The Coaching Chronicles #10: The loss of integrity
This is the tenth post in a series about coaching and I have yet to get to the art of coaching itself. Instead, I've focused on how coaches show up and their quality of their character. This determination to explore all aspects of the intangible side of coaching is purposeful because, much like the occupations of priests, preachers, police officers, judges, and doctors, what you accomplish as a coach derives directly from your character.
When coaches lose their integrity, they lose their ability to coach.
Some actions are overt and disastrous. When coaches violate a value system, such as the International Coaching Federation's code of ethics, they destroy any potential for impact (Kee, Anderson, Dearing, Harris, & Shuster, 2010). Other times they run afoul of unwritten and assumed codes of conduct held by those they coach. Whether expected behaviors are explicit or assumed, dishonest actions shatter trust and annihilate any foundation for coaching.
Yet besides the obvious pitfalls to avoid, namely those that are considered criminal acts by state and federal legal systems, what are some other ways in which coaches negatively impact their integrity?
Acts of commission
Coaches often damage their reputation with the best of intentions. When they make too many promises, they run the risk of feeling overwhelmed and ultimately not fulfilling all of their obligations (Kee et al., 2010). While it may make a coach feel needed and important to commit themselves to providing a broad range of support to various teachers, reality often gets in the way.
Coaches understand that sometimes plans change because of the ever-shifting reality of the needs of a school, but do the teachers accept that? They are more concerned with their needs, not the 27 new problems that just cropped up to rearrange the coach's schedule. If a coach commits to do something and doesn't come through, regardless of the reason, integrity is diminished. When a coach's work is too expansive, the potential exists that coaches will take on too many roles and, as a result, dilute the impact of their work (Killion, 2009).
This inability to deliver what's promised not only affects relationships, it also damages the coach. Repeated failures to make and keep commitments hacks away at a coach's self-confidence (Covey & Merrill, 2006). More than simply the teachers losing faith, coaches begin to doubt their own efficacy. This can lead to a further withdrawal or unwillingness to commit to hard conversations needed for change. If a coach doesn't trust herself to provide resources as promised, how can she believe in her ability to lead a teacher through complex changes?
Coaches also run into difficulty when they color their words and actions with an air of superiority. Arrogant coaches are unsuccessful coaches (Knight, 2009). For example, coaches often provide feedback to teachers based on classroom observations. When the feedback is received as unhelpful, untrue, or coming from a vantage point of loftiness, it triggers feelings of indignation in the teacher (Stone & Heen, 2015). Even if the feedback is valid and designed to be helpful, how it is delivered can drastically change its effect.
Acts of omission
More than simply committing acts that endanger integrity, coaches must also guard against the temptation to not perform certain actions. Keeping back a vital piece of information, strategy, insight, or difficult but powerful piece of feedback can be just as damaging to the coach-teacher relationship. Withholding is like an untruth. It entails not being authentic and ultimately degrades the level of trust in the relationship (Kee et al., 2010).
While it may seem inherent in any coaching relationship, permission is not something that a coach can take for granted. Coaches must be very patient and compassionate, constantly checking that the teacher is willing to engage in coaching. If coaches assume that permission granted in the past extends to new and deeper directions, they run the risk of losing trust (Aguilar, 2013). Pushing teachers in a direction they are unwilling to go, based on an presupposition of permission, is risky.
How coaches talk with teachers can also put their relationship on shaky ground. If they pad a message with so many layers of cushioning that they keep back the heart of the feedback, they are withholding (Scott, 2004). While few teachers enjoy being verbally punched in the face with harsh or vicious comments, softening the message to the point that it disappears is just as damaging. The art of coaching lies in finding the middle ground, delivering necessary messages while strengthening the level of trust and the relationship.
In the same light, some coaches value the relationship they have with teachers so much that they shy away from hard topics or coaching goals. While it's obvious to both parties that something serious needs to be addressed, they avoid it in attempt to keep the relationship from being damaged. Whenever coaches fail to deal with the real issues in a classroom, however, how they are perceived becomes dominated by one of two interpretations. They either lack in character or they are incompetent (Covey & Merrill, 2006). Either way, avoiding real issues to save the relationship results in the very thing that the coach wanted to steer clear of - a broken coaching relationship.
Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: Effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
Covey, S. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. Simon and Schuster.
Kee, K., Anderson, K., Dearing, V., Harris, E., & Shuster, F. (2010). RESULTS coaching: The new essential for school leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Killion, J. (2009). Coaches' roles, responsibilities, and reach. In J. Knight (Ed.), Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Knight, J. (2009). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Scott, S. (2004). Fierce conversations: Achieving success at work & in life, one conversation at a time. Penguin.
Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2015). Thanks for the feedback: the science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you're not in the mood). Penguin.