Two managers share their experiences of using coaching sessions to improve their skills - and consequently performance in their roles.

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Over the course of 2010-11 the emerging leaders workstream of the former National Leadership Council – now part of the new NHS Leadership Academy - funded a national programme of executive coaching skills training for senior leaders.

All ten strategic health authorities participated and now these regional communities of senior leaders are actively coaching emerging leaders and other targeted groups including clinical, women and leaders from diverse backgrounds.

The Institute for Employment Studies was asked to evaluate the programme during its start-up and early implementation phases. The IES spoke to a number of emerging leaders who had been coached by the senior leaders trained by the programme about what they had got out of their coaching sessions. Here, two coachees share their experiences:

Fran Butler, Practice Manager at Mill Stream Surgery

Fran Butler was participating in the Practice Managers Leadership programme run by South Central SHA and part of the programme was the opportunity to have coaching. “I decided that I wanted a coach who didn’t work in primary care but was still part of the NHS so would understand my issues,” she said. 

Through a matching process carried out by the SHA she found a coach local to her and they met at 8am on a day when she was working a later shift, effectively doing the coaching in her own time but in a time and place that was convenient (just 15 minutes away).

She thinks that “the coach helped me come up with a way of viewing things and some very valuable insights that I would never have come up with on my own; it would be easy to just focus on the admin things in the role but this helped me think about what would help make a better practice and an even more fulfilling role for me.”

The coaching also “helped me cement the ideas that had been introduced on the leadership course.”

As the coaching was part of the leadership course it is hard to disentangle the benefits of one from the other but Fran believes that “I stick my neck out more, being bolder in the things that I do and ensure that people know what I am capable of, I am getting more involved in initiatives outside my own practice.”

Fran also found that coaching provides “a useful structure through the regular meetings to stop me slipping back into the old way of doing things”. She had four sessions in three months and thinks that “it might be better to have longer between sessions to allow more time to put things into practice but I have arranged more sessions to keep things going”.

If you want to get the most from your coaching, Fran recommends that you should “be clear what you want to get out of it, and make sure you write up notes (which I found useful to send to the coach) after each session to ensure the learning is not lost and the ‘commitments to self’ are properly recorded.  Also you need to work on it between the sessions – as with anything you get out what you put in.”

Ian Bentley is business manager for clinical support services at West Suffolk Hospital

Ian Bentley had been in his expanding role for three years when the opportunity for some coaching presented itself. “I went into the coaching with no specific objectives but knew that there were some areas that I wanted to explore.” These centred on his leadership style and were the basis of the coaching relationship but new issues also emerged as the coaching progressed.

One specific issue was around developing a new strategy for bed management which potentially would affect the whole organisation, require significant investment to make happen but would lead to better patient service and cost savings.

“I knew that this was the right thing to do and as a result of the coaching had more confidence in ensuring sure that we got the right solution rather than having to turn to others for reassurance,” he said.

For Ian, a second benefit was more personal although perhaps led to him staying with the NHS rather than moving back out of the service. “Going into the coaching, I was concerned about the level of satisfaction that I was getting out of my job and also my ability to manage the demands of the job and still achieve a good work-life balance.”

The first of these he tackled by recognising that he had the opportunity to shape what he spent his time on more than he had thought and so was able to design his time so that he could bring his own personal strengths to bear more often.

For the second part of this, he reflected that “I was unsure how we worked on this but I now feel much more positive about my ability to cope and achieve a good balance”.

About the process of coaching, Ian commented “I was somewhat sceptical to start with as I had been on a leadership course where they tried to teach us to coach in a day but it didn’t really work. Now I have been coached properly, I recognise how powerful it can be. I find that what we discussed in the coaching sessions sticks with me and comes up in my day to day work on a regular basis.”

If you are contemplating whether to have some coaching, Ian had one very simple tip, “Give it a go!”

Click here for more information on coaching from the NHS Institute