Coaching and Mentoring in a Capstone Leadership Development Program
Coaching has been defined as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” (International Coaching Federation [ICF], n.d.-a) and is an important leadership skill that promotes active and empathetic listening and personal growth and development (Kimsey-House et al., 2018). One of the unique aspects of coaching is that clients/students set their own leadership goals and implement new leadership behaviors as a result of the process.
The Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows program is a signature program of the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University. The program is a year-long co-curricular program that focuses on undergraduate leadership development as students prepare to make their college to career transition. One of the key components of the program is the inclusion of coaching relationships for each of the students.
The purpose of this practice paper is to demonstrate how coaching can be utilized as a tool for leadership development for college students preparing to graduate and move into the next phase in their lives. In the narrative, we examine how coaching was incorporated in the program, its intended outcomes, and include reflections and lessons learned from students, faculty members, and other individuals connected to the program.
Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows is a year-long program for undergraduate students entering into their final year at Kansas State University. Students are selected from across the university each spring to deepen their knowledge of leadership, connect with mentors to explore the transition from student to professional life, elevate their passion for service, and experience real-world opportunities to exercise leadership skills. Snyder Fellows experience personal and professional development rooted in Hall of Fame Football Coach Bill Snyder’s 16 Goals for Success. The ultimate goal of the program is to develop change agents on campus, in the community, throughout the state, and beyond.
The Snyder Fellows program launched in 2015; now in its fifth year, it has become a signature program for the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University. Each academic year, up to 40 rising undergraduate students are selected as Snyder Fellows. The program was developed to honor Hall of Fame Coach Bill Snyder and his work as a teacher and a developer of leaders, and as one of the earliest supporters of the development of the Staley School of Leadership Studies. At the time of writing, more than 200 students have completed the program.
The Snyder Fellows program was developed in response to a need identified during the strategic planning process at the Staley School of Leadership Studies. Through the process, a gap was identified in programming for undergraduate students. While students have a variety of opportunities for support as they transition to college life, there were very few resources or program options for students as they prepared to graduate and move into the next phase in their lives. The Snyder Fellows program was developed to directly address this need and offer personal and professional leadership development opportunities to facilitate this significant transition.
In addition to a variety of personal and professional development and service opportunities, students are also paired with a program coach to meet with on a monthly basis throughout the academic year. Coaching sessions are focused on the transition from college to career. Coaches include alumni, faculty members, and successful business professionals from around the nation.
Leadership coaching is a partnership between a coach and coachee, in the service of learning and practicing new leadership behaviors with the coachee. Coaches use active listening, presence, open-ended questions, and tough interpretations to help coachees set leadership goals and implement new leadership behaviors. One aspect of coaching is to help coachees explore their own interpretations of events and situations. Coaches will then facilitate the coachees’ exploration of other interpretations, for example, how might an outsider or objective observer interpret the situations? Another common prompt coaches use to explore tough interpretations is to ask coachees to think about an interpretation that casts them in an unfavorable light. The coaching relationships co-construct accountability to advance the coachee’s progress towards self-identified goals.
Why was Coaching included in the Snyder Fellows Program?
When faculty members were developing curriculum and other key components of the program, coaching was a topic that seemed to be a natural fit. Several faculty members were pursuing coaching training and certification and were beginning to incorporate elements of coaching into undergraduate classes and programs at the School.
Faculty members knew that coaching was an effective strategy for individuals to make progress on their goals and aspirations, which would fit well with students preparing to transition away from college life. Coaching would also be incorporated into the program in more traditional ways (e.g., sports coaching), as students would be working with children within the community and studying the leadership lessons from Hall of Fame Football Coach Bill Snyder. Because of faculty experience and interest, perceived fit for students at this point in their college careers, and tie to “coaching” more broadly, coaching was, from the very beginning, a central component in the Snyder Fellows program.
