Published: 12/08/2004, Volume II4, No. 5918 Page 26 27
In our first Ask the Expert special, Jenny Rogers gets to grips with HSJ readers' dilemmas, including how to have a greater impact with colleagues and whether It is wise to criticise the boss
Q I know the power of coaching, having personally experienced it.Can you suggest some tactics to help persuade managers of the value to individual and organisation?
A Be bold.Your best tactic will be to show how coaching can support much-needed change in the organisation.
Coaching is useful for the individuals who receive it, but has far more impact when it enhances other initiatives. This might include a leadership development programme followed up by coaching to embed new thinking.
As part of that, nothing is more persuasive than for your chief executive to get a coach and talk openly about its value. This happened in one of our client organisations. Overnight, coaching went from being a concealed activity to a kind of managerial designer accessory.
Spell out the benefits of coaching, distinguishing it from counselling. Coaches work with healthy and resilient people whose lives are already going well. Coaching is about tailored learning, and given the challenging nature of their work, no senior manager can ever afford to stop learning.
Life at the top is often one of chilling loneliness. In this climate there is always a danger of extreme anxiety - or extreme complacency.
Coaching can offer managers a safe place to be challenged, express their vulnerabilities, get some acknowledgement for unsung achievement, and the use of a sounding board for emerging ideas.
In one of the few properly researched recent studies of the impact of coaching, the return on investment was reckoned to be over 700 per cent. And that excluded obvious measures such as improved staff retention.
You might also consider coaching as an essential part of the line manager's toolkit. It is evident that 'telling' has severe limits as a managerial style. If you commission management development programmes, offer workshops in coaching technique - not as the one-sizefits-all solution to every dilemma but as a way of motivating people by liberating their creativity.
Once you have done all this, you are likely to hear complaints that 'It is all very well for senior managers to have a coach, but what about us?'Here it could be well worth training up a cadre of internal coaches.
Q I am a general manager at a health centre and have been advised to develop my personal impact in order to progress to an executive-level post.Can you recommend ways of achieving this?
A There are some inside-your-head ways of doing this, and also some external ones.
Growing up involves a lot of being told what not to do.
Parental guidance often includes the nagging disapproval of, 'It is rude to show off ' or, 'do not make a spectacle of yourself '. As children, such reproofs may prevent us embarrassing ourselves or, more likely, our parents.
In childhood, such messages may have protected you against perceived harm, but it is much more likely that they are now holding you back.Having identified them, let the greater wisdom of your present day adult self examine them.
Then learn to manage that irritating negative inner voice by, at the very least, reducing its volume.
It is also possible that your preferred way of thinking is introversion. If so, you will like to reflect before speaking, will be measured and sparing with your words and will tend to conceal your feelings. Unfortunately, you may also look less socially confident than someone whose preferred way of thinking is extroversion, where brain and mouth are seamlessly joined.You may have to learn to play the extroverts at their own game.
Study the people in your team who seem to have this preference.
My bet is that you will be amazed at how much they say at meetings. Little and often - and much more often than your natural inclination - is probably a good rule here.
People with high personal impact are enthusiasts for their own ideas. I wonder what happens when you are advocating an idea that you really care about? At meetings, do you sit up, speak up, smile a lot and engage everyone in eye contact?
People who lack impact often secretly believe that the quality of an idea should speak for itself.
But if you do not show how much you believe in your own idea, why should anyone else take it seriously?
Finally, remember to dress for authority. This is not about being a clone or a fashion victim.You should already be dressing the part, so no girlish, flowery pastels if you are a woman, and no comfy brown cords if you are a man.
Q How do you tell a superior that tabling masses of complex papers at the last minute is unacceptable and means they are not being read and understood?
A How do you tell a superior anything that you feel might be uncomfortable for them to hear?
Judging by common experience, only with extreme difficulty.
Among the most obvious reasons, these stick out: fear of the other person's anger, and especially of career-damaging consequences;
genuine dread of hurting them;
not knowing how to frame the actual words; and over-deference to authority.
A rough rule of thumb is that the more senior the manager, the less likely they are to have asked for or to have received honest feedback.
A US study of healthcare chief executives demonstrated the risk to the organisation of this ignorance. The more the chief executive's vision of themselves was adrift from the perceptions of others, the worse the performance of the organisation.
Everyone knows about managing downwards, but far fewer people realise managing upwards is as important.
First, you need to build mutual trust by getting to understand your boss beyond the apparent simplicities of their work role.
How much do you know about the joys or stresses of their whole life, not just the work bit? What does the job look like from their perspective?
You may feel you cannot bring yourself to offer feedback one to one. If so, enlist the support of your colleagues. Let's assume they share your frustration with the rambling, too-late papers.
Under any other business, table the question of how papers are written and distributed.
Spell out the frustration you experience and the longer-term consequences. Keep calm, look for underlying causes and suggest solutions. It is unlikely your boss is the only offender.Make it a team issue - because actually it is.
By not challenging, you are all colluding. l Jenny Rogers is an executive coach with Management Futures.Email questions for her in confidence to nick. edwards@ emap. com marked 'Dear Jenny'. If yours is printed we will send you her new book, Coaching Skills .