Developing Managers Into Coaches

TO SURVIVE IN today’s competitive and ever-changing marketplace, businesses are challenged to identify practical methods to help them achieve continued improvement and increased productivity. One method with proven results is developing the coaching skills of managers in the business. Coaching is a fundamental competency and required skill set for today’s leader.

The core of coaching as a leadership style (versus autocratic directing) is a focus on activity that will generate results. Coaching is a powerful strategy to improve systemic business performance. Effective training and skill development in the art of coaching is often heralded as a key element in the transformation of today’s managers into tomorrow’s leaders.

Many companies are investing in their human capital by developing internal coach-development programs. It’s easier said than done. As with any new initiative, there will be obstacles to overcome. It is important to anticipate these challenges and to have a plan to deal with them effectively.

Commitment on the part of senior leaders is critical. The success of this kind of change hinges on sponsorship — senior leaders’ ability to provide continued support, focus and the resources required.

People aren’t born with innate coaching skills. Coaching techniques and competencies are very different than those required of more “old style” management and supervision. As a result, some will need to unlearn past lessons and techniques that are no longer effective in today’s workplace.

Being effective in the art of coaching requires significant training in new behaviors, practice, ongoing feedback and role modeling of best practices.

Developing high-level expertise (as with most skills) will almost always require ongoing feedback 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 someone with outstanding coaching skills. Again, as in professional sports, new great coaches often come from the camps of other coaches identified as best in class.

Surprisingly, it is estimated that less than 25 percent of companies today have training programs to teach fundamental coaching skills, yet more than 80 percent of companies identify coaching as a method they use to develop staff. Just asking people to coach employees won’t make it so. Managers will need training to learn new skills and behaviors, practice and feedback to be able to coach effectively.

Coaching is at its core a relationship, one centered on helping those being coached to realize their aspirations and potential. Trust and rapport are critical foundations to a solid coaching relationship. Some managers have great challenges in this arena. The good news is there are teachable behaviors that can generate trust. Sometimes it takes a little help (and trust) to get there. Be forewarned — overnight transformations aren’t realistic with these kinds of skills and behaviors.

As trusted coaches, leaders can help individuals uncover their blind spots (think emotional intelligence — see previous columns) and develop new actions, behaviors or skills. Most of this takes place through observation, assessment, dialogue, inquiry and conversations. The most effective coaching experiences are focused on learning through these observations, modifying behaviors and taking action to achieve performance improvement and attain defined goals.

Again, I do not suggest (even for a moment) that you equate developing managers as coaches as giving up authority, decision-making responsibility or holding others accountable. To the contrary, effective leaders who employ coaching — like head sports coaches (think Vince Lombardi) — are still the ones making the decisions, calling the strategic plays and putting people in or out of the game. Effective leaders who employ coaching skills still have the authority to trade away their prize second-round draft pick for a better option.

Coaches Increase Your Skills

Coaching in the workplace has increased dramatically in popularity in recent years as more organizations and leaders understand the power behind the approach. Coaching isn’t a “flavor of the month” business fad — it’s here to stay, and for good reasons. The business case for coaching is backed by solid research, data and results.

This column begins a series on coaching in the workplace and will review coaching concepts, techniques and examples of how coaching can dramatically affect performance and bottom-line results.

Simply stated, coaching is a leadership method and style centered on the development of the person (or team) being coached. At its core, coaching is about helping the person or team being coached change behaviors that affect their business goals.

Comparing workplace coaching to the sports field provides some valuable insights and similarities. Who can argue the value of coaches in the business of professional sports? Just as every major football team has a head coach, it also leverages a field of specialized experts to help develop specific skills sets — in individuals and for the team to optimize team dynamics and performance. Similarly, the purpose of workplace coaching is to champion, challenge and support. Workplace coaches, just like sports coaches, leverage skill development (practice, practice, practice!) and feedback (roll the game video), and provide insight (have you considered or did you know this behavior is having this effect?). The common theme, in both business and sports, is that effective coaching is a proven method to help individuals, teams and entire organizations rise to their performance potential.

Effective workplace coaching typically is:

  • An interpersonal relationship built on trust.
  • The leveraging of personal, interpersonal, leadership and business experience. In coaching, these skills are combined with techniques and activities designed to develop specific skills, new understandings and behaviors.
  • A method that recognizes that learning (including from failure) is an expected benefit of trying new behaviors.
  • A sounding board for the workplace “worried well.”

What coaching isn’t:

  • Being “touchy feely.”
  • Simply providing a pat on the back or being a “cheerleader.”
  • A substitute for personal therapy.

