Coaching as a Leadership Style

Many organizations today have identified “coaching” as a preferred leadership style for their management workforce. Coaching is a powerful organizational and leadership strategy to systemically improve business performance. One survey from the Institute of Personnel and Development confirms that 9 out of ten U.S. companies expect their managers and supervisors to deliver coaching to their direct reports and teams. Employee surveys support the need for managers to develop coaching skills as “best bosses” are those identified as having a coaching style.

So what is coaching? Coaching is a collaborative partnership centered on achieving goals. The primary objective of coaching is to develop the person being coached. In a nutshell, it is a way of leading that supports, champions, guides and challenges an individual to maximize their potential and performance. Coaching can be applied to a wide variety of management situations—identifying strengths and challenges, motivating, delegating, relationship/team building, providing feedback, resolving every day workplace challenges, helping employees become more self aware and change problematic behaviors or seize opportunities to grow and improve.

There are key differences between the old style autocratic or “boss” way of managing people and coaching. Whereas the old school boss tended to get things done by lecturing, directing and telling, today’s boss who acts as a “coach” asks powerful questions, makes effective requests, listens/observes well, is perceptive and offers constructive effective feedback to help someone learn and develop.

The best leaders in workplaces have learned how to empower and motivate their people vs. try to control them. One reason– today’s younger workforce (comprised of Gen Y/Millenials) is quite different than past generations (vets and baby boomers). They have different expectations of their leaders and workplaces. Generally, to motivate today’s younger worker requires more personal attention, recognition and tolerance on the part of management.

The great challenge for many organizations is how to train their managers to utilize coaching skills. People aren’t born with innate coaching skills and frankly few business schools are focused on teaching the skills required to be an effective coach.

Coaching techniques and competencies are very different than those required of more “old style” management and supervision. As a result, many of today’s older managers are challenged having to “unlearn” past lessons and techniques that are no longer effective in today’s workplace.

Simply asking your managers to “coach” employees won’t equate to success. Learning how to coach is akin to learning a new language. There is an art to coaching. To develop someone’s ability to coach requires an investment in training/coaching to master new behaviors. Developing expertise (as with most skills) will almost always require ongoing feedback and modeling by someone with more advanced skills. One of the best ways to develop coaches is to have the up-and-coming coach be coached by a professional coach with exemplary coaching skills.

Coaching is a relationship centered on helping the “coachee” realize their aspirations and goals. Trust, respect and rapport are critical foundations to a solid coaching relationship. Frankly, some managers have great challenges in the interpersonal and emotional intelligence arena. Though it is possible to learn behaviors that lead to increased trust—this endeavor isn’t easy (the best results typically come when a professional coach who specializes in this arena is brought in).

When leaders are trusted and respected, employees under them will respond to their feedback more effectively. The best coaches are patient, perceptive, self aware, reflective, open, supportive, keen observers and good listeners. They are adept at giving valuable feedback that doesn’t generate defensiveness and are interpersonally effective. They help their employees by uncovering their blind spots and challenging limiting beliefs. Most of effective coaching this takes place through observation, assessment, dialogue, inquiry and conversations.

Tips to develop a coaching style:

  • Listen and observe well. Note how someone learns best (see previous column on learning styles) and what their strengths are.
  • Delegate more and direct less (once you have assessed the employee has the skills required to do the task and has the necessary commitment). Always make clear what the parameters are when delegating (i.e. time, budget and other resources).
  • Use errors as learning opportunities.
  • Help your people learn to solve problems themselves vs. doing it for them.

Lastly, bring in coaching training for your employees.  My own coach training modules is one of my most popular trainings.  Invest in your managers today by calling me:  360 682 5807.


How Not to Get Fired

JOB SECURITY has become a major workplace concern when the threat of layoffs is in the air.   How do you avoid being one of the “axed”?

Before deciding who will be laid off, most managers take a number of considerations into account. Common criteria include the evaluation of an employee’s work results and value generated relative to the employee’s cost to the company. Companies in “survival” mode are put in the difficult position of having to let even highly valued employees go.

To decrease the odds that you will be one of those laid off, my coaching advice is to become “indispensible,” making sure that management is specifically aware of your unique contributions (to the degree they realize how they would suffer without you).

Some suggestions:

Be flexible and adaptive. If signs suggest layoffs are in the works and you might be one of them, communicate your willingness to be flexible (consider a pay cut, furlough, shortened work week, additional job/role assignments, etc.). There are many alternatives worthy of exploration with your boss far superior to being laid off.

