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The Power of Coaching to Transform Africa

Name any great achiever throughout recorded history and, if you dig just a little deep, you discover one critical fact—they had a coach.

The Power of Coaching to Transform Africa

Name any great achiever throughout recorded history and, if you dig just a little deep, you discover one critical fact—they had a coach. The boxing legend Mohamed Ali of the United States, who was one of the most significant figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest boxers of all time, was coached by Angelo Dundee. Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who is considered the greatest sprinter of all time, had a coach in the name of Glen Mills.

Usain Bolt with coach Glen Mills.

But coaching is not restricted to sports. Listen to the words of Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and one of the wealthiest and most respected business people on earth: "Everyone needs a coach. It doesn't matter whether you are a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast
We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve." You will not be alone if, at first, you are reluctant about consulting a coach. Google CEO Eric Schmidt recalls that, in 2002, a peer said to him, "You need a coach." Laughing it off, Schmidt responded, "I don't need a coach; I am an established CEO—why would I need a coach?" Ultimately persuaded, he engaged a coach; he reports that it was a life-enhancing, eye-opening experience.

Every achiever, Schmidt asserts, has a coach—someone who can watch what you are doing and say, "Is that what you really meant?" In short, everyone needs someone objective, someone not emotionally invested in the issue at hand—especially someone trained and accredited in coaching —offering an objective mirror. Schmidt believes that the one thing human beings are awfully poor at is seeing themselves as others see them. We human beings come equipped not just with intellect, but also with emotions, personal biases and blind spots—aspects about ourselves we are not fully conscious of and that, often, make us stand in our own way. This is where a coach comes in.

There is an old saying: "Behind every successful man, there is a woman." People say this routinely, but have you ever stopped to analyze the statement? For a moment, ignore the fact that the modern woman may not quite like the idea of standing behind a man. Focus exclusively on the merits of the statement—there can be no success without the perspective of a second party. If you do, you will glean the true meaning of the statement: We cannot live up to our true potential in the absence of a provider of constructive, objective feedback. This holds true for both individuals and corporate bodies.

American surgeon, writer and public health researcher Atul Gawande once gave a moving speech on the benefits of coaching during a TED talk. He asked: "How do professionals get better at what they do? How do they get great?" In his thinking, there are two views about this: One is the traditional view—go to school, study, practise; you learn, you graduate, and then you go out into the world and you make your way on your own. That is how doctors, lawyers, etc work in their professions. He says there is a contrasting view increasingly emerging from sports: "They say you are never done—everyone needs a coach."

Atul Gawande speaking at TED2017

Gawande remembers that the first time he considered enlisting the services of a coach, he was troubled. "
Pay someone to come into my operating room, observe me and critique me
" This, he said, seemed absurd to him. Expertise, he assumed, meant not needing to be coached. He says that, after he tried coaching, he discovered, much to his dismay, that there are numerous problems with the worldly approach of making it on your own: "You don't recognize the issues that are standing on your way or, if you do, you don't necessarily know how to fix them. The result is that somewhere along the way, you stop improving." Because you - yourself - are standing in your own way.

When Gawande first tried coaching, he could not believe how much he had needed the service. He recalls that he was quite reluctant when he asked Bob Osteen, who had served as his professor but was retired, to come into his operating room, observe him and provide feedback. During the supervised surgery, Gawande noticed, curiously and with a rather sinking heart, that Prof. Osteen took notes non-stop as he worked. What might the surgeon possibly be doing wrong? But he was a professional!

'How do professionals get better at what they do? How do they get great?'

After the session, Osteen shared his observations with Gawande, who believed the case had proceeded perfectly and that there had been no mistakes. "I didn't think there would be anything much he (Osteen) would have to say when we were done," Gawande recalls. Osteen asked Gawande if he had noticed that the overhead light swung away from the wound during the operation. He also asked the surgeon if he was aware that his elbow kept going up in the air as he worked. What the swinging elbow meant was that Gawande was not in full control of the surgery; the straying light meant there was a little less illumination for the operation. The double-mistake was robbing the surgery of much-needed precision. All this, yet the surgeon was convinced it was all perfect!

Observed Gawande: "It was a whole level of awareness!" Coaches, he summarizes, are your external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of your reality. "They are recognizing the fundamentals. They are breaking your actions down, and then helping you build them back up again." He says that, after two months of coaching he felt himself getting better again. After a year, his complications dropped down even further. He admits that it wasn't easy, largely because he did not like being observed. He also did not like the idea that he had to revise his practised routine, and learn to make changes and improvements. After all, school was over! He was now an established professional. Ultimately, the rather humbling experience made him realize that the coaches "were onto something profoundly important
Want to get good at something? Get a coach!" he says.

'Want to get good at something? Get a coach!'