When and for what reasons are coaches typically used? Here are a few typical workplace scenarios:

  • To help new or inexperienced leaders with a potential for leadership who may lack specific leadership skills or experience.
  • Supporting “fast trackers” or high achievers.
  • To help valued employees with specific performance or emotional intelligence issues (such as an interpersonal, self-awareness or reactivity problem) or those individuals or groups that are simply “stuck.”

For senior level managers, executive coaches are frequently utilized for:

  • Individuals being groomed for senior leadership positions, including those who have demonstrated business success but may have identified emotional intelligence challenges.
  • The role of the impartial third-party “outsider,” one that can provide an unbiased or unemotional perspective on complex and difficult issues. Senior managers often find great benefit in having an objective sounding board (with no political or internal bias) to vocalize, rationalize and work through difficult situations.
  • Support during major organizational transitions, including helping the organization to develop top-to-bottom skills and programs for managing change effectively.
  • Helping leaders develop feedback mechanisms to help answer and address the question, “Why isn’t this working?”

The need for improved leadership, performance and results has never been greater. Our business reality today is one of constant change and global competition. Being successful in today’s workplace requires a never-ending development of new leaders with new skills — including the ability to build effective teams and a culture of organizational collaboration.

In a recent study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, 91 percent of leaders surveyed said the challenges they face as leaders are more complex than in the past. This same study identified the ability to effectively collaborate as a top skill that leaders must develop, while only 30 percent identified themselves as skilled collaborators! The good news — there is help!  Call me today- 360 682 5807.

6 Tips to Master Feedback

Closing the gap between goals and performance is a continual challenge for leaders. Mastering coaching skills can help close that gap. One of the most important skills to master is giving effective, and potentially difficult, feedback to others. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t born with natural talents in delivering challenging feedback, so some level of skill development is usually necessary.

Leaders with great coaching skills are adept at offering feedback that encourages learning, development and change — in good times and bad. They can deliver difficult information in a way that encourages behavior change. Feedback, as a core coaching skill, is delivering information and perspective to another person about an observable behavior.

How feedback is received, and whether it creates change, is all about how it is delivered. Many of us have a tendency to take challenging feedback personally. But most of us prefer feedback that is simple to understand, straightforward and presented in a non-accusatory style.

Here are six feedback delivery tips:

  1. Consider timing. Feedback should be delivered as close to the observed behavior as possible. The year-end performance review is too late. Most people aren’t able to hear critical feedback (without getting defensive) when they are highly emotional or reactive. It’s much better to wait until people calm down and can hear it.
  2. Prioritize critical behaviors. Too often, managers focus feedback on what bothers them in others versus identifying specific behaviors that drive performance. Or they give too much feedback at one time, which can overwhelm the person. The 80/20 rule applies — 80 percent of performance comes from about 20 percent of our behaviors. The best coaches identify critical behaviors, focus on key expectations and review specific behavioral changes that could significantly improve performance.
  3. Be behaviorally specific. Encourage the employee to take responsibility by focusing on acts, not attitudes. State the information in a way that cannot be misunderstood. Effective feedback doesn’t leave the employee wondering what you meant. To be a great coach, you need to be a great observer. The best feedback is factual — what a video camera would have recorded. Just like playing the game tapes in preparation for the “big game,” managers use observable behaviors and patterns to help clarify the issues and identify behaviors that require change.
  4. Identify change as a process versus an event. The most effective coaches provide ongoing feedback and encourage people to learn from their successes and failures. They set the expectation that feedback needs to be a two-way communication process; they are open to and encourage reciprocal feedback.
  5. Identify impact. Great coaches illuminate “blind spots” so people see themselves as others see them. They provide feedback that identifies the consequence, feelings or impact of the behavior in question. It is not uncommon for individuals to be oblivious to the distress a simple comment or action can cause.
  6. Define expectations. Feedback includes offering suggestions, direction or identifiable goals. What do you want the employee to do differently? An effective challenge can be to identify what you want more or less of: “I want more suggestions for solutions and fewer complaints during our meetings.”

Best-practice coaching and feedback requires different approaches for different situations.

Coaching the most talented people can be tricky. Providing feedback to high-performers often requires a different skill set and approach. By their very nature, high-performers are different — they get bored easily, and when in trouble may be difficult to challenge without negatively affecting motivation. High-performers tend to run at light speed while generating the kind of results that senior management loves — they require a specialized set of coaching skills to keep them challenged and on track.

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: