Jul 14

Honing Coaching Skills

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How do you know when your leadership team’s coaching skills are good enough? How effective can a leader become through honing coaching skills in a continuous improvement process? Are your employees empowered by the feedback they receive? Are breakthroughs in performance common? Are creativity and potential unleashed? Are people inspired to perform at their highest level? Are team members continuously learning from one another in a culture where everyone thrives?

Effective leadership involves a learned skill set that can be honed through a continuous improvement process that involves learning a disciplined practice. Honing leadership skills is like climbing a mountain that has no top, only false summits. Coaching is a leadership skill, and there is no limit as to how effective a leader’s coaching skills can become unless that leader becomes complacent, perhaps mistaking a false summit for a mountain top. The focus of this two part series will be to help leaders learn useful ideas to be more effective in giving and receiving feedback. Skills can then be honed through the process of giving and receiving feedback.

Effective leadership is empowering, bringing forth the possibility for who each team member can become and for the synergy that they can achieve through working collaboratively with others. Effective leadership is more than just seeing people for who they are, for what they have accomplished, and for where they have fallen short. While learned coaching techniques can be useful, techniques alone do not ensure effectiveness in giving and receiving feedback. The sincerity and authenticity that a leader brings to his or her interactions is essential. Employees can differentiate a leader who is “acting as if” he or she believes in an employee’s ability and potential from one who truly has confidence in his or her employees and is committed to their success.

To be effective in giving and receiving feedback, a leader will want to tap into his or her capacity to perceive any employee and/or work situation in a useful way. A leader’s initial perception is not necessarily an empowering one. For a leader to approach that employee to give feedback in an effective way, the leader will first see the employee and/or situation in an empowering way him or herself. Understanding perceiving to be a creative act, a leader has the capacity at any moment to see any employee or situation in an empowering way. Honing this capacity to perceive creatively is a learned skill that involves disciplined practice. Leaders can then help their team members to also see themselves and their work environment in an empowering way.

Leaders can learn to set aside limiting knowledge and beliefs and selectively combine useful knowledge with useful beliefs and useful assumptions to communicate feedback in an empowering way. Examples of useful assumptions for communicating feedback include:
* Nothing from the past necessarily limits future possibilities.
* Anyone can give and receive feedback in an empowering way.
* Employees are interested in positive and constructive feedback and are
capable of responding in a positive, proactive way.
* Positive feedback impacts how the recipient perceives him or herself, the
person giving the feedback, and the workplace.
* Positive feedback is cumulative in its capacity to empower someone to take
* Constructive feedback is the greatest gift that a leader can give or receive.
* Everyone has untapped potential hidden within.
* Leaders are capable of bringing out potential in others and in themselves.
* Everyone can learn and thrive within an organization where feedback is
generously given.

A leader can transform constructive feedback into an empowering experience for both the employee and leader every time feedback is given. It begins with the leader’s intention for the feedback to be empowering to the employee. The leader’s focus is on the employee with the understanding that each interaction with an employee can be empowering, disempowering, or have no effect. To empower someone means to expand someone’s experience of what they are capable of achieving, including kindling or rekindling a personal vision, and then causing the team member to take action to bring out those possibilities. The key to transforming feedback is in the context, the framework from which the leader sees and then communicates the feedback. The useful assumptions provide an empowering context for a leader to bring to a feedback conversation.

Leaders can have a profound positive impact upon how team members perceive themselves. Positive feedback can be a tool for leaders to empower team members, influencing how team members perceive themselves and their capabilities. Hidden potential can be unleashed. Positive feedback can evoke team members to take action: be creative, step out of their comfort zone, and learn new skills. Positive feedback can provide a means for a team member to be open to receiving constructive feedback and resolving a performance issue.

An effective way for leaders to learn how to give and receive feedback in an empowering way is to use recipes for giving and receiving feedback. I will share two recipes today: one for giving and one for receiving positive feedback. A leader will want to learn to follow these recipe and consistently achieve an empowering outcome. Then like any cookbook recipe, a leader can tinker with the recipes while ensuring that the feedback is still given and received in an empowering way.

There are six steps to our recipe for giving positive feedback:
1) Be proactive in giving positive feedback with the intention of the process
being an empowering experience for all parties involved.
2) Punctuate your feedback before giving it to make sure that you have the
attention of the team member who will be receiving the feedback and a common
frame of reference. Examples: “I want to give you a compliment”, “I want
to give you some positive feedback”, or “I want to acknowledge you.”
3) Communicate the positive feedback with honesty and sincerity.
4) Make eye contact as you give the feedback.
5) Be attentive as to whether your feedback was heard and understood by paying
attention to eye contact, facial expressions, voice tone, body language, and any verbal response.
6) If in doubt as to whether your feedback was understood, ask the person
receiving the feedback to let you know what he or she understood you

There are five steps to receiving positive feedback:
1) Make eye contact.
2) Listen carefully to fully understand the feedback.
3) Ask questions if needed to make certain that you fully understand.
4) Accept positive feedback graciously.
5) Sincerely thank the person for giving you the feedback.

I want to share a quick story with you to help you further integrate this learning. One time, when I led a workshop on feedback, Bill negated the positive feedback that was given to him by Sally. Bill’s response is not uncommon. Bill then shared with the group that he has always had a difficult time accepting positive feedback from others and typically dismisses the feedback. I asked Bill to consider what impact his dismissing Sally’s positive feedback had upon Sally. After thinking about it for several seconds, Bill responded that Sally probably felt disrespected and invalidated as if her opinion did not matter. Then I asked Bill to consider how graciously receiving positive feedback would have impacted Sally. Bill was able to readily see that this would be an empowering experience for Sally. This is one way you can get someone like Bill who resists receiving positive feedback to start letting it in, first by helping him to become aware of the disempowering impact that negating positive feedback has upon the person who gives it and then in considering how accepting positive feedback has an empowering impact upon the giver. Bill’s dismissing positive feedback also had the unintended consequence of deterring the giver from giving positive feedback in the future.

I invite you to take action. For the next 30 days I encourage you to use these recipes to practice giving or receiving positive feedback at least one time each day. Pay attention to the results and remember that no matter how effective that you already are, there is no limit as to how effective you can become. Then read next month’s article that will focus on how to give and receive constructive feedback in an empowering way. And if you are curious as to the results that you and your leadership team could experience through participating in one two-hour workshop with our company on this topic, then please click workshop feedback summary to see the feedback summary from a recent workshop for a corporate leadership team.

Keith Weedman, Principal
Level 3 by Design