From Boss to Leader: My Transformation Through Coaching
Post by guest author, Erin Ramcoomar
I’ve been in the leadership game for decades now. The first time I was put in charge was in my late teens, when I was a supervisor in a popular drugstore. At the time and in that industry, coaching wasn’t a thing that happened. Instead, I got my marching orders for how the day was supposed to look, and off I went to cover breaks and soothe irritated customers. My leadership success was measured in whether I could balance the tills at the end of the day.
Fast forward to mid-2020. I’m a director in a well known financial institution, I have a large team, and I’m accountable for moving my business forward while also supporting my people. Beyond just results (which are always important), I’m now also accountable for how my employees feel—how engaged they are, how willing and able they are, and what kind of environment I’m creating for them. Coaching is now a regular thing but, if I’m honest, my approach to it is inconsistent at best. I’ll learn later that what I defined as “coaching” more closely matches “mentorship” instead. I’m providing direction, but not leaving a lot of space for my team to find their own way.
Enter the Maslow Centre. I’m a learning junkie, and when I identify a gap I like to close it. It’s what led me to getting three certifications from the University of Calgary—see gap, close gap. So when I heard about the Maslow Centre’s coaching certification programs, I was all in. I liked that they were ICF certified. Besides the fact that this proved that they were a legitimate and experienced coaching school, I selfishly like fancy post-nominal letters. Oddly, though, what I liked best was that they promised NO ROLE PLAY (sorry, facilitators but…role play sucks). That, coupled with interactive weekly Zoom sessions + a chance to expand my network while honing my coaching skills meant I was hooked.
Confession time: I was a bit arrogant going into Module 1. Although I knew it was aimed toward senior leadership, and all my peers were my level or above, I still smugly thought I’d breeze through this “Foundations of Coaching.” We all have a bit of an ego, right? Well, learn from my (very) poor assumption—Module 1 is not Coaching 101. It expects that you come with an understanding of coaching and enough experience to draw on. This is not a program for brand new leaders who have never coached a soul. The Maslow Centre’s niche is helping senior leadership get even better at their leadership by transforming their coaching, which means the “foundation” they are talking about is for an estate home, not a starter one.
Module 1 was invaluable in refining my coaching approach, learning how to ask powerful questions, and figuring out when it’s appropriate to be the mentor (giving advice) vs. the coach (leading to self-discovery). There were so many opportunities to practice in small groups with real life scenarios we were working through, which gave me a safe space to bounce around ideas while also forming new relationships with some pretty amazing leaders from across the globe. The four-hour session every week felt like a welcome addition to my time, not a chore that I had to figure out how to fit in. And the real-time observational feedback provided by the Maslow Centre team meant I could hone my skills in the moment.
Key takeaways from Module 1:
- Coaching is NOT therapy. Focus on the present to the future and you’ll have much better outcomes.
- Most of your time is spent asking questions and exploring the problem. If you jump to solutioning too quickly, you won’t have uncovered enough to inspire good action.
- Establishing what your coachee wants to get out of the conversation and agreeing on a direction (called contracting) is the most important and also the most missed step. If you don’t agree on a direction, you’re likely to go off on tangents that don’t lead to a reasonable conclusion.
- The sandwich feedback model (good-bad-good) doesn’t work. Full stop. Most people actually need to hear four things they’re doing well to every one opportunity. Too many opportunities feels overwhelming and disengaging. You need to lift people up even more than you identify what they need to work on.
Then came Module 2, named Leadership Coaching. This module builds off the Foundations of Coaching, and is all about helping people discover their purpose and connect things to their values. It’s about hearing things underneath what’s actually being said, calling out what you’re noticing, and guiding people toward their “North Star.” It’s about setting goals, coaching for development, performance, and/or skill, and setting the tone to build stronger teams.
Key takeaways from Module 2:
- If you are looking for a particular result, you have to work backwards and identify what skills are needed to get the result and then what character traits are needed to gain the skill.
- Tying a goal to a value significantly increases your commitment to that goal.
- Focusing on what’s within our locus of control brings us back into a realistic action plan that we have direct influence on.
- When dealing with conflict, it can help to identify “my way,” “your way,” the “middle way,” and the “new way.”
Practically, what I learned had some cool immediate benefits in my “real” life. Turns out that all that research that both the Maslow Centre and others are doing that show that coaching is the key to unlocking employee potential was bang on. I was able to navigate some tricky scenarios using the skills I learned and got significantly better results than my previous attempts. Focusing on the positive does actually motivate people to do better. And rolling results into skills into character does help people develop their careers.
Another really cool aspect of the Maslow Centre is, maybe unsurprisingly, their focus on how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs translates into 21st century organizations. Just like Maslow has basic, psychological, and growth needs for survival, so do we for work. Instead of food and shelter, our work basic needs include things like technology and training. Instead of friendships and romance, our work psychological needs are things like collaboration, inclusion, and development. But just like the original, self-actualization comes when we can reach our full potential—at work that means having a purpose, feeling empowered, and having your leader double as your coach. It turns out that coaching in leadership isn’t a “nice to have,” it’s absolutely critical for your employees and your company to reach their best version possible.
I was “coaching” before—at least, what I defined as such. If I reflect, though, I was more providing direction. Which, to be clear, is still absolutely required and necessary in leadership, especially in high urgency/high impact situations. There was nothing wrong with what I was doing, if I was content staying in psychological needs and never moving toward self-actualization. But letting those coaching moments in during those less urgent/less impactful situations has meant that my team can propel forward. We’ve made gains on things we figured we’d just were destined to plateau forever on. I’ve heard ideas and seen accountability in spades. The result is a more engaged, more willing, more capable team. And that directly translates into more efficiency and better results, and I can’t argue with that kind of proof.
Before, I was a boss teetering on the edge of leadership. Thanks to the Maslow Centre, I’ve dove head first into being a leader. One that coaches and encourages and considers needs. And that’s exactly who I want to be.
Erin Ramcoomar is a tenured leader who loves finding opportunities and driving them forward. She has certifications in Change Management, Strategic Management, Professional Writing, and (soon-to-be) Coaching and works hard to use her education for good. In her spare time, she enjoys running and napping – usually in that order.