Academia may have been a “late adapter” of coaching, but
that is about to change, thanks in part to an economic situation requiring significant modifications in how universities
As work forces contract, some managers are finding themselves in charge of new and unfamiliar areas. Other individuals must demonstrate leadership and strategic planning skills
they did not learn in graduate school. Staff layoffs are causing
significant management challenges.
Many colleges and universities rely on time-tested ways of
doing business. In 2009, however, leaders need to think creatively about everything from doing more and better with less
to finding non-financial means to reward and motivate staff
members. No longer is it acceptable to say “we’ve always done
it that way.” For many long-time directors and vice presidents,
the new order will create discomfort and uncertainty.
Coaching provides the opportunity to help managers adapt
to very different work environments by employing their
strengths in the most effective ways and building their capaci-ties to move successfully into a new era. The strategic use of
coaching can be particularly effective in student affairs given
its culture of assessment. Now is the time to apply learning
outcomes to staff as well as students.
What is Coaching?
The types of coaching most frequently used in the academic
workplace fall into five categories: management, professional
development, performance improvement, transition, and leadership development. Coaching is, by definition, holistic, and
recognizes that factors outside of the work environment affect
an individual’s performance. As a result, coaches may employ
many different types of coaching, including life coaching.
Stephanie Helms, director of assessment and professional
development programs in student affairs at Duke University,
speaks to the value of this holistic approach. “As people we are
not compartmentalized. We don’t stop being parents, significant others, or caregivers when we arrive at the workplace.”
She adds, “Having the opportunity to form a relationship with
someone who is skilled at assisting with navigating each role,
honing skills, and defining success, cannot be underestimated.”
Though coaching styles and purposes may differ, any coaching assignment includes three common elements: a one-on-one relationship, a goal and action orientation, and a commitment to the process on the part of both client and coach.
The first step in developing a successful coaching relationship is to determine the goals of the assignment. Clients are in
the “driver’s seat” and need to clearly identify issues, challenges, and opportunities, and discuss what new behaviors
to explore or employ. This is where trust comes into play—
clients must feel comfortable sharing situations they have not
handled well, or in which they feel less confident, in addition
to helping the coach become acquainted with their strengths.
Further, clients must be open to observations, critique, and
feedback that may conflict with their self-images.
The coach can only help if clients provide sufficient
information about their situations and are open to different
interpretations and perspectives. Chandlee Bryan, president of
Best Fit Forward, a resume writing and career coaching firm,
A manager of residential life is promoted to an assistant
vice president position in which he supervises former
colleagues. His coach helps him navigate difficult human
resources issues while becoming a sounding board for
his work in a new area: strategic planning.
A new career center director is hired from the corporate world. A coach works with her to capitalize on the
strengths and knowledge she brings to the position while
helping her to adapt to the academic world.
The director of student activities has developed wonderful relationships with students, but has been unable to
develop a strong and competent staff. Working with a
coach is part of a formal performance improvement plan.
A 55-year-old director of judicial affairs has volunteered
to take “early retirement” to save money for the department, yet she still needs to work. A coach is hired to
help the director transition to a new position and life
A mid-level manager is identified as someone with
significant growth potential. She works with a coach
to identify and address competence gaps and ensure a
smooth transition to a higher-level position.
believes that a key value of good coaching is the ability to provide an independent assessment of the client’s situation while
providing support for behavior change when necessary.
Ongoing coaching relationships provide opportunities for
staff members to debrief situations with their coaches as they
occur. This immediacy is enormously beneficial for clients and
provides a professional sounding board for potential courses
of action. A good coach will help clients clarify options, widen
perspectives, and find solutions.
Find the Right Coach
Identifying and selecting an appropriate coach is much harder
than it might seem. Anyone can hang a shingle and proclaim
a willingness to provide coaching services, and there are no
universally respected qualifications for coaches. Complicating
matters is the breadth of the field—a life coach may be totally
ineffective as an executive coach and vice versa.
Catherine Fitzgerald, an experienced executive coach, puts
her finger on the problem of finding the right person. “The
[coaching] field emerged outside of academic institutions, and