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Philosophies and Frameworks for Coaching

Bob Little 

June 2, 2017

When it comes to coaching, training, motivating, and generally getting people to learn, the most renowned exponents tend to come from the military and sporting worlds – rather than the corporate world.

That might be because the military world tends to determine the fates of nations and, thus, all of their citizens. Sporting performance also determines the fate of nations – although not necessarily in such stark terms as military performance.

It might also be because the results of military and sporting performance are easily understood. You win or lose – and, if you win, the coach/trainer is a hero.

Results in the worlds of business, commerce and even academia and the public sector are rarely as clear-cut. Ambiguity abounds. Even a ‘victory’ might have been more emphatic or long-lasting if a different L&D-related approach or technique had been tried.

However, in the corporate world, L&D professionals like to dream that the outcomes of their job are simple to determine. They want to believe that there are “magic bullets” in terms of approaches to L&D, coaching, mentoring, and so on that will produce these simple, obvious and valuable results. Consequently, they seek the wisdom of higher profile exponents of their skills whose jobs are infinitely easier because they’re only bounded by the simple rules of “success or failure,” “victory or defeat.”

As a coach, Gilbert Enoka is more fortunate than most. For the last 17 years, he’s been a coach specializing in mental skills development for the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby union team.

Since the All Blacks’ international debut in 1903, the team has won 77 percent of all the games it’s played. It’s the only international rugby side with a winning record against every opponent, and it has lost to only six of the 19 nations it’s played over the last 114 years. In June and July this year, the eyes of the rugby-playing world will be on the All Blacks as they play host to the British and Irish Lions rugby team.

Enoka’s skills are focused on what can be done with the mind to aid performance – for what’s generally acknowledged to be one of the world’s most mentally tough teams.

Squashed Ego

Responding to a question about what it takes to be an All Black, Enoka believes that, “If you don’t put the team first, you’ll never make it. When the ego grows too much, it squashes other things in the environment. You’ll never succeed on your own, but you’ll be successful as an individual if the team functions well.

“Ego undermines performance and it can creep up. We look for early warning signs and wean the big egos out pretty quickly. Our motto is, ‘If you can’t change the people, change the people’.”

Enoka believes that big egos’ early warning signs include people putting themselves ahead of the team, thinking they’re entitled to things, expecting the rules to be different for them, operating deceitfully, or being unnecessarily loud about their work.

Managers may not spot these counterproductive behaviors, so Enoka encourages team members to call others out for their inflated egos. He says, “It’s important to have people who challenge you and give you a new perspective. In the end, life’s about understanding yourself and surrounding yourself with people who have different skill sets from you – and using that knowledge base to power the people you lead.”

Managing Pressure

Enoka’s on record as saying that, “The external environment can create pressure in your mind. I’ve never seen an athlete or a businessperson truly succeed without experiencing, overcoming and navigating their way through pressure.”

He argues that you can be successful if you stay focused on the process and don’t worry about things that are out of your control. He says, “If you start thinking about all the possible consequences, you’ll feel overwhelmed. Deal with the first thing on your list. Take control one moment at a time.”

Top teams and individuals thrive outside their comfort zones, so, in his view, you’ll never get the success you want if you’re never uncomfortable. Encouraging an embracing of uncertainty, Enoka advises, “If you only see the negatives, then the reality can weigh you down. But if you can think and see things clearly, you’re able to determine what you have to do.”

His secret for success is building a strong, healthy corporate/team culture – rather than having any number of strategies. He says, “Too many organizations focus on vision and values when they should feed a sense of belonging –  especially if you’re working with myriad cultures.”

Coaching is a Key Pathway

Back in the less clear-cut, “real” world of corporate L&D, futurist and analyst Elliott Masie says, “Mentoring and coaching are key pathways for employees to improve skills and develop their readiness for new roles.

“Almost every conversation I have with workers about their own development includes a time they had a powerful and effective mentor or coach. Yet, currently, our understanding of what makes one coach highly effective and the other deeply forgettable isn’t evidence-based.

“Some theories of coaching center around strong listening, feedback and structuring skills. Other theories point to the learner’s level of maturity regarding the task at hand – shifting styles of feedback as this maturity goes up or down.

“We need a stronger, evidence-based model for shaping the most effective coaching and mentoring that’s needed by a specific learner in a specific situation. Sometimes, it’ll need to be highly directive, with crisp ‘behavioral dashboards’ for the worker. At other times, it might be a supportive ear to listen and provide support. And, sometimes, it might be a structured learning advisor pointing to possible content or experiences that would be most helpful.

“In addition, we’ll see the rise of ‘machine learning’ coaching. This will use a combination of intense data about a learner with a digital interaction to provide the best mentoring/coaching.”

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