How to Make the Most of Your Coaching Sessions

Your company has engaged a professional coach for its leaders and high potentials and you are one of them.  How do you make the most of this investment in your personal and professional growth?  Here are a few tips to consider:

  • In the context of your job role and career in the organization, reflect on your strengths and areas for development based on past and present,  formal and informal feedback, from your superiors, peers, and direct reports.  Identify possible developmental goals you may want to be coached on by your professional coach.
  • Talk to your executive sponsors about what they see as your strengths and areas for development that they would like you to be coached on, Take note of where your and their perspectives may be similar or different. Ask questions to better understand the perspective of your executive sponsor and share your own views as well.  Ask about what specifically they would like to see change and improve as outcomes of coaching.
  • If the company invested in a 360 feedback survey as an input to your receiving coaching, learn as much as you can about the tool and what feedback were given to you by the people you selected to be your 360 respondents. Keep an open mind and receive all feedback as the gifts that they are, both positive and negative.  You may not agree with the feedback, nevertheless, that is how you show up to the 360 survey respondents.
  • Remember that our intentions do not always manifest in ways that others perceive them. Sometimes, if not often, there may be disconnects between our intentions and the perceptions people have about us and our actions.  Areas where there are huge disconnects between our self perceptions and that of others are helpful places to start our reflection on how come there are these gaps and what actions we can take, things we can do differently (e.g., start, stop, continue doing), to bridge these gaps.
  • Identify the initial top three priorities you need and would like to be coached on by your professional coach and build agreement with your executive sponsors about these.  If it’s too soon to have specific goals at the start of the coaching, that’s fine. The initial coaching sessions can focus on deepening your awareness and understanding of the situation you are in and what makes sense to work on with your coach.
  • Between coaching sessions, be sure to work on whatever assignment or actions you agreed to do with your coach, and learn what you can from these.  No excuses.  Being a more self-motivated and self-directed adult learner, you take responsibility for yourself. Keep a learning journal to write your questions, perceptions, ideas and insights that can help you move forward with your intentions and goals.

We are all always learning, and brain research shows that we continue to rewire our brains through neuroplasticity and nuerogenesis even as we grow more experienced and older.  (Bergland, Christopher, Psychology Today, 2018) (Bergland, Christopher, Psychology Today, 2017)

Giving Feedback to Develop Your Team

How often do you give feedback to your team and individual team members?  What type of feedback do you give them?  If and when you give feedback, are they mostly informal or formal?  Think back to last week and write down who you gave feedback to and whether it was positive or negative feedback. Giving constructive and actionable feedback can make a difference in improving performance.

Perhaps for many, the word feedback conjures up images of unpleasant experiences of one’s immediate superior dishing out negative feedback or criticisms about one’s performance.  It does not have to be this way.  If your superior is not very good at giving you feedback, break the chain or vicious cycle of perpetuating the negatives and demoralizing your own team and team members.

Be the team leader that fosters development. Break the cycle. Be intentional. Be the guiding light that sparks positive energy and action in your team. Everyday is a fresh opportunity to turn yourself and your team around, to refocus on performance and behaviors that can be improved through helpful feedback.

Some tips on providing constructive and actionable feedback involve changes in your approach such as the following:

  • Focus on the behavior and not the person
  • Be specific and not general: STAR is useful here – Situation, Task, Action, Result
  • Encourage change instead of attacking or blaming
  • Put your relationship with your team and team members first instead of yourself
Simple steps that you can use include:

  • Describe the behavior as concretely as possible
  • Get the team’s/team members’ view of how the behavior affects others positively or negatively, who are affected and what are the implications on performance quality and cost, as well as relationships
  • Give your own view of how the behavior affects others and the team’s performance
  • Get the team’s/team member’s inputs on what needs to change and how in order to achieve better results
  • Give your onw inputs including a description of the desired behavior and performance levels and outcomes
  • Agree on the next steps, who will do what by when, what support might be needed, and follow-up, follow-up, follow-up

Knowledge without application is a waste.  It’s time to put these tips and steps into action this coming week. Identify team members who have performance issues or dysfunctional behaviors that hurt their or their team’s ability to deliver their best.  Bullet point your specific observations and key messages, and schedule a feedback meeting with each individual. Better do it sooner than later. Start a new cycle, a virtuous cycle of giving constructive and actionable feedback.