Remember the analogy of the woman standing behind the successful man? Her role, simply, is to help the man clarify his vision, re-order his plans and re-think his approach. She is (hopefully) an objective observer: she provides much-needed perspective. In a sense, the woman serves as her man's coach. Of course, there is a difference between the accidental coach and the professional coach. Unlike the amateur, professional coaching imbues the practice with both structure and coherence.

American football coach Peter Clay Carroll, who is the head coach and executive vice president of the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League, says, "Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen." This is the intent of coaching: it recognizes talents and capacities in both individuals and organizations. Thereafter, coaching meticulously unleashes these faculties of greatness, so that the individual progresses on a path without hindrance. Coaching is "product development, with you as the product," as the business magazine Fast Company so eloquently put it.

What coaching is, what it is not

Coaching differs from counselling and mentoring in some striking ways. In counselling, the client addresses a problem in the present and the past. On its part, mentorship involves the transfer of knowledge and experience to a person, while opening doors for that person. Unlike the two, coaching works towards a goal in the present and the future. Coaching is an intentional partnership between the coach and the client. It is a creative process that inspires the client to maximize their potential, based on their own inherent wisdom, experience, knowledge and resources.

During coaching, there is rapport building, active listening, challenging, supporting and deepening of awareness. The good coach observes, asks questions, demonstrates empathy, uses intuition, sets SMART goals and provides feedback. (SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.) If properly and professional done, coaching yields innate benefits such as innovation and creativity, improved leadership, participant engagement, improved performance (including profitability), as well as wellness and happiness. Ultimately, the participants' creativity is unleashed and their talent is brought to the fore.

British author and leadership professional Richard Barrett put it this way? "An evolutionary coach needs to instil five qualities in their clients to support them on the journey to full self-realisation—adaptability, emergent learning, the ability to bond, the ability to cooperate and the ability to manage complexity."

A feature critical to professional coaching is training, certification and accreditation. To have lasting impact, coaching cannot be haphazard or arbitrary. It must have structure; it must be deeply rooted in validated models of human behaviour and change. This is why it helps, before engaging a coach, to ensure that, at the minimum, that coach has the requisite professional certification from a registered institution. This way, the coach whose services you seek will be competent, credible and an authority in their field. Good examples of locally accredited coaching organizations are Career Connections, headed by Zia Manji and Madeleine Dunford; Coach Development Institute, headed by Eileen Laskar; and Erickson Coaching International, Kenya Chapter, headed by Emily Kamunde-Osoro.

How to integrate coaching into an organization's culture

After many years of working based on certain established routines, an organization may find it difficult to introduce coaching into its modus operandi. After all, the organization may have no room in its overall culture for coaching. Besides, there may be resistance to new ways of doing things, time and resources for financing the exercise may be lacking, and the very value of coaching may be imperceptible, at least at the outset. And often, staff may erroneously think that coaching is for those who are not performing – who need to be put on a performance improvement plan.

Considering the benefits of coaching, how can an organization begin to embrace this valuable exercise and ensure that the culture of coaching gets integrated into its corporate culture? Below are three ways in which any formal establishment can begin to embrace coaching:

Train managers in coaching:

Every organization needs to routinely train its managers in critical areas such as the firm's core business, communication and interpersonal skills, cost cutting, creativity and innovation, efficiency, leadership and development, and talent management. If an organization recognizes the value of continuous learning, it must realize that coaching is core to every organization's learning needs. This is why managers need to be routinely trained in coaching. This is easily done working with coach training companies that have relevant coach training accreditation.

Hold coaching conversations:

Every organization holds meetings and workshops during which various agendas are discussed. One possible way of beginning to wean members of the organization into the culture of coaching is making time, during every meeting or workshop, to speak just for a while about coaching—what it is, what it is not, its benefits to the organization, as well as how achievers (both individuals and organizations) have profited from coaching.

In addition, if you are a leader, when you meet your direct reportees, instead of directing them what to do all the time, how about you adopt a coaching style of conversation that leads to deeper awareness and ownership of actions? Instead of telling your staff – ‘I want the project completed in the next 6 months’ - better to ask - ‘What options do you see, for us to be able to complete the project within 6 months’ – the second statement is an open question that places the power of creativity and action in the hands (and more importantly the mind and heart) of your staff, and amazing things happen when hands, minds, and hearts align.

Work with a panel of accredited coaches:

Another great way to start infusing coaching into the corporate culture is to invite established coaches (experts who are already practicing and are accredited in the profession) to provide coaching services to your leaders in the organisation. For this to work, the organisation needs to recognize coaching as a worthwhile learning and development, as well as talent management investment. As described earlier in this article, ensure to only work with coaches who have recognized accreditations such as from the international coach federation. Personally, I have been coached, and also arranged for coaching services for my staff – and can attest to the transformative power of coaching especially at leadership levels.

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