What SHOULD You Expect from Your Coach?

In the past I have described factors to be used in selecting your executive coach and how an individual could make the most effective use of their coach. A gap in this information relates to whatYOU SHOULD EXPECT from your coach once selected and engaged. Coaching is a partnership and like all partnerships is only as effective as the quality and commitment of the participants. While I believe a coach can't work harder than their client it is just as clear that a coach should deliver on a number of expectations and obligations in order to support client success.

Why this topic at this present time? Unfortunately, after having been at this work awhile, I have heard several client experiences and circumstances where an acceptable standard of performance has not been achieved - to my way of thinking. This reality might not be that different from a variety of other sectors where individuals/firms offer products/services for sale that really don't deliver on their promises. High price and flashy marketing doesn't equate to quality of offering or results.

Much of the challenge, I believe, comes down to lack of client knowledge and awareness of what "good" or even "great" quality and performance for a coach should look like. While I have talked about how you should go about selecting an executive coach that doesn't address what you should expect - and perhaps demand - from a coach. What I offer below is informed by personal experience as a coach and feedback from my clients about what they have appreciated in our work together.

Clarity of Roles and Expectations. This starts with actual documentation that serves to describe the partnership role between a client and coach. This certainly doesn't have to be a form vetted by respective lawyers - a trust-based relationship, which coaching is, should not have to go down that path! However, there should be enough clarity between you and your coach to understand what each person is expected to bring to the work, the pattern of work, access between formal sessions and an emphasis on confidential nature of the work.

Confidentiality. This should really go without saying...but I'll say it. This is a particularly important consideration when an individual is being sponsored by an organization to utilize coaching, when a coach is involved in group/team coaching, or coaching multiple individuals in an organization. There is no question that there is great value to me as a coach in having a greater understanding of organizational context through working with multiple clients or engaging with a client's executive sponsor. However, it also requires the coach to confirm up-front - and subsequently DEMONSTRATE- how confidentiality between sponsor/client/coach or between team members will be maintained. Just as important, the coach also has to actively guard against any risk of bias or triangulation in their coaching experience with any one individual.

Purposeful Process. As the coaching client you drive the coaching agenda. The coach should help you in confirm and clarify this agenda and then help hold you accountable to your goals. Your coach should be able to balance the need for structure in a coaching engagement (e.g., consistent focus) while at the same time being agile and flexible as client learning and circumstances evolve. Bottom line for me - no canned approach. While I do have coaching agreements, intake forms, leadership and team assessments at my disposal, and other tested methodologies and processes, all of that takes a back seat to strongly understanding individual client challenges and opportunities and the organizational culture from which they arrive. A coach's approach should be tailored to the client - not the other way around.

Challenge. To be truly effective a coach must challenge your beliefs, assumptions, sacred cows and preconceived notions. There is nothing I appreciate more than hearing clients say that our work together has made them uncomfortable (in the good way, not the creepy way...), expanded their frame of reference or possibility, and perhaps even radically altered their entire direction. Paradoxically, if you are finding your coaching sessions to be lovely chats and highly validating you might not actually be getting real value from your coaching partnership. Your coach needs to bring the right balance of compassion and courage to your work in pursuit of your goals.

Capacity Building. Akin to Challenge noted above, your coach should be actively working to build your skills to the point of helping to dissolve the coaching partnership at some point in time. The goal is not to create dependency but rather capacity for the individual leader to soar on their own. In this regard, I often work with my clients in the scheduled last month of our time together to confirm a decision to continue - if value from the client's standpoint is still being delivered - or to strongly transition out of coaching by using skills learned/developed/enhanced during coaching. This can often mean creating structure on a go-forward basis (e.g., continued pattern of thinking time replacing coaching time) that replicates the successful elements of the coaching partnership. It's why I share freely any and all of my coaching tools with my clients post-engagement.

Preparation, Continuity, Accessibility, Responsiveness. I recently had the opportunity to interview a number of my current and former coaching clients for a developing video production. Key elements of benefit identified by a number of them was their appreciation for how prepared I seemed to be for each coaching engagement, how I seemed to be able to retain the narrative string between formal coaching sessions and throughout the entirety of the coaching engagement, and the level of accessibility and responsiveness afforded to them between formal meetings. None of this occurs by chance. I have created processes for myself - and my clients - that strives to prepare us both for upcoming coaching sessions. By the very nature of my work I am constantly scanning my environment for resources and tools relevant to my work and the success of my clients. Despite being busy, my clients are my priority and quality and speed of response are foundational for me. What would you expect from your thinking partner, your sounding board, your coach?