Demonstrate initiative in your desire to provide value. Many companies are looking to get rid of their pretenders and “dead wood” in these difficult times. After layoffs, there are fewer workers to get things done. Your extra effort to get your work done ahead of schedule while volunteering for new assignments is a great way to be recognized versus those who will whine, complain, hide or rebel at being asked to step up. This is a great opportunity to stretch yourself and learn new career skills.

Be the one in the know. Many companies can’t afford to let go the people who have the “keys to the kingdom.” Workers who are uniquely knowledgeable about critical technology, systems and company “know-how” and maintaining key customer relationships that are critical to the company’s survival have increased job security. Being indispensable also means that you are recognized as the one who others need for help resolving day-to-day operational challenges and problems. Don’t be the one who comes to your boss only with problems. Be the one who brings the boss solutions.

Be seen. Many workers are too shy or humble for their own good. This is no time to fly under the radar or assume that others know what you do. Regular one-on-one reviews, status reports and critical project updates can be highly valuable. This may be a dangerous time to be telecommuting — remember, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Be efficient. You can’t afford to be seen as someone who doesn’t have enough work to do. If your attendance record is poor, or you are perceived as a clock puncher, expect to be among the first to go. Be seen as someone willing to do what it takes to finish important assignments or meet critical deadlines.

Be frugal. Manage your budget as if it were your own money. Identify ways to save your company money and be seen as a hero!

Be seen as both a team player and a leader. Some of the first let go will be those seen as “problem” employees or those who don’t get along well with others.

Polish up on your interpersonal skills and self development. You can still demonstrate leadership even if you aren’t in a “leadership” role. Show that you can take the lead on projects and inspire/

persuade others. Being the “chief morale officer” is an unlikely candidate for termination.

Keep your negative judgments and gossip to yourself. Most employers don’t look favorably on workers who are seen as gossips, complainers, whiners or blamers. If you wouldn’t want your boss or the chief executive officer to hear it, don’t say it. And for heaven’s sake don’t put it in an e-mail.

Learn to professionally communicate. If this is a real problem, your job may be in jeopardy and your best job security action step will be to access help and learn new behaviors.

Invest in yourself with a career coach – I am available to coach via Skype or Facetime anywhere in the world.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:


Be Known As A Team Player

Having collaborative skills and the ability to perform well on a team are critical in today’s workplace. In fact, many job descriptions today list “being a team player” as a prerequisite — it is key for success and advancement in many positions. Many companies today have zero tolerance for those who aren’t team players (I have numerous clients who have been told to either improve in this area or face termination). So, what does it mean to be a team player? Here are some Dos and Don’ts that I coach clients to develop:


  • Be collaborative. Be generous — share information and resources (think the Golden Rule). Foster collaboration by being genuinely helpful to your team members. Offering a resource or suggestion for a team member in a bind is practicing good career karma. In contrast, personal vendettas and ego-based agendas are generally bad for business, your team and your career (and by the way, no one is fooled; these agendas are typically far more visible and transparent to others than most realize).
  • Set realistic expectations, then deliver on your commitments. If you agree to take on an action step, do everything in your power to deliver results. Trust and credibility (which are huge to your career success) hinge on delivering what you say you will. It is far better to simply say no than to suggest you will and do not.
  • Build and nurture your team relationships. Share stories and find out who your colleagues are, where they have been and what motivates them. Relationship-building is key to being seen as a “team player.”
  • Identify your impact. How are you perceived by your colleagues? If you don’t know, ask. It can be an enlightening growth opportunity to find out (360 multirater review processes can help). Are you known for being supportive or hypercritical? Well-intentioned or arrogant? Raising smart points or mean-spirited? You can’t afford not to know.
  • Be a truth teller. Speak up and contribute. Share your ideas and suggestions — your team needs your unique brain and perspective to succeed. If you have an interpersonal challenge with a teammate, search for opportunities to understand why this has happened and what you might do to improve the relationship. Bad feelings left unaddressed tend to grow exponentially — and can lead to isolation and highly dysfunctional team behaviors (which won’t help you in your quest to be a team player). Instead of avoiding the conflict, see if there is a half-step toward the middle you can take.
  • Learn to be an active listener (vs. the one who sucks up all the air time). That includes being curious, intentional and focused on understanding others. We have two ears and one mouth. In most situations it’s appropriate to use them proportionately.
  • Be known as the “appreciative” one (and the one who gives credit to others) on your team. Find ways to say thank you and share credit.
  • Be your team’s clarity-seeking missile. If you aren’t clear about the team’s objective, member responsibilities or roles, others are likely confused, too. Express your concerns to the group and/or leader. Confusion and ambiguity on a team is a recipe for frustration and failure. Help your team develop a system to measure the team’s success.
  • Be open to influence. Those who insist on having their way aren’t seen as team players. Be flexible and consider the input of your teammates. Try it on and hear them out before you categorically dismiss it for your “better” plan.


