Socrates once said that individuals learn best when they have ownership of a situation and share the responsibility for the outcome. That philosophy continues to shape modern coaching clinics today.
In much of Africa Lead’s work, there is value and opportunity in not telling people or organizations what to do all the time, but instead to help them figure out their solutions for themselves. In the spirit of CAADP, such a coaching approach offers a powerful strategy for activities and decisions to become African-led, sustainable, and with a focus on mutual accountability and learning.
The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) is Africa’s policy framework for boosting investment to stimulate growth in the agricultural sector by bringing together the public and private sectors and civil society. Africa Lead serves as a catalyst and connector for learning and innovations in individual leadership behavior, institutional performance, and the policy process in sub-Saharan Africa.
To develop and expand our internal and external coaching capacity, Africa Lead organized two successful Coaching Clinics earlier in the year for 51 trainers/facilitators and staff in West and East Africa. During two intensive training days, participants learned a proven model for effective coaching conversations and practiced practical coaching skills that included discovery questioning, contextual listening, acknowledging, and giving feedback.
Several months have passed since the coaching events, and Marco Noordeloos, Africa Lead’s Senior Advisor for Organization Development and facilitator of the Coaching Clinic was eager to find out how the participants were doing; did the concepts stick? are they applying the coaching mindset and tools? did individual or team performance improve? Marco reached out to the participants to learn more.
The Coaching Clinic is anchored in the dichotomy of asking vs. telling— a major shift that was clearly evident in the post-course assessment. We received ample examples of people becoming more aware about how they show up in the office and in conversations by focusing on: Examples of feedback included “Some team members feel more comfortable talking with me and thinking through solutions to problems.” and “I am able to better understand people’s issue because I take more time to listen rather than thinking of a solution while they are talking.”
A clear example of such shift came from George Ngoha, the Logistics and Programs Support Specialist in our East and Southern Africa office: “I listen and acknowledge team members more, and incorporate more of their ideas.” This was echoed by another participant: “In a meeting last week, I let each of our staff express their opinions in full before I commented and gave my opinion. It was healthy. I learned something. The decision that we made at the end of the meeting was more balanced and effective.”
Another Coaching Clinic participant was Nancy Thuo, an Africa Lead facilitator based in Kenya. Nancy shared an experience with a client who needed to prepare for an upcoming presentation at a high-profile global event.
“When we met, I realized that he had not given much thought to the task,” said Nancy.
Prior to the training, Nancy would have taken on the task to draft a presentation for her client. This time, she decided on a different coaching approach–the one she learned from the Coaching Clinic.
“I wanted to know what my client wanted to get out of his presentation,” explained Nancy. What outcome did he think would be appropriate for the forum? For what reasons did he think he was selected as a panelist? These were the kinds of discovery questioning she used to find out what her client hoped to achieve for himself.
As it turns out, Nancy’s client needed to conduct more research on the presentation event. Instead of doing the research for him, Nancy asked her client to read relevant materials already in his possession and solicit more information from the event organizers. The result was a coaching success. When Nancy spoke with her client later in the week, she noticed that his confidence level was much higher.
“He was able to define the core areas he felt were pertinent and come up with the first draft for his presentation,” said Nancy. As for herself, Nancy now has ample time to effectively coach her client through the polishing of the presentation, which he now owns.
Nancy’s testimony of the power of discovery through coaching was echoed by fellow participants, many of whom say they show up in the office more aware of their personal intention, goals, and interaction with other people. They often seek to better their relationship with co-workers: What can I do to support the relationship with the other person? What language am I using to connect with people?
“During the Coaching Clinic, we used live coaching sessions to demonstrate the different personal communication styles each of us brings to the office,” explained Marco Noordeloos.
Some communication styles are more relatable than others, and during the program, participants practice how they might leverage those differences and adjust their own styles to foster better rapport with colleagues and clients. Many participants reported that they are making more effort to understand what others want to express. This has helped teams interact smoothly and arrive at better outcomes.
Mary Njenga, a seasoned trainer, facilitator, and coach in Kenya, shared how effective communication helped guide her interaction with a client. a senior leader in one of the INGOS, who experienced regular conflict with her direct reports.
“When I spoke to my client, I applied the coaching conversation model from the Coaching Clinic,” said Mary.
Mary continued to explain, “I recognized that most of the conflict was due to their different communication styles.” When she gave her client this feedback, the client immediately confirmed she had correctly diagnosed the problem.
In Mary’s case, effective communication quickly helped her discover the core of the issue; she isn’t the only one reaping such transformation. Other examples came from a respected Africa Lead consultant from Nigeria, Lillian Adegbola, who revealed she now listens to and acknowledges team members more.
“Understanding the different personal communication styles has transformed me and my work, and the way I engage with clients,” said Lillian.
The fruits of improved communication include healthier meetings with more staff comfortably weighing in their opinions and more balanced and effective decision making. This resonates with the Coaching Clinic’s own vision of empowering professionals to become more effective in their roles through a coaching mindset and skills.
Marco Noordeloos stresses, “It’s not about becoming a full-time, certified coach; It is about powerful shifts in how people show up at the office and elsewhere, as a manager, as a professional, and as a human being.”
Often for coaches, that means not burdening themselves with work, but rather increasing their professional impact by allowing others to deliver the results. This requires a shift in thought from scrambling to meet deadlines and micro-managing to delegating tasks efficiently and equipping team members with the knowledge, motivation, and confidence they need to take initiatives. This brings us back to the interaction between Nancy and her client.
“Leaders might think they have more knowledge or better answers,” notes the Coaching Clinic trainer, “But true leadership lies in explaining to staff the why’s behind the what’s.”
“It’s allowing technical experts to become leaders of people to support a common mission, not just managers of projects,” he continued. “That’s what we want to address.”
The good news is that coaching is becoming more prevalent on the African continent, as evidenced by a growing number of professional associations like the International Coaching Federation (ICF) chapters in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, coaching certification courses, and Ph.D. programs.
“What do you think?”
“What options do you see for moving forward?”
“What is the best possible approach here?”
These are the type of questions Africa’s leaders are increasingly asking its staff and team. Such practices are expected to drive a “can-do” spirit among entire communities leading to self-sustaining, African-led resolutions. It’s also fair to predict that through the practice of effective coaching models, more genuine questions will be asked, not to get an opinion across, but because leaders sincerely want to understand and care. A leader who invests in coaching conversations ensures that team members have the information, motivation, confidence, and clarity they need to take initiative and deliver results. They enable their staff and program partners to do more of the heavy lifting in support of the CAADP mission.