A Manager as a Coach?

During the week of July 10, 2017,  I was in Versoix, Switzerland, a small rural village on the outskirts of Geneva, working with 18 senior leaders from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Health Unit and Physical Rehabilitation Program. They invited the USAID-funded Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project (myself and fellow LMG Project colleague Kate Wilson) to facilitate a workshop on coaching and communication skills.

We worked at ICRC’s Ecogia training center, an old house surrounded by corn and sunflower fields, below blue skies and white clouds. If for a few cars passing by, you could think you were in a beautiful summer in the 19th century.

Left and top right: ICRC staff participate in a communication and coaching skills workshop in July 2017. Bottom right: A view of the scenery around ICRC’s Ecogia traning center in Switzerland. (Photos: Lourdes de la Peza/MSH)

Our 18 participants were managers of ICRC’s health and physical rehabilitation country programs in conflict or post-conflict countries like Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Myanmar, and Pakistan, among others.

The managers were eager to participate because they recognize many of the challenges they face to help local rehabilitation and health facilities provide quality services are not related to technical expertise alone. They came to the training trying to find answers to questions like:

ICRC participants discuss during a communication and coaching skills workshop in July 2017. (Photo: Kate Wilson/MSH)

  • How can I help improve service delivery when health providers have low motivation?
  • How can I work with staff who do not recognize their mistakes?
  • What can I do when a rehabilitation center (or health facility) manager seems concerned with protecting his ego, will not receive any feedback, and is resistant to take the measures needed to improve performance?

Some of these challenges are the kind of issues managers and supervisors routinely face in their work environment. When it is necessary to secure the motivation and commitment of other persons to attain organizational goals, authoritarian and domineering management models do not work well—and even if they work in the short-term, they are often impossible to sustain.

By improving their communication and coaching skills, these leaders will be better equipped to promote talent in other people. Setting aside the old paradigm of issuing orders, instructions, or advice, the manager can coach or facilitate other people to discover new possibilities for effective action themselves.

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