  • Make excuses or blame others. Admitting mistakes can help build trust (no one expects you to be perfect). Individuals who are constantly blaming everyone else and never take responsibility for their actions (or inactions) will never build the trust required to be an effective team member.
  • Shoot the bad-news messenger or the one who challenges you or others to be accountable. Teams need to know the truth no matter how hard it may be to hear. Killing the messenger undermines truth, trust and accountability.
  • Be the constant naysayer, complainer, blamer or the toxic wet blanket. Attitude is everything. A bad apple can poison, or at the very least contaminate, the team. Be willing to get your hands dirty and pitch in when times get tough (remember your career karma). Team players don’t chant, “It’s not my job.” What goes around comes around. Create a reservoir of good will with your teammates. Be enthusiastic, energetic, appreciative and willing to chip in when necessary.

How to reduce job stress

WHILE JOB STRESS isn’t new, there is no doubt it’s on the rise. This workplace coach sees an alarming trend in frazzled, burned out and exhausted workers. The constant theme I hear: Everyone is increasingly challenged to do more with less.

According to a Northwestern National Life survey, one out of four workers view their jobs as the No. 1 stress in their lives (40 percent of workers surveyed said their job was “very or extremely stressful”). I help my clients find ways to decrease work stress factors that contribute to a long list of health concerns (migraines, anxiety attacks, sleep deprivation, etc.). Many report working 80-hour weeks and routinely facing morning inboxes with more than 200 new messages — with no end in sight.

The price is high: skyrocketing illness, friction between co-workers (“desk rage”) and lower productivity. Workers return home to their families short-tempered and depleted, often anxious about unfinished work, resulting in an inability to recharge.

There are many contributors to workplace stress: unrealistic deadlines, lack of supervisor support or understanding, feuding co-workers, misallocated or simply too few resources … the list goes on. Another big contributor is supervisors who fail to involve workers in decision-making that affects their daily work.

What causes workplaces to be in this state of constant overdrive? Increasing global competition, a tightening economy and excessive performance expectations all drive the ever-spinning hamster wheel. The information age is our blessing and our curse. Technology has made it easy to communicate and difficult to ever get away from the job. BlackBerrys, PDAs and laptops keep many workers tethered to their work, including on the well-deserved family vacation to Hawaii. If you find yourself sneaking out of the hotel room late at night, or slipping off the beach to compulsively check just “a few e-mails,” you might just have a problem. (If in doubt, ask your family.)

Many of my clients are at a critical juncture: continue down the same burnout path and suffer the inevitable consequences, or change.

If everyone in your company is stressed looking for efficiency or looking for cover, there may be a need to address the issue systemically. One thing experts and surveys agree on: Happy workers equate to productivity.

What companies can do:

  • Don’t expect your people to do it all. Unreasonable goals are counterproductive. They demotivate your work force and cause unnecessary frustration.
  • Watch for signs of depletion in your workers. Monitor workload and schedules to make sure they are in line with resources. Find ways to decrease the burdens by decreasing daily or excessive paperwork and approval processes. Consider outsourcing.
  • While many jobs have normal cycles of “crunch time” or heavier workloads, don’t allow this to become a yearlong constant. Appropriately acknowledge and compensate people for extra work (additional time off, bonuses, etc). Work exceptionally hard during these times to let your employees know they are valued and appreciated.
  • Survey employees and their perceptions of job conditions, stress and workplace satisfaction. Supervisors should consult with employees around decisions that affect their day-to-day work lives and responsibilities; giving them more control and flexibility over their work can yield great returns (like keeping talent!).
  • Provide opportunities for workers to socialize, have fun and blow off steam.

