In business, there are four key elements: equipment and technology, processes and systems, information, and people…but people are the active ingredient and coaching and development are critical to success.
The most important work an effective leader can do is to get the most out of his/her people, helping them perform at highest levels today and grow to contribute more tomorrow. The leader who can coax “growth spurts” out of the people in the organization adds the most lasting value to the business, a value that multiplies as others take up the mantle of effective coaching and development.
Yet, giving feedback to employees, particularly formal “review” feedback, is often one of the least-liked tasks for many managers. It can be uncomfortable, particularly if there are disagreements about areas for improvement. But, good coaching should be somewhat uncomfortable, at least for the person being coached. You don’t learn when you are comfortable, but when you are uncomfortable…and coaching is all about learning.
The late Tom Landry, Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys football coach, underscored this with a couple of related quotes:
- “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you can be,”
- “Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.”
Leaders are built by two dynamics: diversity and adversity. There is some truth to the adage “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger” (as long as the “it” is not actually destructive or simply wrong). An effective coach thoughtfully manages the diversity and adversity of his/her employees or proteges.
So, the “one hand” you push with in coaching is the “hand” with which you challenge employees—to stretch and grow, to meet commitments, to set new personal standards for effectiveness and professionalism. Does this mean that coaching should be in the spirit of “I believe everyone’s entitled to my opinion” or “listen to me because I’ve got it all together”? Of course not…
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care (I’m not sure who’s the source of this quote, perhaps Mother Theresa). If you truly care about the other’s performance and development, you will support them energetically in their efforts to perform. Thus, the “other hand” you push with to coach effectively is the “hand” whereby you support employees energetically.
So, what does it mean to “push with both hands”? Challenge hard and support hard.
Some employees try to dodge feedback with a “How can you criticize me in this area whey you have (X, Y, and Z) issues?” However, I have found that I am able to give the most helpful, insightful feedback in areas that I have had to work through personally. And, I have found it often helpful to acknowledge my own challenges in such areas as a I coach an employee—it makes the coach more real and credible, and always heightens receptivity while taking some of the sting out of the comments.
And when it comes to coaching and development feedback, know that one size does not fit all: some employees are so sensitive that even a hint of “this could be better” has them off balance and in a “deer in the headlights” mode. For others, any subtlety is a waste of time and you feel like a whack to the forehead still won’t get through to them. The key is to be heard—have the input received, embraced and owned—and then have a trusting basis for partnering with the employee on their ensuing development, including agreed-to activities and deliverables.
In coaching and development feedback, “never leave the putt short of the hole.” If you’ve “gone too far” as a coach or somehow offered an unfair or misguided observation, admit it to the employee, apologize and re-set. Presuming that your off-the-mark views are appropriate and legal, you can get the coaching back on track if your intentions are good and the other knows you care, if you are grounded in reality and fact-based, and if you are open and illustrative about your own career development and related trials. But, if you are too cautious or passive in your observations, never going beyond what’s on the surface, you miss opportunities to challenge the employee and enable potential growth spurts.
If you are a committed coach and apply as much energy and personal growth emphasis to this area as other aspects of your role, you will find this area to be as rewarding as any other you take on as a leader. Remember: Coaching and Development requires you Push with both hands; challenge hard and support hard.
About the author:
Steve Sharp is a senior consultant with Group50® Consulting and heads Group50’s Strategic Execution practice. Steve and the Group50 team are all former executives with well-known manufacturing and distribution companies who understand what it takes to put together and manage the implementation of a successful strategic plan and exit plans. Group50 has designed a series of strategic assessments, workshopsand strategic execution tools that drive successful business performance. Call us at (909) 949-9083 or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
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