Students in the program learned about coaching through a workshop early in the fall of their academic year. They were then paired with a faculty, staff, or community partner to work together throughout the remainder of the year. Staley School faculty developed a training program to introduce coaches to the core elements of coaching. Some of the concepts included active listening, confidentiality, being curious, non-judgement, and upholding a coaching stance (that the student is whole, resourceful, and creative). Materials were developed, including coaching agreements with some general expectations and guidelines, along with information about the purpose of the program, and distributed to program coaches. Generally, students and program coaches met at least once per month for the entire academic year. First meetings were normally less about coaching and more about relationship-building, with following sessions guided by student coachees.
It is important to note that most of the program coaches for the Snyder Fellows Program were not certified coaches. Program coaches serve in a less formal role that combines elements of coaching, mentoring, and advising together. Program coaches were identified and selected from networks of the Staley School faculty members. Many of the coaches were academic coaches on campus, other colleagues with experience or interest in coaching, community partners, and more recently, former Snyder Fellows. Many of the coaches also had an interest in the Snyder Fellows program or had worked previously with Bill Snyder in some capacity. Coaches were offered a modest honorarium for their service to the program.
Coaching Overview and Literature Review
Coaching has been defined as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential” (ICF, n.d.-a) and is an important leadership skill that promotes active and empathetic listening and personal growth and development. Coaches use active listening, presence, open-ended questions, and multiple interpretations of client/student situations to help clients/students set leadership goals and implement new leadership behaviors. The relationship between coach and client/student facilitates accountability to advance the client/student’s progress on the goals they set. Another important aspect of coaching is the focus on listening and empathy – two important leadership skills. Through coaching and the use of active listening to help students make progress on their goals and challenges, the coaches are modeling an important leadership skill as well as fostering a culture of listening and empathy that becomes a place of safety and courage (Kimsey-House et al., 2018).
Coaching, leadership coaching, executive coaching, and other forms of coaching have become increasingly popular in business settings since the 1990s (Ely et al., 2010). Leadership coaching in education is also gaining in popularity, but it is relatively new compared to the business and industry (Wise & Hammack, 2011). Although there is no one credentialing organization, coaches do require specific and adaptive skills to be effective. Those skills include empathy, active listening, assessment, feedback, goal setting, creativity, and resourcefulness. The relationship and communication skills are important because the relationship between the coach and client or student is the most important part of the coaching process (Ely et al., 2010).
The core competencies of the ICF (ICF, n.d.-a) are as follows:
- Setting the foundation, including meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards, and establishing the coaching agreement
- Co-creating the relationship, including establishing trust and intimacy with the client, and coaching presence
- Communicating effectively, including active listening, powerful questioning, and direct communication
- Facilitating learning and results, including creating awareness, designing actions, planning and goal setting, and managing progress and accountability
Distinguishing Between Coaching, Mentoring, and Advising
Feldman and Lankau (2005) defined an advisor as a person that shares their business acumen or expertise with executives to help them with specific organizational actions, mentors as senior or more experienced people sharing learning and experiences with younger, less experienced people with the goal of helping them become effective in their roles, and coaches as either outside executive coaches or internal managers who facilitate learning to help clients improve their performance in their current position or role.
Mentoring is a process and relationship with the purpose of developing the mentee’s knowledge, skills, and self-confidence in whatever role they are in (or hope to be in) whether it be as a student, employee, or leader (Hastings & Kane, 2018). In a mentoring relationship, the mentor often shares their own experiences and learning, and mentors will make recommendations and give suggestions for the mentee. The mentoring relationship also focuses more on personal development through a teaching and modeling framework (Kimsey-House et al., 2018).
Coaching has been used in business to help under-performing employees reach satisfactory levels of performance as well as developing high-potential employees and prospective leaders and managers. Coaching specifically focuses on leadership behavioral development, understanding leadership behaviors, and how their behaviors impact others (Hastings & Kane, 2018). One important and distinguishing aspect of coaching is that coaches generally do not share their own experiences or offer suggestions to the coachee. Rather, coaches create the space for coachees to think through their situations and come up with their own goals. There is overlap between mentoring and coaching, however, mentoring is typically focused on more general development of a person and coaching is typically focused on individual leadership development.
Advising is typically a relationship between students and faculty or staff in an educational setting and focuses on career advice, academic advice, or student organization advice. The role of an advisor can be around maintenance of the organization or student success, growing the organization or its members or improving student performance, and advising on program content or suggesting ways a student can become more involved on campus or in their chosen field (Hastings & Kane, 2018).
All three concepts are developmental relationships designed to improve performance based on a working relationship, yet there are differences between the three concepts (Kimsey-House et al., 2018). For the purposes of the Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows program, our coaching training follows the coaching skills, principles, and competencies of the International Coach Federation. However, we do not train our coaches to follow those principles strictly. Our training focuses on developing coaching skills in hopes of creating a more “coach-like” relationship where the coach and student trust each other, have a positive relationship, and the coach can provide a space where our students can work through their issues and situations in a trusting environment. We also frame our coaching training as a combination of coaching (as defined by the ICF) and mentoring with some advising if needed or requested. For example, following the coaching principles of the ICF, a coach will avoid giving advice or offering their own personal experiences, however, if a student in our program specifically asks for a coach’s advice on a topic and the coach feels that it is appropriate, they will provide that advice or share their experience.
These one-on-one leadership coaching relationships also focus on developing students’ capacities to exercise leadership in the “Generativity” and “Integration/Synthesis” stages of the Leadership Identity Development model (Komives et al., 2005). The leadership coaching offered in this program attempts to help students work through their leadership challenges, address college to career issues, focus on listening, and help students make progress on the important issues in their lives (Priest et al., 2018). The Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows program intentionally combines leadership coaching with developmental activities throughout the year which can have a real and positive impact on a young person’s growth and development (Yarborough, 2018).
Each year, the Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows program offers various events, workshops, and activities aimed to support students as they prepare to transition from college to career. Annual components of the program include but are not limited to May retreat, youth mentoring, service-learning, and leadership development workshops.
This two-day overnight retreat gives the newly selected class of Snyder Fellows their first opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of the program, grow in their personal and professional leadership development skills, and build an overall sense of community within their cohort. The retreat includes discussions with former Kansas State football players and successful business leaders, leadership development facilitations led by Staley School of Leadership Studies staff members, cohort-led team building activities, a question/answer session with former Kansas State Hall of Fame Football Coach Bill Snyder, among other activities intentionally created to prepare the cohort for their final year of college.
In the fall semester, Snyder Fellows work together in coaching teams to mentor youth in the local community in partnership with the City of Manhattan’s Parks & Recreation Department. Manhattan Parks & Recreation assigns Snyder Fellows to sports teams to coach for 8-10 weeks during the fall sports season. To date, Snyder Fellows have coached flag football, volleyball, soccer, and cheerleading. This mentorship experience was developed because of Coach Bill Snyder’s passion for youth development and service. Through youth mentoring, Snyder Fellows not only increase their community engagement and develop youth in the community, but also build upon their own leadership development skills. In addition to direct athletic coaching, Snyder Fellows incorporate leadership building activities into their practices and games. Youth coaching addresses a community need, as the city programs typically do not have enough adult volunteers for the number of children participating in activities. Youth coaching also demonstrates an opportunity for individuals to engage in their respective communities after their college years. After youth coaching concludes, coaching teams come together to share their learning in a debrief session developed to connect the Snyder Fellows’ experiences to their own personal and professional development with the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) career readiness competencies (NACE, n.d.).
Service-learning is another key component of the Snyder Fellows program, not only because of the service it provides to support local and regional communities, but also because of the growth participants find after making sense of their experiences. Working to uphold Coach Bill Snyder’s dedication to community, the Snyder Fellows program aims to provide service-learning opportunities for Fellows throughout the year. In January, the cohort participates in HandsOn, Kansas State’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, to serve the local Manhattan community. Partnerships have also been developed between universities across the Big 12 Conference to learn from one another and come together to serve in their respective communities. Snyder Fellows have had the opportunity to travel to Waco, Texas and Ames, Iowa in recent years to partake in service with local organizations, interact with students, and learn about the universities and the challenges and opportunities facing these communities.
