At Axialent we take coaching seriously. It is a strong part of our culture and used as both a developmental tool and as an internal resource when facing challenges. Coaching is our way of supporting one another. As an active member of the Axialent Community, I’ve been coached several times, as part of a developmental process, as a volunteer to help a trainee coach, or on my own request in the face of a specific issue.
Mind the gap
Whenever I’m offered a coaching session as a coachee, I struggle with the specific issue to take for coaching. It’s not that I do not have developmental goals or skills gaps, or that I’m blind to them (although I might be, to some). Some of the ones I think of sound too silly (“I leave everything for the last minute”), or I feel like I already know the solution but I’m simply not implementing it so there’s really no point in getting coached. Some sound too existential (“What is my purpose in life?” “What is my deepest desire?”), and sound better suited for personal therapy. And some are simply just too vague for me to be able to express them more or less intelligibly, let alone skillfully (“I want to grow” “I need to move to the next step in my career”).
Any experienced coach will argue that finding and wording the right developmental goal is key to the success of the whole process, just as it is key for a doctor to determine a precise diagnosis before she can prescribe any medication. So, does this mean I am banned from coaching sessions until I find a gap? The answer is yes. And there are two very effective ways to go about identifying your gap. As we say in Axialent, NO GAP, NO COACHING.
Find the gap
I have found, in my own experience and observation, two interesting approaches to gap-fright: an attitude of utmost openness, and quantitative assessments.
The first approach assumes that the coaching process is an exploratory process of self-discovery where the coach is at your service to facilitate that discovery. It means that you humbly own up to an inability to put your finger on the one goal that would significantly improve your effectiveness, and that you trust that in the process of speaking about it, with an experienced coach inquiring and probing more and more deeply, you will ultimately nail it. This can be a lengthy process, taking up more than just one session and sometimes require time outside of the coaching session in self-inquiry.
With assessments, on the other hand, these potential obstacles disappear in one swoop. A quantitative assessment, be it a psychometric assessment or a 360 assessment, or any variation currently available on the market, provides a stake-in-the-ground starting point for a coaching session.
Some assessments I have worked with are very clear in that some of the behaviors they survey are clearly counterproductive while some are constructive. With those, it is even easier to spot potential developmental goals to discuss. Many others do not take quite such clear stance and are more descriptive of traits, but even so, you can always match the picture they paint with your current job description and the gap will soon emerge.
Even the toughest of coachees will surrender to the evidence of his/her own assessment, and the self-exploration will begin at the very start of the debrief despite resistance. As the coach debriefs the results and explains how this particular coachee’s traits can be construed in terms of the tool’s framework, a rapport of trust is also built: the kind of trust that is built when someone offers a certain piece of knowledge in service of the development of another person. It lies in the experience of being seen. Looking at the results of an assessment, the coachee has virtually no secrets with the coach and this bonds them and necessarily brings down the barriers of self-protection.
New and unforeseen insights may arise that add depth to the session. While debriefing an assessment, a coach made a comment about a potential derailer in my profile as per the results of an assessment but it didn’t ring a bell at the time. Very shortly afterwards, handling a critical situation at work, I found myself enacting the behavior the assessment had spotted as a potential derailer. It gave me a new perspective of what may be hindering my progress and, more importantly, new potential paths to overcome it.
Quantitative assessment tools offer the option of re-take, which means that you can assess progress of your work and actually show improvements (or not!). This only applies to certain tools measuring leadership behaviors as opposed to tools measuring personality. Using an assessment can give you an interesting head start for a coaching relationship and expedite identifying the development gap. There are a few things to consider, ask for support in choosing the right assessment that measures what it is you are most interested in exploring (i.e. leadership behaviors, strengths, derailers, personality, etc.). Make sure your coach is an expert in the tool and its framework and can prepare the debrief very thoroughly. Solid coaching skills are a must so that the results can be tied into a developmental plan.
The question remains if an assessment is necessary for those who come to a coaching session crystal clear what their goals and gaps are. I believe that even in those cases assessments help to deepen the effectiveness of coaching and validate your own self-awareness. Assessments can support coachees like me who struggle with identifying the underlying motivations, values or mental models that are preventing change and getting in the way of success.
About the author
Maria combines a solid background in diagnostic tools management with developing expertise in culture assessment and development, and a passion for learning that has enabled her to deliver projects and build knowledge both for internal development and with clients in an impeccable manner. Read more >