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Feature: Bringing FEI “Home”—The Value of Peer Coaching
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By Katherine Darke (P436) and Jon Gatti (P436)

Peer coaching can be a powerful extension of the FEI experience. Coaching from an FEI peer offers (1) reinforcement of the work you did on campus, (2) accountability for making plans and sticking to them, and (3) a sounding board to process how best to integrate your knowledge about leading change in your work. Peer coaching should be purposefully structured to achieve the best results.

First, developing peer coaching relationships takes time and effort. The time investment comes from identifying someone with whom you will be comfortable in a coaching relationship and committing the time to regular sessions. In our experience, more frequent coaching exchanges make coaching more efficient. The more familiar the framework is for both parties, the more quickly you can get to the really valuable conversations. You will spend less time on small talk.

Your time investment is redeemed because coaching is a force multiplier for the brain. Ultimately, it ends up being a time saver when you use the coaching relationship to generate creative solutions. Instead of reacting the same way to the same situation repeatedly, or trying serial, incremental changes to try to affect a better outcome, you can use coaching to efficiently develop the best strategies to deal with chronic or emerging challenges. 

Coaching relationships can be broadly or narrowly focused. The advantages of coaching for a specific, defined challenge are that there are clear boundaries and a predictable timeline to guide your sessions. This might make it easier to schedule, and perhaps quicker to get to the outcomes you want to achieve. In this context the coach may have a narrower, more discrete storyline to work with, which can make the coach role feel less daunting. And, of course, this is how we practiced at FEI, so all of us have a little experience working this way.

However, the other alternative is to engage in a coaching relationship related to day-to-day leadership behaviors. In our experience, this requires more frequent coaching sessions and getting to know each other better. The payoffs of structuring your coaching relationship this way are that you get more frequent feedback and you have more accountability for daily behaviors that determine how you “show up” at work. When the peer coach has more insight into a person’s day-to-day life, he or she has more data points and more observations and is better positioned to coach effectively about big and small challenges.

For us, it was important to establish a metaphoric safety net supporting our peer coaching practice with each other. We agree that coaching has been crucial in our continued professional development as leaders. We acknowledge and honor that we are both learning this craft. We forgive each other for coaching missteps. We appreciate the journey. 

Peer coaches are not professional coaches. Therefore, they must focus on how their repertoire will grow over time. Operating with static skills gleaned from one month at Leadership for a Democratic Society (LDS), for example, will not sustain successful long-term coaching. Certainly, coaches become more proficient at the basics with practice, but they must approach their role as a peer coach with a “growth mindset” in order to expand their skills. One path to success is to attend further coaching training, or explore books, articles, and webinars that explore coaching themes and analyze them as part of coaching practice. This infusion of new perspectives and information can make the coaching relationship more effective and more rewarding. 

Things we wonder about:

  1. Have you invested time in peer coaching? How has it worked out for you?
  2. What characteristics or traits are important to you in a peer coach?
  3. How do you assess the success of peer coaching? 
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