At RainTree, new clients ask us two recurring questions about our group coaching programmes for middle managers:

  1. Why have chosen to build your middle management leadership development programme around coaching; and
  2. Is coaching (which is traditionally a development tool for executive leadership) the right development approach for middle managers?

Training is the traditional development method used for middle managers. So, before we explore the answers to these questions, it is important to unpack what we believe the difference is between training and coaching.  They are often terms that are used interchangeably and are often confused in the actual facilitation.

Training is a method of development where knowledge and learning is given to the learner.  The process will involve a range of methods of providing knowledge to a learner from an expert (the trainer).  Although learners are active participants in working with the knowledge, the knowledge comes from the expert and is shared with the learner.  RainTree has immense respect for training and participate in training when we need to expand our knowledge and learn new skills that support us to coach and run our business more successfully.  Suppositions with training are:

  • there is a skills gap that needs to be closed; and 
  • that the knowledge being transferred by the expert is the “right” answer.

Coaching, on the other hand, is a development method that understands the coachee has their own foundational knowledge.  The knowledge has been gained through life experiences, other training programmes and through successes and failures they have lived through.  The coach’s role is to ask challenging questions and share coaching models.  These support the coachee to gain clarity and insight on how they can solve their leadership challenges and/or overcome their blind spots.  Coaching is a very collaborative learning experience where the coach doesn’t tell the answer but supports the coachee to:

  • Explore what they know.
  • Clarify their goals.
  • Challenge existing beliefs and methods.
  • Reflect and gain insight and clarity.
  • Consider their insights against their circumstances and environment.
  • Provide accountability and support to the coachee to make the necessary changes; and
  • Develop a way forward (plan, structure, new approach etc.) that leans into their strengths and manages their weaknesses.

So why would RainTree have chosen to build our middle management leadership development programme around coaching and is this the “right” development methodology for middle managers?

Middle managers have worked with people prior to joining us in our coaching room.  Although many have never received formal leadership training, they have all walked the leadership journey and gained skills from experiences.  Generally, middle managers understand how important it is to lead successfully for their teams to achieve the results that they need.  The flip side of the coin is that they are struggling with elements of leadership responsibilities like having difficult conversations, giving negative feedback, and holding themselves and staff accountable.  They normally have the knowledge on these management activities, but they haven’t worked out what the block is that is getting in the way of doing them.  Providing training and more knowledge will not get the managers to behave differently

With coaching, each participant is called on to think about the leadership challenge that is being explored.  The coach guides the exploration of the coaching topic, challenges limiting beliefs and thought patterns and supports each person to gain personal insight that helps them to realise “how” they can lead differently.  The realisations are different for each person. They also reflect and consider what the blockers are that stop them from leading the way they want to lead.  Information and knowledge are not normally a problem.  How to apply that knowledge in an authentic and appropriate way is what transforms the managers from average to excellent.

Traditionally, coaching has been an exclusive development offering provided to senior and executive leadership.  Good coaches have attended specialist training to ask the challenging questions and support the leaders to mine powerful answers.  RainTree’s Middle Management Coaching is predominantly done in groups so that the middle managers:

  • Get the benefit of thinking and learning from each other.
  • Build fitness in challenging their thinking together; and
  • Grow as a team that hold each other accountable and provide support after we complete our programme. 

Group coaching has proven very effective with middle managers who value and grow stronger from sharing the experience with their fellow managers, who travel the journey with them.  It is also more affordable for the business than individual coaching. 

At RainTree, the insightful and profound changes we have witnessed with the middle managers that have been coached, confirms our belief in the value of coaching for this critical leadership team.  They solve problems, empower their teams, achieve improved performance, handle failure and conflict maturely and partner with their leadership in overall business success.  These are not trainable skills.  Changes like these are only achievable through self-reflection and realising how you can and want to lead more effectively.  And then having the supported courage to make the changes that lead to success.    

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