Leadership Development Workshops
Personal and professional leadership development workshops are scheduled throughout the academic year. Workshops have included topics such as mindfulness/emotional intelligence, risk taking, managing self, and the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. They are facilitated by former Kansas State athletes, Staley School of Leadership Studies staff, Kansas State alumni, and professionals from across the nation. The purpose of each session is to provide Fellows with resources they can utilize as they take their next step in life.
Outcomes of the Program
Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows intended outcomes include leadership development, support in the college to career transition, and community engagement for students entering their final year of college at Kansas State University. These intended outcomes were developed based on the synergy between the teaching, research, and service-learning focus at the Staley School of Leadership Studies, as well as Coach Bill Snyder’s focus on leadership, mentoring, and community engagement.
In 2019, Snyder Fellows decided to further develop and assess the intended outcomes of the program by utilizing Student Leadership Competencies developed by Corey Seemiller. The Student Leadership Competencies were developed by analyzing learning outcomes in all accredited academic programs across the nation (Seemiller, 2014). Of the 60 essential leadership competencies identified by Seemiller, seven have been selected to align with the outcomes of the Snyder Fellows program: reflection and application, self-understanding, personal values, empowerment, social responsibility, goals, and resiliency. Each of these competencies is interwoven into multiple components of the program. By articulating these competencies, Snyder Fellows aim to more clearly assess the program’s success and identify areas for improvement for future participants. The intended outcomes and competencies serve as guides for the program components and continue to frame how the program is delivered.
Intergenerational learning is an open process where people from different generations can learn from each other, overcoming age and possible cultural obstacles (Bratianu et al., 2011). Students today have different attitudes, expectations, preparation, and strengths than previous generations (Mazer & Hess, 2016). These students are technically adept, possibly to a fault, and the way they perceive their education may be as job readiness training (Morreale & Staley, 2016). Throughout the Snyder Fellows program, students have the unique opportunity to engage in intergenerational learning, an unintended outcome of the program. Students learn from each other as Generation Zers through their collaborative experiences and open dialogue. Leadership coaches provide Fellows with perspectives from Millennials to Generation Xers.
Serving in their coaching teams with Manhattan Parks & Recreation, students interact with an even younger generation of youth. Coach Bill Snyder and Dr. Bob Shoop, co-founder of the Staley School, give the Fellows additional perspectives with their Silent Generation and Baby Boomer identities. The opportunity for learning and growth is amplified due to perspectives and lived experiences spanning across these six generations. This learning can be important for students entering the workforce where they will be in situations that require knowledge and skills about working across generations and identities.
Reflections on Coaching as Part of the Fellows Program
The following reflections are each written from the perspective of the person named in the section title.
Former Program Director
I served as the director of the Snyder Fellows program as the program was conceptualized and developed, continuing on through the first four years of program delivery. During the four years, I served as a coach for several students each year. I have since moved to another position on our campus and continue working with students in the Fellows program. When we began developing the program, I was also engaging in coaching training and working towards certification. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to work with students and utilized coaching skills during a significant point in time for these students. While not every student in the program has taken advantage of the opportunity to work with a coach, the majority have, and they have overall expressed that they have found significant value through the experience as they navigated through a transitional point in their life. From my personal perspective, engaging in the coaching process with students at this critical time was a program component for which I believe did help to meet the gap we had previously identified in our strategic planning process at the school.
Through engaging in the coaching process, I have built meaningful relationships with many students and have continued to stay in contact several years after they graduated from Kansas State University. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to continue working with students in the program in my new role and stay connected to the program and students in this way. Because of my experiences with incorporating coaching into an undergraduate program and the benefits for student development, I plan to continue including coaching into other programs in which I am engaged at the university.
Snyder Fellows Alumna, Current Fellow in Residence and Program Coordinator
I have had the unique opportunity to be supported by a coach in the Snyder Fellows program during one academic year while transitioning to serve as a coach the next year. As a senior preparing to take the next step in life after college, I felt supported and heard by my coach in each of our monthly meetings. Instead of simply serving as a mentor, he pushed me to engage in deep self-reflection by asking powerful questions. His active listening provided me with comfort, helped me to openly process my thoughts, and gave me the space to expand my perspective on how I view myself in this world. During a time in my life where there were so many uncertainties and a seemingly endless amount of options, my coach helped me keep my feet on the ground and asked me questions to reflect upon who I am and what I’m passionate about to ultimately give me clarity in my future career path: higher education.