What workers can do:

  • If you are the poster child for workplace exhaustion and stress, stand up for your rights! Be professionally assertive and express your feelings to supervisors who make unreasonable demands. Communicate when you don’t have the time or resources necessary to accomplish the request. Ask for prioritization. If the boss demands it “has to be done,” counter with, “What piece of my other workload can I give up to get this done?”
  • Don’t inundate co-workers with e-mail overload. Clarify critical e-mails from noncritical ones. Note when it’s an FYI only or action required.
  • Avoid being your own worst “stress enemy” by setting unrealistic expectations on yourself. No, you really can’t do it all, and trying to do so more often than not means you (and your loved ones) pay a very high price. Consider establishing a great job or good enough bar vs. a standard of perfection.
  • Make yourself a priority. You are the foundation on which all else hinges. Humans need to unplug to recharge. Plan unplugged time and activities to refuel — a walk, meditation, massage or yoga class and real vacations.

I am not suggesting it isn’t important to work hard. What I am suggesting is that it’s important to have balance and to work smarter vs. solely working harder.

Re-frame Your Performance Review

The dreaded annual performance review. In addition to pay increases, reviews offer other opportunities, like securing flextime/extra vacation days or development resources, improving the relationship between you and your boss, identifying the path to your next promotion and getting feedback to help your career. How you take advantage of this time and process, where the focus is all about you, is up to you.

This week’s focus: How to maximize the opportunities your review presents.

The “self evaluation” part of your review process is your chance to demonstrate your value.

  • Provide documentation of your accomplishments, particularly any results/benefits to the team and company (keep a log/file throughout the year so you aren’t starting from scratch when you sit down to write your review).

Focus on numbers and concrete examples, such as appreciative e-mails.

  • Whatever form your company uses, note key successes and emphasize any outstanding contributions, challenges overcome, growth you have made and new responsibilities you have taken on.
  • If asked about your challenges or weaknesses, try to be objective. Resist the temptation to claim you have none. We all have areas for improvement and your boss is likely well aware of yours.

If the boss thinks you can’t see your own shortcomings, the boss becomes concerned that you are a) unaware, and therefore unable to grow, or b) aren’t being straightforward and honest. Neither of these serves you.

Tips for the review conversation (I deliberately use the word “conversation;” your performance review is your opportunity to have an important dialogue with your boss regarding your relationship and your career!):

  • If your boss isn’t clear about how you spend your day, enlighten him or her. Revisit your role, job expectations and what your boss views as your priorities.

Ask for clarification about anything that is confusing or unclear.

  • Find out what keeps your boss awake at night so you can figure out how to help and increase your likelihood for a raise or promotion next year.
  • Address any relationship issues, such as ongoing annoyances that frustrate either of you. For receptive bosses, offer feedback or requests on how the boss can better support you to be successful in the future (what you would like more, or less, of from them). Let your boss know what you need to do your job better, such as resource support during rush or busy periods, new software programs or any self/leadership improvement support like personal coaching, training or academics.
  • Looking ahead to 2009, negotiate goal setting. You should be comfortable that your targeted goals are reasonably “doable.” Try to get detail about what specific actions or behaviors your boss wants (i.e., projects completed, sales targets, units produced or customer complaints handled, etc).
  • At the end of your review, summarize what was said (and agreed to) and then submit a document that captures these.
  • If you want more money, ask for it (it surprises me how many workers fail to ask) and make a solid case. Base your request on what you have brought in.

Quantify your value and contributions. If you can’t get the money you want now, see if you can get your boss to agree to a bonus or increase based on hitting targeted goals along the way in ’09. If not, try for flextime, extra vacation days, etc.

  • Lastly, thank your boss for his or her time and consideration.

How to receive any critical feedback your boss may offer during your review:

  • Attitude matters. Don’t sit there glowering with your arms crossed. Your career advancement may depend on how you react to the information and what you do with it.
  • Listen to understand first before you go into automatic defend or deny mode. Ask clarification questions. Summarize what you hear to make sure you have it correct. Offer any rebuttals professionally.
  • Ask your boss what he or she wants you to do differently. Explain how you will keep a negative from happening again: “I understand how my actions might have been perceived that way. Next time, I will handle it by … .” Or, “I want to strengthen our team and improve.”

A reminder: feedback is information from someone else’s perspective. Receiving tough feedback is an opportunity to learn about yourself and how your behaviors or actions are interpreted by another. If it’s something you have been blind to (and that can hinder your career advancement) it may well be a gift because now you can do something about it. If you can’t find a shred of truth in any of it, check in with others to see if your boss’ perspective is shared. In the end, you have to decide what to do with it.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: