What is the Goal of a Coaching Culture?




Coaching Culture_black cauldron with multicolored dots

It’s tough to accomplish something if you’re not sure what you’re trying to achieve. When it comes to establishing a coaching culture in an organization, there are many factors involved in the change management process, so it’s important to have a shared understanding of the overarching intention for the initiative.

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In order for me to share with you my perspective on the ultimate goal of a coaching culture, we’ll first need to agree on some terms and definitions so we’re talking about the same things. And we’ll need to use those terms to achieve a broad agreement on the current state of organizational cultures in order to discuss the ultimate goal of a coaching culture.

Current Overarching Organizational Cultures

A culture is, very simply: “how things get done.”

An organization’s culture is largely driven by the assumptions and beliefs that guide the choices people make day-to-day about what they will do, how they will do these things, and why whatever they choose to do matters. We’ll call this overarching collection of assumptions and beliefs the organization’s worldview.

One set of shared assumptions and beliefs that is a central area of focus when it comes to establishing a coaching culture is what it means to be a good leader in your organization. The current, more traditional leadership style is broadly based on the assumptions and beliefs that good, effective leaders:

  • Know the right answers (and believe there are right answers for most things)
  • Should tell people what to do, based on that knowledge
  • “Fix problem people” by directing them to act in a different way
  • Are responsible for finding and solving problems in order to keep things under control
  • Believe that “success” means making their numbers

At Cylient, we call this worldview of leadership a “problem-solving” approach to leadership, since leaders tend to view their primary role as identifying and solving problems.

In this traditional problem-solving worldview of leadership, coaching is generally viewed as a tool that is used to address problems. Often, these “problems” are people. Coaching, as a tool, is currently practiced in many different ways.

Some coaching models are insight-based, appreciative approaches that foster learning and engagement, while other models are more manipulative, compliance-based approaches focused on getting people to do what the manager wants them to do. Those manipulative models are, for all intents and purposes, a continuation of the traditional problem-solving approach to leadership that is being practiced by asking more coercive or directive questions, rather than outright telling someone what to do. The result is the same—the person being “coached” is being directed on what to do differently. It just takes longer, and is more frustrating for everyone involved, when practiced as a “twenty questions” exercise.

To sum up the current overarching culture in many organizations, the way that things get done in the culture is primarily driven by a belief that good leaders should have the right answers and solve problems by telling people what to do and correcting them when they are perceived to be “wrong.” Coaching—however it is practiced—is widely viewed as a tool that leaders use from time to time to resolve issues with people.

Sound familiar so far?

The Goal of a Coaching Culture

In the simplest terms, the goal of a coaching culture is to flip that traditional cultural arrangement completely on its head.  

When a coaching culture takes hold, the overarching worldview of what it means to be a good leader in your organization is defined by the essence of what it means to take a coaching approach to leadership. With a coaching worldview of leadership, there is a shared organizational belief that being a good, effective leader means:

  • Developing others to realize their fullest potential using day-to-day interactions to help people learn and grow
  • Embracing iterative learning from experience
  • Encouraging the appreciation of differences in all people and all things
  • Using appreciative coaching approaches to resolve differences to find a shared path forward
  • Role-modeling learning as a way of life by sharing your own learning journey

As a result of this shift to coaching as the dominant leadership style, the traditional linear, logical leadership approaches for resolving problems that are the hallmark of our problem-solving approach to leadership are shifted to being used as “tools” to fix technical, tactical issues with “things” like processes and procedures. Those problem-solving tools are put back into the “tool belts” of coaching-based leaders when the technical issues have been addressed, so that coaching becomes the way that all other the day-to-day interactions are approached.

You can think of the transition to coaching-based leadership like a dancing partnership where problem-solving used to be the lead and coaching followed. With a coaching culture, coaching as a way of life takes the lead and problem-solving follows. A strong partnership between these two approaches to work and life are still needed and valued; it’s just the priority has shifted.

The ultimate goal for transitioning to a coaching culture is to institutionalize the benefits that result from appreciative, insight-based coaching to better prepare your organization to thrive in our increasingly complex business environments. You’ll see outcomes such as:

  • Realizing higher levels of engagement
  • Establishing ongoing learning as an organizational muscle
  • Fostering the ability for people to learn with and from each other
  • Bolstering the organization’s confidence to successfully address complex change
  • And creating a safe space for people to bring the best they have to offer to all that they do, and all that they are

That’s the goal of a coaching culture: To make coaching-based leadership the dominant leadership style in your organization and use those tried and true problem-solving approaches as tools, in service of bringing the shared ideas that emerge through “in the moment” coaching conversations—with anyone, about anything—to life.

It’s a big change to be sure, which is why it’s important to think through how to take a coaching approach to instilling a coaching culture. That’s what we’ll cover in my next column. Or you can check out this webinar to get some practical ideas.

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