Rewarding Futures

Tackling Coaching: What business leaders can gain from elite sport

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Image: Bath, England & Lions rugby player, Lee Mears

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

Of the many coaching quotes available, this feels particularly relevant to the subject of executive coaching, and one particular approach where business leaders faced with challenges have to look within themselves if they are to harness the performance levels of their sporting counterparts.

A recent survey of 600 European business leaders found that companies see it more important to invest in developing their executives than hiring new talent when it comes to both driving change and growth. This is consistent with Vana Resourcing’s view of the business world over the last year with the majority of our corporate clients pursuing major change and transformation agendas – therefore driving the need to upskill ‘C-suite’ leadership. And this is where executive coaching can be helpful in equipping them to manage – and succeed – through a seemingly permanent state of flux.

Executive Coaching is an additional service that we have offered to clients through a partnership with international coaching consultancy, The Preston Associates (TPA). And with the autumn rugby internationals under way, it’s a good moment to get the insight of former Bath, England and Lions player Lee Mears. A TPA partner, Lee is consultant to the England Rugby coaching team and, with additional experience in the food/beverage and property markets, can draw upon both a sporting and business background. So, given that it’s a familiar analogy, is there anything new that businesses can still learn from elite sporting performance? 

‘The latest development is something we call ‘growth mindset’ ’, says Lee. ‘It’s all about egos being in harness to the group, the leader in a position of service to the group and, most importantly, seeing the challenges - both personal and from failures - as learning and growth opportunities. We then add combining passionate emotional motivation with steely resolve to deliver your role and win. This is what elite sport coaching can bring to a business and, based on these principles, TPA has developed an Elite Business Performance (EBP) Coaching approach that can be tailored to different client needs.’ 

Given its perceived importance and value, why then are some leaders reluctant to take on business coaching? ‘They may read it as there’s something wrong with them, or that simply benefitting from another’s advice is a sign of weakness and/or incompetence. This approach does not work easily with senior managers who might be defensive, set in their ways or unwilling to look firmly in the mirror at both their strengths and areas that may need change. In elite sport, when we talk about a courageous conversation we mean it, so if businesses are to benefit from this approach it’s a conversation they need to have too.’

So how does Lee think HRDs can influence their senior leaders to consider coaching? ‘They should ask two questions that elite sport really focuses on; ‘Is elite sport currently doing better than the top businesses at managing performance?’, and ‘do you believe that all your employees are really performing as well as they could?’ Two additional questions – ‘do we recruit mostly on academic qualifications or on attitude and potential?’, and ‘are we looking for teams that consistently outperform our expectations?’ also lie at the heart of elite sport coaching. But I appreciate that asking the question is easier said than done!’ 

And from his experience, Lee has seen the tangible difference that coaching can make. ‘Each of my clients in different ways needed a thinking partner and fearless challenger, and I can honestly say that all have accelerated forward on their journey to being the best they can be - and enjoying that journey too. Importantly, business results have also improved.’ 

Executive Coaching is a subject we’ll return to in the coming months, and if it’s triggered any thinking as to the possibilities for your business we’ll be happy to explore this further with you.

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