In his book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle says that the human being is made up of two words: human and being. Here, ‘human’ is the form, and ‘being’ is the formless – the conscientiousness. When we think about Human Resources Development (now called People Development), we usually tend to focus on the form or the identity employees play in various roles in organizations. However, adding the coaching lens helps us move from the form (identity & roles) to the core consciousness (formlessness) of an individual. Ergo, we can work towards connecting people to their consciousness, making them realize their full potential.
People do not want to be managed -they want to be led and inspired!
In my role as a Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP), I observed that the managers and the leaders of organizations have all the right intentions to see people grow. However, through my coaching journey and learning more about a ‘coaching mindset,’ I feel that work is still surface level with respect to truly developing our people and providing them an environment to grow.
The ICF definition of coaching believes in partnering with people (clients in coaching parlance) in a thought-provoking and creative process to inspire them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The question is, as managers or leaders, how can we model this for our people? The most beautiful thing about the ICF coaching competencies is their simplicity, yet complexity in terms of practice. One constantly needs to be aware of oneself and be in touch with their own being.
The very first ICF competency talks about demonstrating ethical practice. In the organizational context, this translates into integrity and honesty in consistent interactions employees have with their managers, HRBPs, or leaders. But is that practiced? As per a Gallup report, honesty and ethics ratings in business executives have gone down from November 2000 to November 2022. However, if the leaders operate from a coaching mindset, and are open, curious, flexible, and people-centric (client-centric, as we say in coaching) it can go a long way in acknowledging people and their efforts.
The next competency is about cultivating trust and safety. And though they can be found in many organizations’ values, they are practiced only in a handful. Brene Brown’s research shows how high-trust cultures outperform low-trust ones, and how it acts like a glue to hold the teams and organization together. When a leader operates from a coaching mindset, they are not afraid to be vulnerable. This very act lays the foundation for building trust and allowing people to share their feedback freely with the leaders and team members. It also empowers people to take risks and ask for help, thereby developing people in the long run because they are allowed to make mistakes and learn from those experiences. Leaders also get candid feedback, and not just positive feedback which is given because of the fear of authority.
Perhaps, one of the most beautiful competencies in coaching is acknowledging the client. And one of the most common reasons I have heard for people quitting a job is the absence of recognition. In most organizations, there is a mid-year and annual review process. The leaders are generally so busy throughout the year that they wait for an entire year to appreciate their team members. Instead, there is a need for leaders to acknowledge the innate abilities and talent of the team more often and believe in each member’s resourcefulness. And with this belief, acknowledge every progress rather than wait for the finish line. Also, organizations spend a lot of time and effort creating, benchmarking, and implementing reward and recognition systems. What we really need to do is acknowledge our people for who they are and what they can do.
The next competency is the most simple and yet the most difficult skill to learn. This is about listening. We all know about it right from childhood, yet somehow, while growing up, we forget how to practice it. And this is most difficult because we have to unlearn how we have been listening so far.
As per Otto Scharmer, there are 4 levels of listening. At level 1, called downloading, we are listening to confirm what we already know or expect. Level 2 is factual listening where we pay attention to the facts to broaden our knowledge. However, in this type of listening, we miss paying attention to the emotions and feelings of the person speaking. Level 3 or empathic listening is where we are also listening to the emotions. We put ourselves in the speakers’ shoes and start to see things from their perspective. Generative listening, or Level 4, is where the listener moves beyond making an emotional connection with the speaker and they are entirely focused on helping to bring the best possible future into being. Their ego or any other barriers they normally carry are dropped at this level of listening.
In an organizational setup though, where leaders are busy, where will the time and energy to be a generative listener come from? It boils down to working on your own mental space and well-being. As leaders, when we are able to drive level-3 or level-4 listening, we are enabling and creating the best future possibilities for our people and the organization.
The last competency I would like to share is asking vs telling. There is immense power in this as every time you ask a question, it evokes some awareness in the other person and creates new learning for them. Every time someone from our team comes with a problem and we resist the urge to ‘tell’ and ask them a question instead, it can facilitate reflection and a new way of thinking. It can truly help develop the individual.
Edgar Schein talks about humble inquiry – knowing how to inquire humbly and intelligently can help build better relationships, avoid costly mistakes, solve problems more effectively, and brainstorm better ideas.
As a tool, coaching competencies help leaders connect with their being and remove the barriers they face when operating from forms like identity, roles, and ego. The moment they start looking at all others around them as other beings, their ability to connect and co-create the best future possible for themselves and their people, magically comes to them.