Now as a coach for two Snyder Fellows, I strive to create this same open space and clarity for their development. I have seen my students find growth and purpose in each of our sessions together over the course of the academic year. I too have seen growth in myself due to the impact both students have had on my life as a young professional. By asking powerful questions and developing a relationship of trust with each student, I have enjoyed seeing them discover new perspectives based on their own self-reflection.
Snyder Fellow Alumna
As a participant, the Snyder Fellows program was instrumental in helping me reach conclusions about many questions I had at that point in my life. Specifically, I spent an enormous amount of time during my final years at Kansas State weighing my options about what I would do after completing my undergraduate degree, and I feel that the program offered me an array of individuals with diverse experiences to converse with and understand their differing paths to success. Being able to have a conversation with Kansas State alumni who have been extremely successful in their various fields and learning that many took a road full of twists and turns to arrive there was reassuring. All in all, I felt the practical application and real-life or post-college guidance we received from our coaches and mentors were some of the best experiences that I received throughout my undergraduate years. One of my favorite quotes from the show West Wing that I think best summarizes my time as a participant is, “We may not have had all the answers, but at least we were asking the right questions.” So often in life, I’m not even sure if the choices I make today will turn out to be the “correct” or “right” ones, but having the wherewithal to ask the tough questions and establish a practice for how to weigh your options in all tough decisions is definitely a process that was refined during my time as a Fellow.
As a coach, I found myself reliving many of the questions I asked during my time as a participant and feeling, or at least hoping, I provided helpful insight and perspective from previously being in a similar position. Coaching is not easy, even when working with individuals as talented as those selected for this program, because each person responds a little bit differently than the next to receiving coaching and feedback. Unsurprisingly, I felt myself grow as a mentor while operating as a coach for the program because I had to spend time trying to understand how the individual I was working with best responded to outreach, guidance, and my individual beliefs or biases for best practices. Overall, I cannot say enough positive things about the Fellow I worked with and their willingness to engage and open up with me about their life, because I know that is not always easy. I acknowledge that I can always be a better coach, and I will continue to seek improvement on how I communicate and assist with those that seek my help through this program or at any other capacity. I tried my best to convey the same major message that uncertainty is present constantly in our lives, but that it really just comes down to asking the right questions of yourself and others and then believing you have the autonomy and ability to determine what is right for you. I believe a good coach will provide the tools, resources, and guidance to best enable those they oversee to become successful, but that ultimately, the participant needs to make a commitment to take advantage of these offerings. My Fellow was able to fully do so this year, and I am thankful to be a part of this individual’s life during a pivotal period of growth and change.
Snyder Fellow Alumna and Former Fellow in Residence
Having experience as a student in and a leadership coach for the Snyder Fellows program, I was able to get a first-hand look at the ways in which this opportunity could serve as a transformational experience for participants. Leadership coaching is often a new experience to many Fellows in the program, one that is sometimes met with reluctance to start. However, after building a relationship with their coach over the course of more than eight months, I’ve seen Fellows really open themselves up to the process. Even now, Fellows I had previously worked with are entering the workforce with a new ability to understand ways they can enact coaching—from simply offering a very open-ended, coach-like question to entering into formal relationships with their peers and colleagues that allow for progress to be made in their working communities.
As a Fellow in 2015, I was also able to experience leadership coaching from the other side of the relationship. As someone who had established a “secure” plan for my life and my career, I was reluctant to the opportunity and wasn’t sure what it could provide. Very quickly I learned how valuable leadership coaching can be for anyone. I was allowed the space to explore my plans in completely new ways, to explore the motivations I had for pursuing this plan, and to be provided the freedom to explore what could be. With this experience myself, it also transformed my understanding of leadership coaching, a stance I was then able to take into my own coaching relationships in the years to follow.
