I was in the middle of facilitating one of my favorite topics with a group of newly-minted people leaders –coaching. I made the comment that the most important thing a leader should do is coach her/his people.
A participant raised his hand and challenged the thought that a leader has to coach at all. Instead of immediately replying, I did what any self-respecting facilitator should do when he wants to test the waters with others in the group and hope that they have an alternate viewpoint: I asked the group for their thoughts on the leader’s role as coach.
Fortunately, right on cue, everyone in the group agreed that the leader’s primary role is to coach. After checking back in with the participant to ensure his self-esteem didn’t take a hit from the onslaught of divergence he heard, he relented and agreed with the group.
I know this person is not alone in thinking a leader does not need to coach. I have started many discussions in sessions on the competencies or behavioral traits that a leader has to possess to be successful and can’t think of one time where coaching has come up. Why?
Many people seem to still think that the leader should be more focused on everything to do with driving revenue, containing costs, increasing margins, and if applicable, increasing shareholder value.
These are the hard and fast measurements that speak to the health of any business. But can a leader do all these things by her/himself? Any business of more than one person relies on other people to build or sustain it, and these people need guidance, direction, and coaching.
What’s in for the leader to be a coach? Ironically, if the leader spends time coaching, he or she will have more time to strategize, implement, and achieve those more easily measurable things mentioned earlier that keep a business thriving.
So what’s coaching? If you put the word coaching into a search engine, you will get thousands of answers. Simply put, coaching is helping equip people with the means to achieve results by focusing on what they need to be successful.
Coaching goes way beyond the numbers, the analytics. It gets to how to motivate, energize, and support people. Coaching focuses on helping people bring out the best in themselves, helping them surface the answers that lie somewhere deep within that would point them in the best direction.
Here in lies the challenge for leaders. Some aren’t wired to focus on what they may consider “soft” or “mushy” things like this. There are times when coaching that the leader needs to show empathy, an essential part of relating to people that lets them know you heard or understood (not agree) with what they said and how they felt. I see first-hand where showing empathy is really lacking, just not in the work world, but everywhere today.
For the leader to be an effective coach, the leader needs to be coached. Specifically, leaders need to be coached in these areas:
- Setting clear expectations on performance
- Listening to what is being said, and not being said
- Creating action plans with their employees to develop their skills
- Providing balanced (not just when things go wrong, telling them what’s going right) feedback
- How to sincerely show empathy
- Ensuring that you have the right energy that motivates and engages employees
This is not an all-inclusive list because, like their people they coach, each leader has unique opportunities and challenges that have to be identified. There is no “one size fits all” approach to coaching.
Every leader should be a coach, which would make every coach a truly effective leader!