A Coach’s Wish List

The most important thing in my work is to make a difference for my clients. I moved from mainline consulting to coaching because it is less cosmetic and allows me to work with root causes instead of symptoms. But coaching asks clients to do more of the work and participate more directly than giving the problem to a consultant. I often find myself squeezed in that vice. Nothing is more frustrating than being able to see ways for the client to make lasting changes – ones that they want to make – but not having permission or a scope of work to get to the source of the issue. So, here is a coach’s wish list of ways to help clients create more and more lasting value.

  • If the boss hires me to coach an executive that she supervises, I wish that she would at least do a 360 leadership assessment herself.

When a line exec hires a coach for one of her direct reports, it is usually because he has potential to do more. The company wants to develop that potential. Invariably however, some of the issues that come up are environmental and often about the relationship with the boss. If the boss is not also willing to hear about the impact of her own leadership style, the relationship can become unbalanced and even parental. If the boss is open to feedback as well, then any open issues between the two have much more likelihood of being addressed and resolved. In cases like this, the benefit to the organization is much greater than the sum of the parts.

  • I wish I could eliminate the term “teambuilding” when working with teams.

Let me be clear here: There is nothing bad or counterproductive about a ropes course, cooking as a team or building something together. But those activities can be hard to connect back to the work of the team. When I take teams off site, we may take a detour for an hour or two to build skills or capacities that the team needs to do their work, but we do it by furthering the team’s goals. Yes, a team member has the experience of trust when he is belayed by another team member on a ropes course. But he can also develop trust by having a difficult but important conversation, getting information as promised in a timely manner or seeing a commitment made to him stand up to a stressful challenge. I have done some very creative things with teams, but, in general, I believe that teams get better by doing the work that the team is chartered for in a more skillful and directed manner.

  • If a team or project is important, let’s launch them powerfully at the outset.

It is a sad reality of my business that calls for team development most often come when the team or project is already suffering. So, instead of laying in the infrastructure for doing productive work, building a foundation of trust and setting the team up for a fast start, we are focused on damage control. Such interventions are more costly, take more time and have poorer outcomes. Teams that start well and have the tools and processes to follow through and succeed are worth their weight in gold. Not only do they deliver value to the organization by completing a critical project, but they gain skills in how to get a project team organized and launched well. Think of it this way. If you are taking off in a jet, you want full power and everything working perfectly. You can save money at cruise altitude, but not while you are gaining momentum.

So, what is on your wish list for your company?

Originally published in Arkansas Business, Barry Goldberg On Leadership, June 9, 2008.