Live Your Performance

Creating a receptive environment to embed learning from individual coaching support into the workplace

By Chris Rawden

A topic that often shows up in leadership coaching sessions is concern about having approval: how can people feel comfortable to grow and develop beyond their comfort zones autonomously without being overly concerned about securing the approval of others? 

As soon as a coachee starts to notice and acknowledge their patterns that have governed their actions and past behaviour, their whole horizon shifts and they are in a position to see new ways of operating.  These profound insights quickly fuel development because coachees can now see clearly what habits and behaviours from the past are not serving them, as well as realising which ones they wish to hold on to.

So far, so positive.  At the same time, while they are happy to embrace their new horizon and step beyond their comfort zone, it is also challenging because it is unfamiliar.  Heading in a new direction (e.g. setting limits more clearly to a manager and no longer saying yes to every request) takes courage and presents the coachee with the challenge of managing the reactions of others (e.g. their manager) to their new-found confidence, actions and decisions. 

At this point the coachee may experience two opposite kinds of emotion at once:  simultaneously they feel excited and also scared, sensing that their entrenched concerns about people-pleasing don’t just go away by themselves.  Inside their commitment to take action and step outside their comfort zone, it is also normal for coachees to feel such fear as they step out to reach new goals and build healthier habits. 

When I’m working with people as a coach, I explore how far harmony in relationships is important for them in how they live and manage their lives, to get a sense of how pervasive harmony is and has been for them.  I use different ways to help people explore their need for harmony for themselves and reflect on how comfortable they are with expressing themselves authentically and putting themselves at risk, e.g. speaking straightforwardly when their views are different from the majority in their team. 

Let’s put ourselves in the coachee’s shoes for a moment: In considering our fears and concerns about how our manager or other colleagues may react, for example when we start to set limits that we did not previously set, a couple of things are important to remember:

1. We have no direct control over what others will say, do, feel, like or dislike.  While trying to anticipate the reactions of others is normal, remember that it is at best our interpretation, so trying to set our own compass by what others may or may not like is counter-productive.

2.  What is within our control is to recognise we have been (and still are) on a learning journey.  An important action we can take is to communicate to our managers that we’re keen to progress our learning from the coaching and act on our new-found insights because we want to make a difference, recognising that we may take our colleagues by surprise when we behave differently than before.  And we can underline that we are doing so inside a commitment to be more effective in our roles, to move beyond past constraints for the good of the organisation.  If our behaviour would challenge others in ways we may not realise, we invite their feedback so that a constructive dialogue can take place to address any concerns. 

Such a conversation highlighting our commitment and being open to feedback is a highly responsible step the coachee can take with their manager.  It may reveal how far (or not) our manager has thought about the impact that change from a learning and development process such as coaching can have on the working environment. 

The coachee does not bear all the responsibility for making this work.  It is equally important for leaders sponsoring coaching for their managers to realise that they have a key role in making a success of their investment in coaching, by anticipating change and seeing it as something to harness for the good of the team.  Otherwise, if leaders are unprepared and become worried about the status quo and see change as rocking the boat, then it will not be a successful voyage if the crew members and captain are all at sea with one another and heading in different directions.

That’s why I explore at the outset of any coaching assignment exactly what the sponsoring leaders and any other stakeholders are expecting as outcomes from the coaching of their colleague, including any concerns they may have, to ensure that we clarify expectations and fears so there is alignment and a readiness for embracing change together.  Without that alignment from all parties, there is a risk that the coachee will not have the necessary support to put their learning fully to work in their environment.  For individual change to have impact and add value to an organisation, the working environment must also be committed to embracing change.

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