Research Paper By Kiran Ramnane
(Executive Coach, CANADA)
Frustrated by two of his team members not doing what he had directed them to do, Joe was getting angry, stressed and mulling over what was possibly going wrong with his team. He had given them instructions, outlined the deliverables he expected, showed them what to do and told them how he would evaluate them on their output.
So what was wrong? Was it that they did not know what to do, or did not understand his instructions, did they have a bad attitude or maybe just maybe (he hesitantly asked himself) was it his style of management? What was going on – he could not get a handle on it.
Walking through the hallway pondering on what was slowly becoming at least in his mind an insurmountable problem, Joe suddenly bumped into his boss. They chatted for a minute but it was immediately evident to Joe’s boss that something was going on there. He took Joe to his office and sat him down and asked a simple question
What’s going on? You look frazzled
this led to an off loading of everything Joe was carrying on his shoulders.
Tim, Joe’s manager listened to him patiently and then asked him a few simple but insightful questions
How did the team define goals and drive their results?, What were some of things Joe knew about the two members on his team?, What were their strengths?, Were the two of them a continuous problem or did they not deliver when they were stressed, What did he think would help to change their performance, what would happen if he did nothing?
Tim asked him a few more questions which incisively led Joe to understand the problem. Joe had the clichéd “Aha” moment when it became clear to him that the team was not responding to him because he was behaving like the stereotypical manager – telling them what to do, controlling their performance and leaving little room for independent thought or action. He was excluding them from the decision making process, and most importantly he was talking rather than listening to his team.
Joe thanked Tim for this insight and left feeling calmer and empowered to support his team and particularly his two colleagues. He felt he now had the tools to support them and guide them to achieve the potential he knew they had.
Hopefully we all know or work for someone like Tim, Joe’s boss. Unfortunately chances are more likely not. Sadly even today with all the changes and new ideas being generated around management and leadership we see managers who struggle with the concept of being a coaching manager.
Many successful coaches like James Hunt, Joseph Weintarub and Thomas Crane have looked at the idea of a coaching manager and how transformational leaders use coaching techniques to create and sustain high performance.
In most traditionally run business organisations today managers are conditioned to and practice a hierarchical control, direct and evaluate mentality and management style
Recent studies show that while many employees are interested in being coached and many managers claim to be coaching managers in reality there is a disconnect. Through interviews and other anecdotal evidence we often here employees say things like
I haven’t spoken to my manager in 6 months, so I guess I am doing fine
Most employees have not had their manager devote 100 % of an hour to observing their work or giving them feedback or had any conversation that has promoted growth or performance.
Substantial research by Lombardo & Eichinger 2001 support this finding that developmental coaching is seldom practiced in the workplace.
Many managers forget that a leader’s behavior has a profound and direct effect on the results achieved with his or her team. Understanding how this occurs, and the ability to direct this knowledge towards success is fundamental to improved performance. Managers must take an active and positive role employee performance to ensure goals are met.
So what is going wrong here, why are employees not getting more coaching and why are they not asking for coaching in the workplace?
Some of the most obvious reasons are:
- If an employee has a manager who is not interested in development of his staff, the logical response is that the staff lowers their expectations and therefore don’t expect coaching
- They don’t expect it therefore they don’t ask for it, this slowly becomes a vicious self-reinforcing but also a self-defeating cycle
- Often time’s managers don’t know how to coach “I am not coach material”
- Managers believe coaching is only a remedial tool and forget to coach their high performers
Some of the less obvious but equally insidious reasons are:
- The performance and appraisal system of some companies and the attitude of senior leaders that actively discourage coaching, “why are you spending all your time talking to people, let’s get some work done here” is a poke we sometimes hear.
- The fear of failing as a manager “I will be the only one trying this here, I will not be supported and I don’t want to look different
It won’t make a difference, people don’t change that easily
What managers often forget though is that it is easier being a Boss than a Coach, but it is more rewarding being a Coach than a Boss.
In our role as a boss our egos are invested in the role we play and we get sucked into the trappings of authority and power. Once we get used to this then we fear losing it and being easy can we viewed as weak or failing in the eyes of the business world.
So what can we do to encourage more Coaching Mangers?
Leaders guided by values who believe strongly that others respond to role modeling and can grow and change through coaching
Our first goal should be remind our managers that people instinctively want to be engaged in meaningful work they want to learn and grow. Most people want feedback and attention and someone to guide them through their professional life and career.
Many of us who are coaches or have interacted with coaches know that a coach can have a direct impact on our success, either positive or negative, mainly due to what the coach says and does before and after our performance.
Senior leaders need to support a coaching mindset constantly instilling top to bottom that a managers success is linked to his teams and that he cannot succeed till his entire team – above, below and beside him succeed.
Another mindset that would help to take the coaching culture further is to acknowledge and in fact celebrate the fact that the manager does not know or in fact need not know all the answers. That while they have experience, wisdom and knowledge it is also okay for them to allow their teams the space and time to discover their own answers.
Coaching managers should be reminded that unlike mentoring which typically involves a more ongoing relationship with significant emotional investment, coaching does not require affection and emotional intimacy. What it does require however is a high quality trusting relationship between the manager and the employee.
The most critical communication tool available to a leader is feedback. Feedback, a positively reinforcing consequence, is essential in any coaching skill set. A leader’s comfort delivering both positive and developmental feedback is the key to effective coaching. To achieve improved business results, we must change behaviors of those responsible for delivering the results, and this is accomplished by actively coaching employees.
So what are some practical steps a Coaching Manager can take?