“How Can I Improve My Emotional Intelligence?”

A high potential manager may define this developmental goal as the primary focus of her coaching program. What is emotional intelligence and how can she begin her journey?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) was popularized by Daniel Goleman over 10 years ago when he published books about EI. Today, it is probably common knowledge that EI, also referred to as Emotional Quotient (EQ), is more critical that Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in enabling people to succeed. In the 50’s and 60’s there was a lot of hype about IQ. Then in the 90’s, understanding about EI and how it helped make people more successful grew.

I remember someone I knew who was very smart but because he was a loner and didn’t work with well with others, his career growth was negatively affected. With his intelligence, he could have been promoted to the manager and executive level. However, because of a low EQ “handicap,” he remained at the supervisory level for many years and didn’t get the opportunity to move up and achieve more of his full potential as a person and leader.

In a nutshell, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize your emotions and understand how they affect you and the people around you. EI also involves how you perceive others, understand their feelings, and manage yourself and your relationship with them more effectively. EI has also been described as the ability to create positive outcomes in your relationships with others and yourself. Such positive outcomes can include joy, optimism, and success in your life and work.

People with high EI tend to be more well liked and successful in most things they do. They have greater self awareness and self management and can work more constructively with other people despite challenges that might exist in their personal and working relationships.

The five dimensions that define EI are self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and social skills or coaching other’s emotions. These may be labeled a bit differently in various sources. There are excellent sources to learn more about EI and some are the following:

How Can She Begin Her Journey?

Back to the high potential manager who has set a goal of improving her emotional intelligence.

One way to start the process and journey is to have a conversation about what is emotional intelligence, its dimensions, and what would be different between her present and future self as “being” more emotionally intelligent. Having a good understanding of what EI means and how she can be a different and better person with a higher EI is essential to success.

Another place to start is to explore how a self assessment can help her get a snapshot and baseline of her EI skills. Before she can improve her emotional skills, she must first understand what her strengths and areas for improvement are. There are different tools for this and, while they may be built around the five EI dimensions or competencies, they may differ in how they are constructed and in the amount of research done on them to ensure their validity and reliability.

The point is that she must know where she is beginning her journey and where her destination is, so that she can monitor how well she is moving towards achieving her goal of increasing her EI.  In addition to a self assessment,  feedback from others who work with her is helpful.  Then, helping her define how she would be different in terms of each EI dimension, how she would behave differently in ways that reflect higher levels of EI skills, will help her concretize the changes she wants to see in herself and her relationship with others.

Are You Ready for Coaching?

Your company has initiated a coaching program for high potentials. So you have been enrolled in a three month coaching program by your boss, your sponsor. What now? What can you do to get ready and make the most of this great opportunity to work with a professional coach?

Here are eight questions to think about.

  1. Are you prepared to take responsibility for your own growth and development?
  2. What specific goals do you need and/or want to focus on during the three month coaching program?
  3. Are you willing to talk to your boss and discuss what goals she had in mind for you?
  4. Are you willing to work on these goals as well?
  5. Are you willing to listen and receive feedback?
  6. Are you willing to be open to another person?
  7. Are you committed to taking action on your learning?
  8. Are you willing to commit to the weekly coaching sessions?

To get you started, consider these points.

1. Are you prepared to take responsibility for your own growth and development?

You are always responsible for your own personal and professional growth and development. Other people may be there to help you, and unless they know what you need and want, they may not be able to help you as much.

2. What specific goals do you want to focus on during the three month coaching program?

Based on your experience and feedback from others, what do you want to be different? What do you want to change and be better?  If you have information from a 360 assessment that you took, go over it carefully and ascertain what areas/competencies you need to work on.