Satisfaction Survey Data
In 2019, the program staff conducted a satisfaction survey about the program and sent it to former Fellows. As of March 3, 2020, there were 45 responses out of 152 former Fellows at that time (36% response rate). The relevant portion of that survey asked the following question: “On a scale of 1-5 (1 being not impactful, 5 being incredibly impactful), please rank the following Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellow program experiences based on impact each one had on you. If you did not participate in the experience listed, please rank it as 0. – Leadership coaching.” The results from this question indicated that 17 respondents rated this question at the highest end (incredibly impactful), 20 respondents rated this question at the second highest level (impactful), 5 respondents rated this question at the third level (slightly impactful), and 0 respondents rated this question at the other two levels (n/a or not at all impactful).
These results indicate that the majority of students who responded felt the leadership coaching they received was either impactful or incredibly impactful. Although this data is self-reported and the sample size is small, it is encouraging that this component of the program has a positive effect on students. We are currently utilizing this satisfaction survey as our only data-driven measure of the program and we hope to continue to survey students to gauge any long-term effects of leadership coaching as they gain experience in the workplace.
The interest in and sustainability of the Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows program demonstrates a desire for this kind of program as well as the need for graduating seniors for programming to prepare for the transition from college to career. The role of coaching in this program highlights its effectiveness for leadership development as well as its limitations.
When the program commenced, coaching was a prescribed component of the program and students participated in it regardless of their interest in engagement in the coaching process. Students were not adequately briefed on what coaching was or what it would focus on at the beginning of the program. However, with each new year, new lessons are learned and modifications are made to the coaching aspect of the program. Additionally, as time goes on, the coaches have developed their coaching skills through experience and training. At the present time, one of the coaches is credentialed through the ICF, others have ICF approved training, and coaching is provided to fellows who opt in to receive coaching.
After the first two years, we provided students direct instruction at the beginning of the program about coaching and what they could expect from the coaching relationship. During the past year, specific training was provided for coaches on how to combine and integrate coaching, mentoring, and advising. The coaches in the program are provided training from a credentialed ICF coach and the coaching offered is optional for students.
In summary, the lessons learned from five years of administering the program include incorporating trained coaches, providing quality coaching training; providing training on the role and uses of coaching, mentoring, and advising and when each is appropriate; focusing on creating a positive “coach-like” relationship; and giving students a clear understanding of what coaching is and what they can expect from the coaching relationship.
Many programs and resources on college campuses focus on students’ first year experiences aimed at retention and early college success (Sterling, 2018). Comparatively, much less is provided to students leaving college, which is an important time for students (Skoy, 2017). Students in their last year of college do need guidance and space to think about the transition from college to career, learn about and refine their leadership skill set, and prepare themselves for the next step. We may assume that graduating seniors are ready for the next step, however, the research and this program show that there is some need and desire for leadership training, coaching, and college to career prep for graduating seniors. Coaching is an important piece of this process and is a great leadership development tool that provides space for individualized growth, development, and preparation. Coaching in the senior or graduating year can provide development in line with some of the competencies necessary for career readiness as outlined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE, n.d.). The Snyder Fellows program directly or indirectly influences students’ development of five of the eight competencies (critical thinking/problem solving, teamwork/collaboration, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, and career management).
Our recommendations for colleges, universities, or college-level programs include providing graduating seniors with programs that give them time and space to work through their leadership challenges. We also recommend allowing graduating seniors to process their college to career issues beyond what is typically offered at colleges and universities’ existing career centers, which tend to be focused on interview preparation and resume building. Coaching can be an important part of this process, and we recommend ICF certified training for coaches (or other reputable coach training programs). If coaching is included in a program, students should be briefed on what coaching is, what they can expect, and how best to utilize coaches and the coaching process.
Future research is needed to support our initial findings that graduating students benefit from leadership coaching. We would like to conduct a longitudinal program evaluation which examines the effectiveness of this type of intervention and the effectiveness of leadership coaching specifically. We are also interested in scaling our program to serve more students and would like to explore what that could look like, and what the benefits and challenges would be as a result of scaling. It is important to note that this program is labor-intensive, as is the leadership coaching provided as a part of the program. This type of program does require substantial funding and resources in order to successfully deliver a quality experience for participants.
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