Coaching begins with your understanding of the business need.
Some questions a Coaching Manager may ask of themselves are:
- What talents or skills do my employees need to achieve results?
- Can I define these for them?
- What does the employee need to do, specifically, to generate the results the business needs?
- Which behaviors are most crucial to his performance?
- What does the desired behavior look like, and what are the specific activities that define the behavior?
- What supports do my people need to sustain their effort over the long term?
As a coaching manager, you must be able to identify and describe these skills, behaviors, goals and success criteria
There is no need to fear coaching – a coaching manager doesn’t have to go through a major learning process what they need to do is show a change in attitude, to stay in touch with his people and to signal coaching intent. Most importantly a coaching manager needs to believe in the organizational value of coaching. An important step is to internalize their own model of coaching, this often means leaving behind worries about changing people’s personalities, being completely responsible for the outcome of the process, that coaching needs a lot of time and they don’t have enough and finally to remember that coaches develop over time and with practice.
The simplest starting point is a conversation, creating a coaching dialogue between the coachee /employee and the coaching manager.
The ability to listen and provide space for silence and reflection are two important skills the coaching manager needs to practice. This is sometimes the hardest to do because most organisations reward problem solving and a manger that works in this mode feels the need to jump in and problem solve rather than be a guide and facilitator to the process. Managers need to learn to listen to understand rather listening to reply.
Asking powerful questions is another skill managers need to perfect over a period of time again resisting giving answers that they probably know. Questions that bring insight and let the employee/coachee discover their own path are the most effective coaching questions.
Another key factor of success is having a coaching mind set. This is clearly evidenced by an overriding attitude of helpfulness, not believing in a sink or swim theory, showing empathy and not trying to “fix” people. A coaching manager does not have to be a therapist, counsellor or even a mentor. They need to show faith, and an open and honest desire to help.
Some tips for Coaching Managers:
- Model openness and vulnerability by disclosing your own development needs
- Ask about preferences for learning or being coached
- Focus on helping the coachee with specific tasks
- Be businesslike and frank, but friendly
- Check that you are addressing a real issue
- Moderate the amount and depth of your coaching
- If your coachee is stuck during problem solving, ask them to identify similar situations and then reflect on how they managed that situation
- Actively listen for deeper meaning. Ensure that you are having a 2-way discussion
Coaching individuals for performance is certainly a key factor of success as a coaching manager, but more often than not the coaching manager might find themselves having to coach an entire team. In fact research shows that in large organizations focusing only on individual performance may be counterproductive to the overall organizational performance. Counter intuitively people who are normally performance driven and creative as individual contributors may become static and defensive in a group.
The coaching manager needs to look at how to apply coaching fundamentals to creating high performing teams. As he shifts his focus from the individual to the team one area that can have a high impact on the way the team thinks and interacts is to work on the values that govern the team.
The same principles apply to coaching individuals and teams; however the focus here is to build a shared purpose rather than just let the individual only pursue their own purpose. The coaching manager needs to bring the group to develop a shared approach rather than just fight in their own corners. Optimization of the whole rather than the parts is the goal here.
One exercise which I have personally found very helpful is a “Visualizing Success” workshop. In this activity the team focuses on identifying what success means to them as individuals and what it means as a team and how can they bring congruence to these goals. They define what they need to STOP, START and CONTINUE doing in order to bring cohesiveness in the team’s values and goals.
They then collaborate and set potentially new goals for further improvement. Finally they build a charter action plan on what the next steps will be and how they would continue to monitor success.
One of the bigger challenges a coaching manager faces is to get individuals within the team, to be fully motivated to a common set of goals. As Peter Drucker said
in today’s business environment everyone is a volunteer
People can’t be told what to do or what goals to aspire to, they have to “enroll”, which means they have to voluntarily commit to a goal. The role of the coaching manager now is to support his team in the understanding of how the team goal will align with their individual personal goals, values and sense of purpose.
One mistake the managers often make is to operate from the traditional high horse of control and direct and thus fail to bring this commitment and participation. This then leads to frustration when it seems like individuals don’t care about the team.
The ideal coaching manager will learn ways to ask his team to something such that they will be excited and motivated to be part of that group and activity. This can be done by active listening, understanding the individual’s frame of reference and what is important to them. The next step would be to find ways to align their personal goals to the goals of the team, giving everyone the opportunity to be significant and to make a difference.
Listening and support has to be constant and consistent as it takes time to move people from intellectual alignment to the team goals to emotional alignment to the team goals. Follow up is one of the most underdeveloped processes in the manager’s repertoire. An effective coaching manager will follow up with his individual coachee or team either formally or informally. They must know what each individual or team is doing at any given time and keeps an eye out for how people are performing but most importantly look for “coachable moments”. Assuming goals have been clearly set this part of the process keeps both the coachee/team as well as the manager accountable to the process. The upside of following up for the coaching manager is he can see a return on his investment, the time he spent coaching and the impact it has had.
A coaching manager then is one who plays a critical role in using their coaching skills to develop talent and people with the organization by moving away from the traditional legacy roles of being controlling, directing and evaluating managers. This is the new way of management and leadership in the 21st century and a particularly efficient way to achieve business and organizational results.
- The Coaching Manager – James Hunt and Joseph R.Weintraub
- Masterful Coaching – Robert Hargrove
- The Heart of Coaching –Thomas Crane
- FYI – For your improvement, A Development and Coaching guide - Michael Lombardo, Robert Eichinger
- Effective Coaching – Myles Downey
Peter Drucker on Leadership