By Sandra A. Mobley
A few years ago there was much talk about the
need for managers to become leaders. Now the business literature
is telling managers that they should become coaches. The truth
is, many skills are needed to manage and the latest thinking has
focused on a set of skills that often come into play when the
leadership and coaching worlds intersect.
Let God Judge, and Let Managers Coach
The typical boss-as-God working environment puts employees on
the defensive because they live in constant fear of being judged.
A judging relationship makes employees hide their mistakes, defend
their behavior, and refuse to ask for help or admit their weaknesses
or vulnerabilities. It's not surprising that a working atmosphere
characterized by a judging mentality also features low morale,
high absenteeism, and little teamwork.
On the other hand, a coaching atmosphere creates
trust and builds support. A coaching relationship helps people
work out issues and find their own answers through the skillful
use of probing questions. Coaches help employees recognize their
strengths, uncover their blind spots and offer possibilities and
options that employees had not considered in evaluating their
A great coach helps you do your best work, as
Michael Jordan confirmed when he said he wouldn't play for any
coach but Phil Jackson because Phil brought out the best in him.
The value of coaching has become clear as more
and more organizations apply the concepts of coaching and enjoy
the rewards of a healthier work environment.
The Value of Coaching
In my 15 years as a manager, consultant, and coach, I have found
that people are far more aware of their weaknesses than their
strengths. In fact, they seem to take their strengths for granted
and minimize them rather than capitalize on them. Some of my biggest
successes as a coach have been helping people recognize and leverage
strengths they had undervalued for years.
Recently, a client who is brilliant at strategic thinking and
sales, but only fair at people management and administration,
was feeling overwhelmed by myriad details and personnel problems.
As a result, he had little energy for marketing and developing
the company's long-term strategy - what he does best. After coaching,
he decided to hire a chief operating officer with strong administrative
and people skills which allowed him the time to play to his strengths
and ultimately made the company healthier.
People can excel when they focus on and enhance their strengths.
Successful people are aware of their weaknesses and take steps
to minimize their impact, but they do not go overboard in trying
to overcome them. Rather they seek positions that spotlight what
they do well.
Skills That Make Coaching Work
For some managers, adding coaching to an already lengthy list
of responsibilities can feel like the straw that breaks the camel's
back. But I suspect many managers are already developing coaching
relationships and having coaching conversations with their employees.
By learning ways to coach more skillfully, coaching sessions can
be more effective and feel less burdensome. As employees develop
their abilities, they become more self-motivated and self-managing.
1. Create a context where you are prepared to coach and the employee
is open to coaching. The things you say and do to set the stage
are important here. First, let the person know that the purpose
of the coaching relationship is to support his or her overall
development and effectiveness. If you are only willing to coach
someone to be more effective in his or her current position, make
that clear. If you are willing to explore opportunities outside
of those boundaries, state that as well.
2. Use reflective listening by hearing the words and reading the
emotional content. It is a wonderful gift to have someone listen
to you completely, giving you his or her full attention. It can
also be helpful to have someone reflect back to you what he or
she heard and felt from listening to you. We are sometimes unaware
of anger or pain we have around a situation because we have buried
the feelings. When these feelings are noticed and reflected back,
we have greater awareness of ourselves.
3. Ask questions that help to open new possibilities, explore
perceptions and assumptions, and provide new ways of evaluating
the same data. The key to this skill is that you must be genuinely
curious. When your questions respect the employee's thought process,
you support his or her own questioning of long-held assumptions.
For years, managers have received positive feedback for having
the answers and giving advice. It is much harder to ask skillful
questions than to give advice. The goal is for the employee to
find the answer that works for him or her.
4. Give useful feedback. As mentioned earlier, managers may feel
compelled to give "constructive" feedback rather than
positive feedback. If constructive feedback is needed, the best
approach is to ask the employee what he or she thinks should be
worked on. In the majority of situations, the employee is very
aware of his/her shortcomings. When those areas are enumerated
by the employee, suggest working on the one or two you think would
be most beneficial to improve upon. This keeps you in the realm
of coaching, not judging.
We spend most of our waking time at work. Let's make the workplace
more supportive and nurturing. Think about when you have done
your best work: was it in a fearful and hostile environment or
one that was supportive and playful? I find that when people trust
one another and have fun, magical things happen for the employees,
the customers, and the organization. So forget about judging and
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