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Continuing their series on challenging coaching Ian Day and John Blakey, co-authors of 'Challenging Coaching: Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS', take a look at how to hold the right people accountable.
In our book 'Challenging Coaching' we introduce the FACTS coaching model to help coaches and leaders adopt a more challenging style in their coaching approach. Last month we looked at the 'F' in FACTS - feedback. This month we move on to the 'A' in FACTS which stands for accountability. The reason we focus upon accountability in our approach is that our experience is that there is a rising tide of accountability in the business world right now.
There has been a loss of trust in business leadership arising from recent corporate scandals and disasters such as the banking crisis and the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill. Most recently we have seen the CEOs of Barclays Bank and G4S plc hauled up in front of Treasury Select Committees to be grilled by exasperated MPs. It seems that patience is wearing thin and the bar on accountability is being raised - so how can coaching be part of the solution rather than part of the problem?
"The key is to recognise that coaching can challenge as well as support and that to reduce the risk of collusion with short-term narrow agendas a coach needs to be prepared to confront senior leaders ... "
For us the key is to recognise that coaching can challenge as well as support and that to reduce the risk of collusion with short-term, narrow agendas a coach needs to be prepared to confront senior leaders as well as build rapport with them and empathise with their individual needs. In practice, confronting includes holding leaders accountable not just for the commitments they make at a personal level, such as the actions arising from a coaching session, but also for the impact of their behaviour on others and the extent to which they are meeting the longer term expectations of diverse stakeholders groups.
Personal accountability is, in theory, straightforward. A simple statement such as 'Right, let's start by reviewing the actions you committed to take following our last coaching session' immediately sends a clear signal that this is not a 'cosy club' conversation. Yet how many times do we skip this step as we relax into our coaching relationships?
Holding the leader accountable for the impact of their behaviour on others gets more tricky. One of the ways to tap into this is to remember that the you, the coach, are a legitimate stakeholder in this relationship and you have legitimate professional needs together with a psychological contract that you have spent time agreeing with the coachee.
So one of the ways to tap into this level of accountability is to give yourself permission to honour your own professional needs and expectations. For example, I recently found myself saying to one of my board-level coachees - 'You know we have met three times now and every time we have met you have been at least 15 minutes late for the coaching session. This is not a habit I want to get into and I wonder if it is a behaviour that is mirrored in your other relationships. Can we talk about this?'
Beyond this how do we hold accountability for the longer term impact of a leader's behaviour relative to the expectations of other stakeholders such as shareholders or staff or the public at large? Here, we need to be careful for it is easy to slip into adopting a judgmental stance and start preaching to our coachees about our particular hobby-horse whether it be the environment or business best practice or staff expectations.
"One of the ways to tap into this level of accountability is to give yourself permission to honour your own professional needs and expectations. "
Ian and I find it works for us to introduce the absent stakeholders into the coaching conversation by asking open questions from their perspective rather than making closed statements of our own personal opinion.
Here are some questions that prompt the coachee to consider their accountability for broader and/or longer term perspectives:-
- Family - 'What would your grand-children make of this decision?'
- Shareholders - 'If you were the owner of this company how might that change your perspective on this topic?'
- Public - 'If this issue were to be featured on the front page of the Daily Telegraph how would you like to be portrayed as a leader?'
Of course, these are leading questions yet we feel this is sometimes necessary to raise the awareness of the coachee and 'wake them up' from a prevailing mind-set. As we mentioned in a previous article, these interventions may trigger the coaching conversation to enter the ZOUD (zone of uncomfortable debate). This can feel tense in the short term and may even risk breaking rapport with your coachee. However, in the longer term every time we have the courage to hold accountability firmly then we can feel satisfied that we are doing our bit as coaches to step up our game and role model behaviours that may inspire our coachees to do likewise as they sit around boardroom tables discussing the issues of the day with their bosses and peers.
Ian and John's book 'Challenging Coaching- Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS' published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing is available on Amazon . More resources can be accessed via www.challengingcoaching.co.uk . This is the sixth of a monthly column on TrainingZone to explore the detail of challenging coaching
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