Coaching and the Military: Adding the Coach Approach to Leadership - International Coaching Federation
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Coaching and the Military: Adding the Coach Approach to Leadership

Posted by Robert Fluharty, ACC | September 10, 2020 | Comments (3)

Military leadership is often considered one-way communication, where orders are given at senior levels and trickle down through the ranks without question or discussion. While tactical communications do exist while engaged in combat-related operations, this is not the norm.

Day-to-day military life has similarities to that of any large corporate organization. In both environments, leadership must motivate employees to meet goals, complete tasks and interact in a professional manner. As an all-volunteer force, the retention of talented individuals in the military requires the creation of a culture open to input and innovation. To achieve this, the U.S. military is embracing coaching.

The U.S. military is exploring external coaches for leadership at different levels of responsibility and is currently training internal coaches in different areas, such as the Air National Guard (ANG), a reserve component of the U.S. Air Force. In 2018, The ANG reinvented the role of the human resource advisor (HRA).

The HRA position, which is unique to this branch, previously focused on Diversity through professional development training related to organization skills and communication. The new direction of the HRA improved awareness of Diversity with an emphasis on Inclusion, along with professional development efforts. The new cadre of HRAs are trained to become functional practitioners in the instruction of emotional intelligence, temperament awareness, unconscious bias and microaggressions.

Along with the ability to instruct on these skills, ANG leadership rewrote regulations specifically addressing coaching as a tool to cultivate inclusive leaders. For the past three years, HRAs have attended ICF-accredited instruction and training. As a result, each HRA learns the ICF Core Competencies and the importance of powerful questions.

Upon completion of training, these coaching skills are available to military commanders and supervisors. HRAs are trained to use 360- and 180-degree assessments, helping leadership find blind spots that prevent them from creating an inclusive culture. The HRA then uses the coach approach of focus, meaning and outcome to help leaders take ownership of their actions and identify ways to improve. The techniques of coaching are shared with leadership to eliminate accusatory questions like “Why?” and improve listening skills. The work of the HRA is not to turn the military leaders into coaches, but rather to influence a cultural change where open dialogue fosters an environment in which members at all levels feel heard, valued and respected.

The HRA is not the only source for coaching projected in the military. Top U.S. military officials acknowledged that the investment in professional coaches is worth the investment. A plan is in development to give senior commanders and civilian leadership expanded access to credentialed external professional coaches and to increase coaching training throughout all levels. The culture shift to a more inclusive military requires efforts at all levels. To make that shift positive, the focus of Diversity and Inclusion education, especially coaching and coaching skills, should be on the decision-makers and supervisors that set the standards of behavior.



© Robert Fluharty

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Robert Fluharty, ACC

Robert Fluharty is an Associate Certified Coach, Associate Diversity Coach, human resource advisor and instructor. He operates as a cultural change agent and diversity and inclusion subject matter expert. He is responsible for overseeing initiatives to enhance the development of personnel, specifically to break the status quo of organizational leadership, resulting in unbiased opportunities for all members.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

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Comments (3)

  1. says:

    As a military spouse and coach, I find this incredibly exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing first-hand how coaching can help bring innovation and improved organizational culture to the military and their families.

  2. Jayantha Pathiratne says:

    Military being a rigid hierarchical organisation where communication flow from top to bottom and “orders” of the superiors need to be carried out without questioning (comply and complain), how did the superiors embrace the coaching style leadership in the military. Was it a success? What were the challenges?

  3. patty collins says:

    I think you make a broad assumption that the military is hierarchical, rigid and top down only. It couldn’t be further from the truth over the course of my 25 year of service. I haven’t found any organization who wants to learn and evolve more than the military. Additionally, I coach military leaders now and continue to see innovation, agility, and true empathy and curiosity about their people.

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