While face-to-face coaching will always be the preferred option for most people, there are times when it’s simply not practical.
For instance, when time is at a premium and diaries are so tight, the best way to ‘meet’ is by phone. Or when your client is based on the other side of the world, it’s just not possible, as the benefits are far outweighed by the cost and time implications of making it happen.
This is why we’ve started to grow the telephone coaching side of our business. We don’t believe that distance should be a barrier to great coaching and, as a technique, it can be very effective.
In a business context, coaching is both action-orientated and future-focussed and using the telephone or Skype as a way of connecting with your coach doesn’t seem to get in the way of either element. Via any medium, the experience and skill of a good coach will shine through if they’re able to listen well, read silences and focus on what is said.
The other advantage of telephone coaching is that it can be cost-effectively offered to clients in other countries and take into account personal preferences for the time of day or night that works best for the client. I’m currently using this method to work with a business executive in Australia and a social enterprise director in India, who would otherwise be unable to benefit from our experience and expertise.
I met Telstra executive, Jane Marshall, some years ago and saw her grow through her career, more latterly with ITV in the UK. After deciding to embark on a life changing trip, travelling the world, she has found herself living in Melbourne and working for Australia’s leading mobile phone, home phone and internet provider. Jane has worked in a variety of roles and on significant projects where her experience and expertise had to flex to accommodate big targets, tight timescales and ever-changing business demands in multiple markets.
As with many executives, it can be isolating working at the top, especially when decisions are tough. For Jane, our coaching has taken many forms – supporting her to dig deep to better access her own insights, challenging her to lead or operate in different ways and acting as a sounding board – where she can think aloud and get a different perspective.
Jane had worked with me before and wanted to work with me again so she was happy to be coached outside normal office hours to ensure this happened. Telephone coaching suits her in terms of offering more flexibility and being able to talk to me, privately and from the comfort of her own home, which she says is more conducive to good thinking. Jane told us that she sometimes finds it difficult to get into the ‘right zone’ to think about herself during business hours, when she’s in work mode, but can think more creatively when she’s occupying her own space.
With Jane, I’m able to see her but she can’t see me and the benefit is that there’s no risk of distraction. Jane isn’t looking for my reaction to her or trying to interpret and second guess what I may or may not be thinking.
At the other end of the spectrum, is Chitra Lancelot, who’s a leader in a charity/social enterprise, working out of the slums in Bangalore, called Concerns Universe Foundation.
While English is not her first language, our sessions work well because video calling enables us to make use of verbal and non-verbal cues. I’m then able to send further reading and learning materials to Chitra via email so she can share these with her team.
I first met Chitra when I spent almost a month in Bangalore getting to know more about her charity and the way it’s organised to create sustainable change through education, community development and healthcare. Following my visit, we raised the money to bring Chitra on a study tour of the UK where she not only shared her own experiences and expertise with those working in the UK social enterprise world, but also learned how equality and social justice is pursued in diverse communities here.
Obviously, many people in the UK benefited from meeting Chitra and hearing her wisdoms and, through our work, we’ve offered a contribution to broadening Chitra’s resources to help her grow her own leadership styles and tools. As well as linking her up with the business community in India, I committed to monthly coaching sessions via Skype that are developing Chitra and ultimately the team around her.
Chitra told us that by sharing her organisation’s conflicts with me, it made her feel less alone – in her words it made her feel ‘lighter’ and that someone was ‘walking this path’ with her. She said by my sharing of simple management concepts, it helped her stop using the word ‘busy’ and calmly think through what was urgent, what was important, what could be delegated and what could be put to one side entirely.
Through telephone coaching, Chitra was able to better understand that, as a manager, she couldn’t do everything – she is now more confident about delegating work and this in turn makes her a better and more effective manager.
So as you can see, for some people, telephone coaching is extremely useful and rewarding.
Why not give it a go? You’ll never know until you try!