3. Are you willing to talk to your boss and discuss what goals she had in mind for you?

What are your boss’s reasons for enrolling you in the program? What did she want you to take away from it? What benefits did she hope you would get so that you can be a better you and more ready to take on new challenges?  Take the initiative to meet with your boss on a periodic basis to find out how you are doing, to discuss your career goals, and to give feedback about your progress relative to your agreed upon goals.

4. Are you willing to work on these goals as well?

How similar or different are the goals that your boss had in mind and your own goals?  If they are quite different, how do you reconcile these differences and prioritize what to focus on during the three months?  Get agreement on the priority goals.

5. Are you willing to listen and receive feedback?

How open are you about feedback that may not sit well with you or that you may disagree with? Think of all feedback, good and bad, as gifts of different points of view to explore. Ask yourself what might be the truth in each of these and how you can use these different perspectives to help you grow.

6. Are you willing to be open to another person?

Take heart, confidentiality is part of coaching. Typically, what you discuss with your coach is confidential. Often, the responsibility for updating your boss is with you. Nevertheless, it would be helpful for you to have a discussion about the limits of confidentiality with your coach and your boss. What is the coach required to report on?

7. Are you committed to taking action on your learning?

While the coaching process may give you a lot of opportunity to reflect on the present situation, you must take steps to act on what you have learned to move closer to your goals. If you have an “assignment” between one session and the next, work on it and learn in the process.  If you want to make progress, you must be willing to change self limiting beliefs and behaviors.

8. Are you willing to commit to the weekly coaching sessions?

Last, but not least, is that you will show up and on time during your coaching sessions.  Plan your week and block off your calendar to make sure that you don’t schedule anything else during your coaching session.  Coaching is an investment in your future and deserves your time and energy.

Want more?  Read “Get the Most Out of Executive Coaching” from the HBR Blog Network.

Check out this “coachability” quiz at

Which is Right for You, Executive Coach or Career Counselor?

One question you may have is what is the difference between an executive coach and a career counselor.  I came across an interesting and similarly titled article which sought to help leaders assess which one is right for them.

The article gave the context that organizational leaders today face many tough challenges such as economic uncertainty, faster technology, globalization. We can add more such as unrelenting competition, talent shortage and workforce mobility, to name a few.

To be successful, leaders must develop not only new skills but also broader and alternative perspectives. The question is, how does a leader go about identifying and developing these?  The answer is, and you guessed right, through working with an executive coach or career counselor.

While both help their clients assess and develop their professional capabilities, these are some distinctions between executive coaches and career counselors, and understanding what kind of transition you are making can hekp you make the right choice.

If you are making a career change or are considering one, a career counselor may be more helpful to you in identifying and exploring your career options. Career counselors would have more information about job and career opportunities in various industries.  They can also do assessments of your interests and skills.

If you are working to develop your full potential, which is a never ending journey, an executive coach is the better choice.  Executive coaches help you in ascertaining and focusing on your priority development goals and in moving forward to achieve these.

In a nutshell, if you are making a career change, seek a career counselor, and if you need support in moving foward to develop your full potential, seek an executive coach.

Is Training Enough?

I’ve often been asked about what training people should take to learn a specific skill, for example, public speaking. My reply is that training alone is not enough and that more time and effort must be focused on applying and practicing what was learned. Learning a few critical things and applying them has more impact than learning a lot of things but not using these.

Developing yourself and the people you are responsible for is one key to your success as well as theirs. Enlightened leadership calls for investing in continuous personal and professional development of everyone in the organization. Often, the top of mind approach is sending people to some form of classroom training to learn about the concepts and skills they need to be more effective and productive on the job. Experience, however, has shown time and again that such training alone is not enough to achieve better performance on the job.

People need help and support to transfer what they have learned in the classroom to on-the-job situations. Questions you may want to consider asking yourself are: What opportunities are our people given at work to apply what they learned for the benefit of the organization? How do their managers or supervisors encourage and reinfore the use of what they have learned? What more can be done so that training investments can be optimized?

One approach for helping people apply what they have learned is the use of managerial and professional coaching in tandem with training initiatives. With someone encouraging them to practice what they’ve, and holding them accountable for results, the organization gets a higher return on its investment.