On the face of it, a book called The Weekly Coaching Conversation is not the most obviously interesting, even for those who aspire to develop their ability to coach. However, the book is both well-written and insightful. It is based on five years of research carried out in conjunction with Ipsos. The book starts with a fable, making it easy to read—and like all the best fables, it has a clear and easy-to-understand message. We recommend reading it. However, if you don’t have time, here are our top takeaways.
Coaching is both essential, and extremely rare
Souza’s research into what made world-class team leaders found one crucial factor. High-performers coached, rather than managed, their teams. They consistently provided high quality and constructive feedback designed to help people develop their skills. More coaching resulted in more improvement. However, almost half of employees (44%) reported that they had never received any coaching or developmental feedback—which goes a long way to explaining the vast number of poorly-performing teams and managers in the world.
“Great coaches consistently get the most out of their people because they consistently put the most in.”
The book describes a four-quadrant framework of leadership, with productivity plotted against rapport. Micromanagers have poor rapport with their team, and get poor productivity. They over-manage, leaving their team frustrated. ‘Nice Guys’ have great rapport with the team, but are too keen to be seen as a friend. They won’t have difficult conversations, and as a result, productivity is low. ‘Do it All Managers’ have high productivity. However, they underrate their teams, and constantly leap in to ‘sort them out’. Coaches, on the other hand, have high productivity and rapport. It seems that when you put more in, you get more out. This is not just about logic, but also emotional: coaching leaders care about those they manage.
“Coaching is not merely something that you, as a manager, must do. A coach is someone that you, as a leader, must become.”
In other words, great leaders don’t coach, they are coaches. The lesson here is that coaching is not a part of leadership, but leadership itself. One of the fundamental ideas behind the book is that our achievements do not matter nearly as much as what we are, ourselves, and what we become. This is interesting because we are usually taught that feedback should be behavioural. However, this book suggests that work is about much more: that as leaders and coaches, we have to bring ourselves to work, and not just our behaviour. If we do so, we can create real change, not just behavioural change.
Regular coaching is essential
The book suggests the importance of a weekly coaching conversation to improve performance. Souza suggests that there is a direct correlation between level of coaching and performance improvement: more coaching = more improvement. No coaching therefore equals no improvement. This seems obvious when you think about coaching for sport, but it somehow gets overlooked at work.
There is a clear framework for coaching conversations
The framework for coaching conversations is simple: first, change your approach, second, create the environment, and third, transform the conversation. In practice, this means:
- Change your approach means starting to think like a coach. In other words, you must recognise that you are not a player anymore. Your team are the players, and your reputation rests on whether they achieve—not whether you achieve. You also have to recognise that your mindset and beliefs affect your behaviour, and what you will get out of your team.
- Create the environment means building relationships with your team so that they (and you) are ready and open to coaching conversations. Coaching requires trust, on both sides—and also an understanding of how best to work with each person.
- Transform the conversation means focusing on what matters—and recognising that ‘what gets measured gets done’. Your coaching conversations need to focus on what you need to do to get the job done, and you need to focus on listening, not telling.
Coaches recognise and develop potential—and plant self-confidence
If we were to sum up the message of the book in a single phrase, this would probably be it. Souza argues that there are two main elements of coaching. The first is to recognise potential, and be able to bring it out. The second is to give people self-confidence: the belief that they can achieve, and that they are enough. This book provides the framework to deliver these two.