Coaching Presence and Trust. Like confidentiality this seems to me to be an area that should not have to be emphasized. How engaged and attentive do you find your coach? Are they fully focused on you and your work - whether in-person or virtually? Do they practice active listening? Do they provide you all the space you need to think and work? Are they talking more than you!? Are they providing you a safe space to be vulnerable? Do their (powerful) questions relate to the issues you are actually grappling with? Coaching - it is all about you!

Holds to Coaching. Your coach is supposed to coach you. Not advise and certainly not direct you. Your coach is not there as mentor or consultant - these roles imply some level of superiority versus partnership. The coach must continuously demonstrate a belief in your personal ability to tackle your challenges and opportunities. The coach must understand their own boundaries and the boundaries of their profession - unless otherwise trained, we are not counsellors or therapists. At times you may expect that your coach, acting in YOUR best interest, would connect you with other professionals or resources even if it meant personal financial loss to the coach. The coach needs to be able to demonstrate an ability to act in your best interest, not theirs.

Drives Action - and Results. At the end of day coaching has to be much more than active listening, powerful questioning, being a sounding board, a place of safety/vulnerability - something active and positive has to come out of the partnership. Demonstrating a compassionate edge, your coach should help you design actions and deliver results. You or your company are investing time, money and energy into this endeavor - there must be purpose to the endeavor. Get pushed and get results.
I believe these are some of the qualities and experiences you should be looking for as you experience coaching. Lofty goals perhaps and I admit to feeling some misgivings as I document these expectations - can I live up to these requirements in all circumstances? I am constantly striving to do so! It's About Leadership! And in the case of coaching - It's All About You!

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions


Drive to Why

I have been doing a lot of work of late with organizations and individual leaders as it relates to their "why". This has can manifest as questions related to "what is our mission?", "what does it mean to do what we do?" and even "what does it matter if we deliver this or that program or service?" In all of this there is a craving for clarity, direction and ultimately a hope that, on an individual or organizational level, we are in fact making a difference. For some, this conversation becomes even more powerful when it starts to address the concept of what legacy we might leave behind. Heady stuff.

There is no doubt that this is and should be considered a critical question to address. I tend to ascribe dysfunction at an organizational level to several different factors - lack of clarity or alignment on values, lack of clarity or alignment on strategies and tactics. Lack of commitment to or understanding of Mission/Purpose is high on this list of explaining organizational dysfunction and even conflict. The same holds true at an individual level. If we start to consider some of those difficult people we have worked with - or even ourselves - we can recount many instances of individuals who seemed perpetually ornery, out-of-sorts, grumpy and otherwise unpleasant. I consider these to be potential circumstances where people are disconnected from their fundamental purpose for being - they are not doing the work they were meant to do. They are in the wrong place to make the impact they were born to make.

One of the key challenges in addressing this gap is in fact understanding what the "Why" and Mission is. All too often the approach and answer to this question is confused with What and How we do things - we start describing our purpose within the context of the programs/services our organizations currently deliver or expect to deliver. We describe our Why by our title or position and things we currently do. This is certainly easier to wrap our heads around. It takes less effort to describe what we do and how we do. And we can start to address value we believe we are delivering by the number of people served or products delivered. Another reason there may be default to this way of trying to define Mission is that it is far less challenging to organizational and personal identity. Defining Mission by describing current activities rationalizes our current work. It affirms our identity and makes us feel good. It is an exercise also fraught with risk if our environment significantly changes or some other external force changes our mandate. Suddenly our activity-based Mission hits the proverbial - and literal - brick wall. Change at the stage engenders significant conflict and resistance.

So where to better start this organizational or individual search for Mission and Purpose - the more fundamental Why? I suggest divorcing yourself entirely from the programs/services you provide or the position/title you hold Engage in the thought process that eliminates the types of things you currently do that would yet allow you to adjust, change and do something different to allow you to fell fulfilled and purposeful. Sound a bit too pie in the sky?? Let me give you my personal example.

For the longest time I fundamentally confused Mission and Vision for myself. For much of my healthcare leadership career I would have defined success and Mission with the type of role I aspired to take on - CEO of a large urban hospital. The challenge to this dream were successive rounds of reform efforts that have characterized our reality since at least the mid 1990's. The positions and realities I aspired to increasingly ceased to exist. It truly wasn't until such time that I left my leadership career behind - involuntarily - that I came to define my new personal (and organizational) mission in ways that transcended any particular role, occupation, title or even location. The result for me became:

Helping Leaders Discover, Realize and Unleash Their Potential

For me, this new sense of purpose - perhaps driven out of necessity - allowed me and allows me to live to a sense of purpose that can be realized in a multitude of ways, robust enough to respond as changing circumstances dictate. Far from being "flighty" in my work or approach to life it allows me to remain centred and be who I want to be regardless of changing context. I can live this Mission by being a Leader in the formal sense with position, title and authority - I can take on a job as I desire. I can live this Mission by being an individual or team/group coach. I can live this Mission as a consultant. I can live this Mission through presentations, teaching and speaking engagements. This Mission, This Why is not dependent on any one type of work, client or even location. It becomes THE constant guidepost for continuous learning, professional development, networking and a range of other activities. It speaks to my Passion first and any desirable outcome (e.g., earnings) second.

