Who sees the change after leadership coaching – not me!

In an interesting article in the September 2015 edition of the International Coaching Psychology Review, Doug MacKie describes the perceived impact of coaching assessed using 360-degree feedback before and after coaching. The results found a significant difference in perceived transformational leadership behaviour after coaching, however, this was assessed differently based on the level of rater within the organisation.

The research studied the impact of coaching with a group of 31 senior managers acting as coachees with 11 coaches. Following a strengths based interview the coachees completed a 360-degree questionnaire with feedback and then selected three coaching goals. The 360-feedback process was repeated after the coaching sessions, with interesting results.

The results showed that there was a statistically significant increase in the perceived transformational leadership behaviour after coaching, but this was seen differently at all levels within the organisation, but surprisingly, not by the coachees themselves. The line managers of the coachee noticed the greatest change in leadership behaviour. Peers and direct reports also saw the change, but this effect was less than that perceived by the line manager.

Rendered Concept of a 360 degree feedback.

It is reassuring that the impact of coaching was seen by those around the coachee in terms of observable leadership behaviour. Doug MacKie explains that the differences perceived by line manager, peers and direct reports could be explained as people at different levels were rating different qualities. For example, Doug suggests that line managers were rating based on performance criteria, whilst direct reports rated on relational factors.

What is interesting is that there were no significant changes in the coachees own perception of their transformational leadership behaviour following the coaching. So everyone else was noticing a change, but not the coachee. The research does not offer an explanation of why this might be, but there are several explanations I can think of.

As Doug MacKie said, the different raters were making assessments based on different criteria. This might have been the case for the coachees themselves. There may be a difference between observed behaviour and feelings. For example, the coachee may have been rating on how they felt rather than simply the behaviour demonstrated. Behaviour can lead feelings, to a certain extent it is easier to ‘act as if’ as opposed to ‘feel as is’ on the inside. To create lasting internal change that is felt by the individual, as well as external change that is witnessed by others, observable behaviour needs to be reinforced by feedback. Overtime this is internalised to create a felt change as well as an observed change. An internalised change is sustainable.

As we know, coaching creates change over time. Maybe there is a time lag effect with felt internalised change, as this is the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle to be put in place. However, if the coaching assignment is relatively short in duration, then the reinforcement process may have only just begun, and the internalisation not yet taken place.

It is interesting for leaders to be aware that other people around them may observe a change before they feel a change. This emphasises the importance of a 3-way review meeting at the end of the coaching assignment, with coach, coachee and line manager together to provide feedback to reinforce the on-going change. If 360-feedback is used at the end of the coaching assignment to assess progress, then careful debrief by the coach is important, again to maintain the momentum of change towards internalise felt change.

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