What Your Brain is Like on Coaching

Coaching is quickly becoming a growing trend in business, with companies enticing new hires with the promise of regular learning and leadership development.

Photo by Christina | wocintechchat

We talk about how the brain develops throughout childhood and adolescence; however it’s also true that our brains continue to change throughout the human lifespan. Our ability to learn new things and rewire old neural pathways — stopping smoking, for example, or shifting from judging to questioning during conflict — is known as neuroplasticity. When we engage in coaching, we are similarly teaching our brains to process differently and thereby engage us in a different set of behaviours.

The neuroscience of coaching supports several conclusions: that experiences transform the brain; that emotions underpin the formation of memories (and thereby our models for behaviour); and that human relationships are the best practice arena for brain transformation.

“Part of how we show up is based on our habits that we’ve formed over the years,”
says Heather Lehmann, principal of Heather Lehmann & Associates in Vancouver. “What are those habits? What are the beliefs that they’re based on? And how can you start to shift some of that stuff so that people can show up in a better way?”

While engaging in leadership development is key to finding your edge and showing up as your best possible self, actually applying that new learning makes all the difference. Following up a leadership intensive with coaching ensures that new learnings and practices stick.

“Coaching is one of the best and most direct paths to actually helping leaders be better leaders,” says Lehmann, who specializes in using neuroscience to optimize leadership development. “It’s a process of application. How do I actually apply [new learning] on a regular basis, day in, day out, and as I’m coming up against new things that maybe I hadn’t even thought of when I originally did that training?”

Your Advantage: The Coach

In a world where organizations share many commonalities (e.g., access to markets, business and operational models, employee benefits), leadership is one of the biggest differentiators that can offer your business a competitive advantage. How do the leaders in your organization show up? Organizations with tight, functional leadership teams have the power to attract the best candidates. Ask yourself what you’re doing to hone and leverage the leaders within your organization.

While coaching has been around for decades, its transformative power suddenly pops into clear relief when we apply neuroscience to its principles. For years, leaders have dismissed a lot of excellent approaches to organizational development — including coaching — because they sound wishy-washy or are tricky to measure. Looking through the lens of neuroscience changes everything.

“[When you say] OK, this is how our brains work, so this is why it makes sense to do these things … that’s something that leaders really respond to,” says Lehmann. “They don’t want to do stuff that they consider to be airy-fairy. They want to do stuff that’s going to get results.”

This Is Personal

Coaching also “improves” people on a deeper human level. The way we express ourselves
at work is simply an activation of our neural programs: our beliefs about ourselves and the world; our ability to manage our thoughts (many of which are not productive or positive, at least before coaching); and the habits we fall back into when we relate to others.

“Coaching is about personal development,” says Adele Fraser, business coach and head of HR for The Village Restaurants. “When an employer supports an employee’s development with coaching services, they are making an investment that will benefit the employer. It’s good business.”

It doesn’t stop there though. What makes coaching attractive to a prospective employee is that the development they experience from coaching is theirs for the long term, even if they move to a different organization.

“Coaching services offered to employees is a good-faith investment by employers,” Fraser says. “It says, ‘We want you to be the best version of you, whether you are working with us or working with someone else.’ It says, ‘We care about you as a person, not just as a number on a financial statement’.”

It’s a wide-angle view that we see reflected in the new economic and socio-emotional perspectives emerging as we collectively navigate a global pandemic: We are all in this together. And when we work together for the common good, we all enjoy life more, not to mention we achieve way better results.

Who wouldn’t want to work for that kind of employer? And wouldn’t you want to be that kind of employer?

Continue reading… Leadership Development with Jim Hayhurst

Alex Van Tol works with organizations to shape and communicate their brand story. Across the charitable, institutional and business sectors, she brings big thinkers together to collaborate on ideas that drive human betterment.