that the Firm wants to invest in but it doesn’t have any experience with. The people who buy the senior associate’s services are not the same people who the Firm tends to deal with. There are no ready relationships for him to leverage and no senior partners who can easily help him. That senior associate will need a plan around stakeholder management (ensuring senior partners are aligned with reasonable expectations for the fledgling practice) and an updated marketing plan. That senior associate will also need to reach outside the Firm for mentors. A good coaching plan for him would include stakeholder management, other external advice and personal development objectives.

As you can see from the examples above, dealing solely with individual personal development misses some of the larger systemic influences that are critical to a person’s success. When hiring a coach, look for someone with the experience and smarts to think beyond just you.

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