How can coaching be used through e-learning tools?

Written by
Changeboard Team

05 Jul 2010

05 Jul 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Leadership judgement

Talented people are critical to organisational success but talent is worth nothing unless it is properly managed.

One answer lies in what is referred to as leadership judgement: the ability to simultaneously weigh up the nature of the task and the characteristics of the people available to be involved in the project. This enables the manager to decide on the most appropriate approach to dealing with each of the many specific business Challenges with which managers are faced every day.

Decision support

Should the manger tell the team what to do (i.e. make a decision based on his or her own ideas) or consult the team (i.e. make a decision based on input from the team)? Or, maybe the manager should equalise the power such that the decision is made by the team as a whole or perhaps the best course of action is delegation; let the team make the decision based on their own ideas without input from the manager?

Coaching perspective

Deciding what approach to take requires effective leadership judgement and the competencies arising from this include, among many others:

The necessary skills required to judge whether a task needs the breadth of analysis and multiple perspectives provided by group discussion 

  • The ability to accurately identify the urgency of the task
  • The capacity to gauge the likely commitment to a decision that has been imposed without consultation
  • The aptitude to weigh up whether subordinates have sufficient information, expertise, confidence and maturity to reach a high quality decision

The concept of leadership judgement arises from research which suggests that managers who are effective at working with and through people are able to be flexible in the style of leadership they adopt. This is because they analyse business Challenges according to the nature of the task and the characteristics of the people involved with a view to arriving at a style of managing the situation which will maximise both employee engagement and business Results. 

A cognitive process

Leadership judgment is a cognitive process and cognition is more difficult to coach than behaviour. Its easier for coaches to help people develop observable behaviour than it is to coach thinking style or analysis which are hard to observe. And its not easy for a coach to observe the way in which people make decisions and even trickier for an individual manager to articulate it. But, with computer technology it has now become possible to monitor and analyse the blind spots that inhibit good leadership judgment.

The effective use of new computer-based tools - such as Coach on the Desktop (CotD) from Hogrefe - can assist in developing leadership judgement. In this instance, the model on which it is based, derives from, and builds upon, very early contingency models (most importantly Vroom and Yetton 1973). This early model has been refined over the years and aligned with the business Challenges that todays leaders face.

Robustness of the model

The original leadership judgement model was selected as a starting point for this e-learning tool because of the strong evidence suggesting that if leaders follow the principles espoused by it, they are more likely to make effective people-management decisions. Leaders who use decision making styles that agree with the model have more productive and satisfied subordinates (Paul and Ebadi 1989).

On average, leaders using the style recommended by the model tend to make significantly more effective decisions compared to leaders using a style not recommended by the model (Field and House 1990). In other words, although the model is more than three decades old, it still retains serious credibility. However, until the development of the electronic sophistication which facilitated the publication of CotD, it had not been fully exploited as a way of coaching managers.

Leadership questions

The thought mechanisms underlying effective leadership judgement can be expressed as a set of questions relating to the nature of the task and the characteristics of the people involved. The answers to these questions determine which style of leadership is most appropriate for the situation at hand. However, becoming good at leadership judgement doesnt simply depend on learning the questions, it depends also of course, on being able to discern from the situation at hand, the correct answers to the questions.

Inexperienced managers may respond wrongly to the questions because of blind spots in their analysis of situations. The key to developing leadership judgement is identifying these blind spots and remedying them.

In terms of identifying the blind spots, an e-learning approach can do this more quickly and systematically than the coach so freeing up the coachs time to focus on working with the coachee to address the identified blind spots.

E-learning coaching solution

The CotD, for example, allows managers to practice using the leadership judgement questions on their own, real, hands-on, everyday Challenges in leading people. Meanwhile the system retains in its database a record of how the individual has responded to all the questions across all the various real-life decisions they have put in.

From this data base it identifies thought patterns which may be hindering effective leadership judgment.

For example, suppose a manager continually responds negatively to the question: Is this a developmental opportunity for your team? The coach can then pick this up and explore how the manager defines and identifies development opportunities at work.

E-learning Benefits

Combining e-learning with coaching has particular utility where the focus is on becoming familiar with and applying a theoretical model in practice:

  • It is easily integrated with normal face-to-face  and telephone coaching
  • It provides a way to maintain engagement between coaching sessions through practice in applying the model
  • It accelerates learning and helps internalize the behaviour so it becomes more instinctive
  • It allows the coach to see demonstrated performance of the competency rather than basing their understanding on self-report and discussion; this is particularly helpful where the focus is on coaching cognitive processes like leadership judgement because cognitive processes cannot always easily be described by the coachee
  • The capacity of e-learning tools to provide ongoing analysis of actual behaviour facilitates meaningful conversations to reinforce developing leadership behaviour.