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Leadership Development

The Art of Becoming Your Own Coach

More executives are turning to coaches to help them grow and develop, but leaders can discover great benefits in learning how to self-coach.

Years ago, as a director at a regional bank, I was responsible for matching executives with coaches. We were always under pressure from our most senior human resources executive to quantify the success of the arrangements as we did with most of our other human resources programs. It was a tough task, and our evidence was largely anecdotal, which was never quite sufficient in this metrics-driven environment.

Fast-forward 15 years and coincidently, the same senior HR executive was now an executive coach interviewing with me for an engagement in my new organization. I asked him how he measured the success of his coaching engagements; his answer was a number of qualitative testimonies from the executives he coached. I asked him if an answer like this would’ve been sufficient when we last worked together, and he asked me to quantify the success of the arrangements we did.

He thought for a moment and said, “Probably not.”

This is quite mushy evidence when you think about it.

In fact, without one common certification process, testing approach, standard effectiveness metrics or even core coaching methodology, the field of executive coaching is still considered new to many practitioners. Some practitioners say it is one of the oldest fields that began with apprenticeships for tradesmen or with the powerful questions historic philosophers such as Socrates asked.

The intuitive benefits of executive coaching as well as moving anecdotes from people who have been on the receiving end of the practice are enticing enough for employees to want to be partnered with a coach. They see changes in others that they tie to the coaching relationship. This makes them want to have a coach as well.

Given that coaching is difficult to quantify yet anecdotally impactful, a second hurdle is that being partnered with a coach is not easily granted.

But let’s not let that stop us. Let’s figure out how we can replicate some of the benefits of an executive coaching process without a coach. What does a coach offer that, with some creativity and gumption, you can replicate?

Abby Tripp Heverin, communications and awards manager at industry membership association International Coach Federation, said, “The point of the coaching-client relationship is for the client to be in the driver’s seat. The coach is eliciting the client’s own solutions. The coach provides tools, techniques and resources and helps provide accountability.”

How can someone without a coach remain in the driver’s seat and use similar resources normally provided by a coach?

The journey begins with a single question: Do you have the discipline and self-awareness to take on a task of self-coaching?

“Becoming your own executive coach is like taking a self-guided tour through Europe rather than a guided tour,” said Alyssa Freas, president and CEO of the Executive Coaching Network and co-author of “The Wild West of Executive Coaching,” a 2004 article in Harvard Business Review that gained recognition in the field. “If I want that same experience I’d have with a guided tour, I need to do a whole lot more work. What is my measure of success? How do I hold myself accountable for the process?”

If one has the discipline and willingness to work hard, there are tools that leaders can use to help the process. Two initial tools to begin with are the change story and skills matrix.

Create a Change Story

Start by creating your own personal roadmap and identifying the desired career direction. Writing a personal change story is designed to clarify the individual’s focus on their future goal. This goal becomes your “North Star,” which you are accountable for reaching.

To develop your change story, consider the following questions:

As Diana Thomas, executive coach and a former vice president at McDonald’s, said, “The question I start with is: If your life were perfect, what would your life be like? And if failure is not an option, what would you be doing? Step back and reassess where you are and where you want to be. Think bigger and broader.”

What is your vision and aspiration? The introduction should describe the need for change and what success looks like to you.

How does this vision tie to your goals (personal and professional)?

The best change stories include elements that appeal to one’s head, heart and guts, which means that it is a story that will resonate personally and professionally.

The story is to be grounded in reality. Setting unattainable goals is not very helpful.

Create a Skills Matrix

Now that you’ve created a change story, you have a sense of the journey and destination. Your next question is: Do I have the skills needed to operationalize the change story. The matrix serves as a visual representation of the skills needed to attain your vision and an honest assessment of your current strengths and weaknesses in those identified areas.

To help you create a skills matrix, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Objectively thinking, what types of skills does your change journey require?
  • What knowledge, skills and abilities do the successful incumbents have?
  • What skills are most/least valuable at this level?

This question is important since some skills are essential for more junior employees to progress to a higher level, but once they attain the higher level, that skill is not essential for them.

Your goal is to list the skills needed and assign yourself an objective score 0 through 4, reflecting your proficiency level on each of the skills. A score of 0 means you’re unaware of the skill or haven’t used it while a 4 indicates that you are an expert and others seek out your assistance.

In addition to your own assessment, you’ll need to validate your opinions with others whom you trust and consider your allies. Once you understand your skill levels, you’ll need to begin to develop a plan.

“When I know I have a skill gap or I want to enhance my ability I listen audiobooks,” Freas said. “I will set time aside to do the recommended exercises in the books. This is a method I find useful for myself and my clients. If I recommend an audiobook, I also suggest a hard copy of the book to read along as the person is listening. This will increase speed as well as the retention of the information.”

Susan Kushnir is director of lean management at S&P Global. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.

This story was originally published in Chief Learning Officer‘s sister publication, Talent Economy.

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