shadow coach Donna Karlin - donna karlin is a shadow or observational coach for executives to improve self-awareness
shadow coach Donna Karlin - donna karlin is a shadow or observational coach for executives to improve self-awareness
shadow coach Donna Karlin - donna karlin is a shadow or observational coach for executives to improve self-awareness

Shadow Coaching Gives Executives an Up-Close Look at Themselves (Part I)


Donna Karlin is a "shadow" or "observational" coach,

an executive coach who stays with clients all day for a week, giving them feedback at the end of each work day about what she saw them do.

During the course of the week Donna carefully notes what her clients do in meetings, including details like body language, tone of voice, and co-workers' reactions, as well as how clients handle their schedules, paperwork, mail, email, telephone calls, and breaks.

 

Bruce Wilson interviewed executive/observational coach Donna Karlin of Ottawa, Canada to find out more about her work "shadow coaching" executive-level leaders, including some within Canadian government Ministers' offices, to help them improve their job performance.

Analysis:

Shadow coaching is another excellent way for business people to obtain personal performance feedback. Here's how it fits our listening for business framework: a shadow coach essentially makes clients aware of important parts of their days, their behavior and habits that they weren't aware of, or were making incorrect assumptions about. With that information, clients identify choices between what they want and what they are currently doing.

In comparison:

  • with 360-degree feedback the feedback source is other people in the workplace;
  • with traditional executive coaching the feedback source is the client's own perceptions mirrored by the coach, with additional perspective and experimenting prompted by the coach;
  • with shadow coaching, feedback comes from real-time first-hand observation with focus on the difference between stated objectives and actual behavior.

During daily feedback sessions Donna presents what she saw with emphasis on differences between what clients said about how they want to operate and what they actually did. In conjunction with feedback she helps her clients put the new--and, sometimes, seismically altering--perspectives about themselves to immediate use. Typically she helps them come up with ways to improve how they interact with others, how they manage their time, and the fit between their approach to work and their ultimate goals. Donna also offers up options learned during her years of experience working with leaders and executives to improve their effectiveness.

Shadow coaching is the only way that leaders can get such detailed information about their personal styles. It also persistently improves their self-awareness and ability to recognize and adjust their own behavior.

This change mechanism is effective because people choose what they want to change and put changes into practice immediately. To make the changes last, Donna schedules follow-up sessions weeks ahead of time. Knowing that they will be talking to her later encourages her clients to stay focused even when Donna is not observing them directly.

Shadow coaching operates as feedback on a number of levels. First, most of us aren't aware of what we do most of the time because we act out of habit and react to whatever comes up, even though we might like to exercise more precise control. A shadow reports what a client actually does, which is surprisingly often an eye-opener. The shadowing experience gives us an opportunity to exercise control rather than relying on old habits and reactive behaviors. Second, shadowed executives start to become more mindful of what they are doing on an ongoing basis, and they become more aggressive about noticing and reworking what they do on an ongoing basis.

by Bruce Wilson with Donna Karlin


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