Thinking Like a Leader – Coaching

By Mark Rulle

There may not be a role that has been so prevalent in our lives yet seems so elusive to us as leaders than that of a coach.  Most of us grew up in an environment where coaches were all around us, whether or not we played sports, were on cheerleading squads, belonged to clubs, almost all of us were either coached or had exposure to coaches and what they do from the time we were young.  Why then does the concept of coaching seem so inappropriate or unappealing to us in the world of business and/or healthcare?  Perhaps it is how we were exposed to it when we were young.  At that time coaches were either volunteers or faculty in a school system who had another job but were coaches “on the side.”  In other words, everybody who wanted to could coach.  There wasn’t any formal training and we didn’t really think of it as a profession until we thought of it in terms of professional sports.  At that point it was mostly about sports and the concept didn’t seem to fit with business and management and leadership.

More recently however, coaching has expanded into new areas.  Individuals are being trained as “personal” coaches for those individuals interested in developing their own sense of purpose and directing their efforts to enrich their personal lives.  Many business executives also have a coach and coaches are now being trained and certified.  In this latter case businesses have obviously determined that executive coaches are worth the expense though they seem to limit their use to higher level executives.

If I am thinking like a leader then I am interested in getting the most from the people I work with – that is the leverage that is available to all good leaders.  If individual coaching has proven it’s worth for executives, has helped them focus and learn, why wouldn’t I want that for members of my own staff?  The initial thought of a leader in regard to coaching is that coaching others can bring better business results.  In health care that means improvement in quality, safety, productivity, patient satisfaction and employee engagement.  In other words, one activity that can positively impact a number of business results – a high leverage activity.  The next thought for a leader regarding coaching is to how to be a good coach.  Formal training can be valuable as it can provide you with the skills that have proven effective with people.   Coaching skills along with devoting an appropriate amount of time for coaching will go a long way toward yielding the results we are looking to have.

If you have a large department (over 20 staff you are responsible for) then individual coaching may appear inefficient and overwhelming.  But putting it into perspective will be helpful.  Think of coaching only one or two staff on a formal basis.  Pick an individual who is a good performer who would benefit by development in one or two areas.  Perhaps it is something you wouldn’t necessarily send them to a formal class for.  Or, maybe you would send them to formal training and the coaching could be an adjunct to that training – something that could solidify their skills.  Practice your coaching with them and focus on helping them get better.  Then, when you are satisfied with the results, allow yourself to choose one other staff.  In addition to making some good short term gains you will also find yourself getting better at the skill of coaching – and more confident with it as well.  When this happens you will find yourself using the skill with others in more informal situations.  As your formal coaching effort expands and your informal coaching does as well, you may soon find you’ve accomplished much staff development with little extra time or resources.  And, of course, the payoff will come in those business areas we previously mentioned – all types of positive outcomes.  And it starts by thinking like a leader.

Mark Rulle is President of the Maryland Healthcare Education Institute.

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