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Leadership Coaching for the Masses

August 16, 2022 Learning and Development
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By Sarah Fister Gale

If a company’s success is built on the strength of its leaders, why are so many companies hoarding leadership training for only the select few who’ve already made it to the top?

Coaching can help every manager become a better leader. Yet, leadership development programs have historically been treated like a fancy perk, doled out only in the highest echelons of the organization. Small groups of executives fly somewhere exotic where they attend sessions with famed coaches and network over cocktails and golf outings.

It’s an appealing ritual, but it’s not scalable, and many of the lessons learned at these retreats get lost upon their return. It also leaves lower-level managers to figure out what it means to be a leader on their own, which can introduce unnecessary risks for the organization.

People Leave Managers, Not Companies

A 2021 PwC report found that "lack of leadership capability" ranked among the top three most significant inhibitors to progress and to companies' ability to address urgent challenges. It can also destroy the company culture, the report found.

“Culture happens with front-line leaders and their teams,” said Jon Greenawalt, SVP of customer transformation for holistic performance management company 15Five. These lower-level managers oversee customer-facing employees and set the tone for the way business is conducted. “If they are not taught how to replicate the values and way of operating that the organization has committed to, then it won’t happen.”

That can lead to high attrition, poor performance and bad decision-making throughout the company.

When these managers finally do get coaching, much of the time is spent breaking bad habits rather than teaching new ones, said Dr. Gabriella Kellerman, chief product officer at digital coaching platform provider BetterUp. “Why not help people start off with the right set of tools, so they can be more resilient from the start?” she said.

Related Article: Knowledge Is Power: A Guide to Improving Employee Training and Development Opportunities

Technology Levels the Playing Field

In the past, giving every manager a personal coach was unrealistic due to cost and access to coaches. But technology has changed that.

Today's HR tech marketplace provides many options for management development. This makes it financially feasible for companies to provide leadership coaching across the organization. And because the interactions happen remotely, companies can leverage coaches from anywhere in the world to support the needs of managers.

“Digital coaching is a more accessible opportunity for both coaches and coachees, and it allows for a far greater experience,” said Jack Prevezer, COO and co-founder of digital coaching organization Ezra Coaching.

The plethora of coaches also allows for better matching. Most platforms use personal assessments to connect coaches with managers based on their professional goals, needs and preferences. Then, together, they set the cadence for interactions – typically weekly or bi-weekly over four-to-12 months.

Because it’s all virtual and requires no travel, participants can have more frequent but shorter interactions, which reinforces lessons and makes it easy to schedule a last-minute follow-up before a big meeting or presentation. Coaches may also suggest managers review videos, articles or other online content between sessions.

“We're using technology to enhance and supercharge that experience, to make it more efficient and more effective,” Kellerman said.

Related Article: Transparency Is Key to Making Employee Development More Equitable

Proof It Works

Digital coaching platforms have the capability to capture data on interactions and outcomes for managers, which helps companies measure the impact and ROI of their coaching programs.

For example, BetterUp shared data from one large client that showed coached managers were 32% more likely to be promoted, and that they consistently received higher manager effectiveness ratings than their non-coached peers. “Historically, leadership coaching has been a black box in terms of measurement,” Kellerman said. “But when you coach the vast majority of the organization, you have to be able to prove it is working.”

Providing new managers with a digital coach can help them more easily navigate the world of leadership and develop the skills that will be essential to the future of work. That benefits the individual and business.

“Coaching can play a really powerful part in addressing many of the talent challenges companies face today,” said Prevezer.

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