So that's my advice and challenge to you. Be fundamentally clear on your purpose - for yourself or your organization (or both). Be fundamentally clear on a Mission that can be independent of what you do or how you do today. If you don't know why you do what you do don't be surprised to end of up in a place you don't want to be.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions


Choose Your Battlefield

I'm a bit of a history buff.  Others might consider that comment an understatement as they peruse the inventory of books sitting on shelves at home and at work.  E-readers and audio books?  Not for me - I need the physicality of history in my hands.  Old fashioned?  No doubt. 

One reason for this fascination with history comes from the lessons learned - and not learned - from others.  With variations on a theme, the quote "Those who cannot remember (or learn) from the past, are doomed to repeat it" resonates with me.  One of those lessons that has been the subject of explicit and implicit discussion with many of my clients is that of choosing or changing the field of battle on which you compete.  We can probably all understand and appreciate this at some bigger picture level with companies and technologies that have changed their landscape - Apple, Uber, Airbnb.  These companies and technologies did not take as given the landscape they faced and at points in time made a conscious decision to NOT compete against well-established competitors.  They radically changed the field of battle. In some cases, so radically that major competitors were put out of business.

This is not a new a concept.  For centuries, ranging back to Greek city states, the Persian empire and other dynasties, commanders and armies would maneuver for days or stare across at each other for weeks from their respective camps looking for the best place or opportunity to engage in battle.  They sought out high ground, access to water, linkage to the coast or supplies, or waiting for the sun to be in their enemy's eyes before engaging.  These ancient leaders went to great lengths to try and set the table to their best advantage, to leverage a strength or mitigate a weakness.  Alternatively, they might seek similar opportunities to diminish an opponent's strength or take advantage of their perceived weakness.  Don't have sufficient or good enough cavalry?  Choose a battleground that constrains the field of movement.  Fighting against great odds?  Choose a place where only part of your enemy's strengths can be brought to bear at one time.

So how does this relate to leadership/team coaching, organizational effectiveness, business development, consulting or other things that you might be doing?  It relates in nearly every circumstance that I work with.  Which one of these scenarios might you have experienced or otherwise be familiar with:

"I looked at the job posting and I'm missing a couple of the qualifications they are looking for so I'm not going to apply."

"He/she/they stopped me in the hallway and were looking for my input on his/her/their initiative.  I felt compelled to answer them on the spot but I don't think I gave the best answer."

"I'd like to pursue the CEO role but I'm not sure I'm what they are looking for.  I'm not anything like the current CEO."

"The client/RFP is looking for something pretty particular as far as a solution/technique.  It's not something we have do so maybe the fix is already in?"

I could go on with other samples but at the heart of these comments is a belief (or fear) that the terms and conditions of the "battle" are already set and our choice is to compete on those terms or not at all.  My suggestion is that perhaps the battle conditions are not set in stone.  You may and can have a choice as to where, how and when to engage.  How can you alter your own reality and that of your "adversary" to change the tide in your favor.  For example, if applying for a new role, how can you paint a picture that despite not having a couple of the qualities or attributes laid out that you have something different or more important to offer that the hiring committee has not taken into account?  Rather than feeling compelled to respond on the spot to a question or proposal how can you set yourself up to better respond perhaps by asking for a more considered, focused and structured discussion - one that allows you to be as prepared as your counterpart?  What makes you think that you have to lead like the last CEO?  Or that you can?  Or that you should  We are all different leaders, no clones, and certainly all imperfect.  What do you bring to a leadership role that your successor did not and that is perhaps better suited to current and future reality?

All of these scenarios - and the historical analogies of success - speak to and require several foundational realities being in place.  First, an understanding of your personal, team or organizational strengths and values.  Those (successful) generals and commanders noted earlier were completely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and their armies and those of their foes as well. You likewise need to understand your own strengths and limitations and how to make best use of those in your chosen field of endeavor.  Second, is the ability to exercise restraint and patience to seek out the right opportunity to apply your skills and abilities.  Wrong time, wrong place?  Might mean the wrong opportunity?  Third, having the courage to be bold or patient as circumstances dictate.  When pushed can you hold your ground to create the right circumstances for victory?  When opportunity presents, can you demonstrate and apply your strengths at the right time and place?  Time and tide may wait for no one.  Be clear about your objectives, your vision for success, and apply your strengths, abilities and values with confidence. 

It's About Leadership and sometimes leadership means actively understanding and creating the conditions for success - your success.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions