Some Australian doctors are turning to the concept of coaching to assist them with various career challenges.
We asked Dr Anthony Llewellyn to discuss how coaching can be used and the potential benefits doctors can gain from it.
Anthony is a Medical HR expert who recently spent 4 years as Medical Director at the Health Education and Training Institute where he led the design of a number of leadership and management programs.
An immerging trend in medicine
I am regularly asked to speak about leadership and management challenges to colleagues. The conversation usually starts with a discussion about how they felt underprepared to lead and manage a team when they became a consultant. The conversation then naturally turns to a discussion about what things might help senior doctors to deal better with being a boss.
For the early career consultant, it’s often hard to know where to start. There are many online, as well as short and long courses for leadership and management in medicine, but it helps to have some guidance along the way.
This is where coaching steps in.
The possible benefits of coaching have been well known in the sports field, as well as in arts and management for some time. And it’s now becoming more common in medicine to think about coaching as a potential tool for both individual as well as organisational growth. There has for some years been an emerging trend in the United Kingdom, supported by the NHS. I myself am a member of a small group of doctors and professional coaches interested in promoting the concept in Australia.
What is Coaching?
The field of coaching and the type of coaching is quite broad and so finding a definition that fits all circumstances is a little difficult. I do like the definition of the International Coaching Federation as I think it hits most of the key issues in a concise manner.
> ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
A description of what happens in coaching and how coaching works deserves its own dedicated blog post (there are many coaching explanation blogs already) But I wanted to give some examples of how coaching might help senior doctors.
Coaching for Performance
Perhaps, as a Consultant or Clinical Director, you have been struggling with one or two staff members who don’t fit well with the rest of the team and are affecting morale and productivity? You’ve tried all the usual tactics to get these people to engage, but the situation is not improving.
Coaching can assist you to view the situation in different ways and find unique solutions, or perhaps give you the confidence to engage in a difficult conversation that you have been avoiding up until now. We call this “performance coaching”.
Coaching for Mastery
Coaching might also help that same individual clarify their longer-term career goals and what things they may need to do and learn to get there. We call this “mastery” or sometimes “career coaching”.
Coaching for Skills
Coaching engagements can also be useful for learning or improving specific skills. A classic example is preparing for job interviews or improving presentation performance.
In both coaching for mastery and performance, coaching engagements might normally occur every couple of weeks and go for a few months; with coaching for skills, such engagements are usually a bit shorter.
How is coaching different to other methods you are more used to?
The main way in which coaching differs from other relational experiences, such as supervision and mentoring, is that there is less emphasis on being experienced in the same field of work and a greater emphasis on the coach and coachee being on a more equal footing in the relationship.
In supervision or mentoring, one might seek out (or be allocated) someone more senior to you who is more knowledgeable in that field. In coaching however, the person you seek out will generally know less about your field but be more experienced in asking questions and conducting a conversation with you that assists you in developing new perspectives (new solutions to problems).
Often when a doctor engages with a coach it may actually be with someone who is in another field of medicine, or not even in the medical field at all.