When asked to coach an employee, most managers demonstrate behaviors that are closer to consulting or micromanaging, according to a recent study by Trenton Milner, general manager of the International Centre for Leadership Coaching, and Julia Milner, professor in leadership and the academic director of the Global MBA program at EDHEC Business School in France and an honorary professorial fellow with the Sydney Business School in Australia. The researchers wrote about their findings in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review.
To conduct the study, the researchers recruited 98 participants from a variety of backgrounds, but all of whom were enrolled in an MBA course on leadership training. The researchers filmed one group of participants during a five-minute conversation in which they were asked to coach another person on time management.
Then, the researchers asked other, peer participants to watch the recordings and evaluate the conversations. Finally, the researchers asked for evaluations of the conversations from 18 coaching experts, all of whom had a postgraduate degree or certificate in coaching and work experience in the field.
After the first round of the study, participants completed a training session on coaching. Then, the participants repeated the exercise, with filmed coaching conversations that were evaluated by peers and experts.
To help the peers and experts evaluate the coaching conversations, the researchers identified nine essential coaching behaviors, based on previous research in the field and their own experience as leadership coaches. The nine coaching behaviors they identified were:
- Giving feedback
- Showing empathy
- Providing structure
- Assisting with goal-setting
- Recognizing and pointing out strengths
- Encouraging a solution-focused approach
- Letting the other person arrive at his or her own solution
In the initial round of coaching conversations, few participants demonstrated these coaching behaviors, the researchers found. The two behaviors they struggled most with were recognizing and pointing out strengths and letting the other person arrive at his or her own solution.
Instead, most participants demonstrated behaviors that are closer to consulting or micromanaging, the researchers write. “Essentially, they simply provided the other person with advice or a solution. We regularly heard comments like, ‘First you do this’ or ‘Why don’t you do this?'”
Despite this poor performance, the peer evaluators said these initial conversations went well—peer evaluators rated the conversations much higher than the expert evaluators.
After the training, participants’ scores from expert evaluators increased by an average of 32.9%. Participants increased their scores most in the skill of letting the other person arrive at his or her own solution. Participants also improved their self-awareness of their coaching skills after training; their self-evaluations of their initial attempts at coaching decreased by 28.8% after receiving training.
Based on their study, the researchers encourage organizations to provide a clear definition of coaching to managers, a safe environment to practice coaching behaviors, and opportunities to share lessons learned with their peers (Milner/Milner, Harvard Business Review, 8/14/18).