A Coaching Power Tool Created by Raymond Lefort
(Executive Coach, CANADA)
Managing and leading people is increasingly challenging and complex in today’s business world. Technology is shrinking distances and time. We now live in an “always on” workplace. As the pace of business continues to accelerate, the world becomes intensely competitive and as managers, we operate in an environment where things must get done quickly and right…the first time. In this context, investing the time to develop employee skills becomes very challenging for organizational leaders and under pressure; leaders can gravitate towards a “do it my way” style of management in an effort to move ahead as quickly as possible. The “do it my way” approach is based on the manager dictating the approach or way to get a task done rather than relying on employees skills, experience and aptitude to get things done.
Progression to management ranks comes about because of demonstrated competency in getting things done, skills and technical competencies, and the organization recognizing leadership potential in its people. Strong technical skills in non-managers often lead organizations to reward the contribution of these individuals by promoting them to supervisory and management ranks. That, in and of itself may not be the right leadership criteria by which to select managers for promotions.
Beyond technical competencies, managers are expected to work with employees to develop skills, help them gain increased competencies and provide leadership to achieve organizational goals. This multi-dimensional role requires that managers find the balance between “doing it their way” to get quick results versus letting employees do it “their way” to learn and develop new ways of getting things done more effectively. Managers take on the role of a coach when they allow the employees to do it their own way.
In the day to day pressure to get results, be more efficient, drive forward faster, it easy to lose sight of the manager’s role as a “coach”. In the heat of the moment when time pressures are high, a manager may gravitate to a telling rather than a coaching approach. This may come from a belief that
I have successfully completed this task this way many times before-let’s just get it done.
As a manager, what are the trade-offs I make when choosing between these two approaches? What do I gain and possibly lose when applying one or the other approach to managing?
Exploring The Difference between “My Way” vs “Your Way”
“My Way” and “Your Way” leads to different outcomes for organizations. Let’s explore both.
Mary, a successful manager at ABC Technology, has been promoted through the ranks of her company and now holds the position of Director of Client Support. Mary is seen as a “High Potential” employee and is being groomed for senior roles. Over her career she has held positions in Sales, Client Support and Product Support. She is, at times, seen as having a hard edge but had been working to develop her leadership skills.
One of the company’s major client has been experiencing recurring problems with one of ABC’s products. Kelly, the current Client Support Representative has been working with ABC second level support staff and the client technical staff for over a month without success. The client’s Chief Information Officer has expressed serious concerns and the situation is heating up by the minute. A meeting between the two organizations has been called for ABC to present a plan of action to address the problems. In order to prepare for the meeting Kelly created an action plan in collaboration with the client’s technical staff and discussed with Mary the strategy to resolve the outstanding problems. After a lengthy discussion and making some adjustments to the initial approach, Mary agreed with Kelly recommendations. Mary summarized in a presentation the steps taken so far along with the proposed action plan. After reviewing the final presentation with Mary, all was ready for the big meeting. Kelly was to present to the client management team and Mary would attend to show that ABC senior management was focused on ensuring the issues were resolved in a timely manner.
The meeting was progressing well and Kelly had done a good job of handling the questions the client had asked, what had been done so far and what progress had been accomplished. As Kelly was getting to the discussion on the action plan the CIO asked Kelly a difficult question and Mary suddenly interrupted Kelly and “took over” the presentation. Kelly frustrated sat and remained totally quiet and withdrew for the remainder of the meeting. For days after Kelly’s attitude towards her work became negative and she took an
Let Mary decide and tell me – I obviously don’t know how!
Both Mary and Kelly were intent on providing the best outcome for the client but Mary’s intervention in the meeting resulted in Kelly being dis-empowered. Mary in the heat of the moment felt that Kelly’s response was not the “right” answer and jumped in and interrupted and possibly caused embarrassment to Kelly. How else could have Mary handled the situation while being supportive to Kelly? Could Mary have anticipated the negative impact she had on Kelly? Could Mary have added her thoughts after Kelly had responded to the CIO’s question, possibly adding more detail or offering additional information that could have supported the response Kelly was providing?
Would it be possible to use this situation as a coaching opportunity after the meeting with the client in a de-brief session? In this context, Mary’s feedback would have likely been received in a more positive way. It could have been an opportunity to build upon and expand Mary’s “proven approach” with ideas from Kelly.
The case study above illustrates the potential impact leaders can have on their team members by taking charge. Rather than using opportunities under pressure to transfer some of the skills they acquired over the years to their team, a leader may choose to “take the lead”. This approach may miss the opportunity to modify and improve proven approaches to deliver even better results. On the other side of the coin, it may appear sometimes that by doing things “My Way”, the problem gets resolved and we can move out of “crisis mode” more quickly. As in many management situations, it is a question of finding balance to achieve the desired overall results.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving – Albert Einstein
Think of a situation where as a team, you and colleagues need to accomplish a task. Maybe you held a formal leadership role or maybe you were a member of the team. As the deadline for accomplishing a goal or task was approaching did you or someone on the team take charge of team? Did they do so in a way that stifled input from all team members? If you assumed the leadership role, did you seek solutions from your team? Did you explore different ways to combine the various ideas you received? If you were not in a team leadership role, did others determine the path forward? How did you feel about the situation?
The following factors in the work environment may have you behave in a less inclusive management style:
- Time pressures and deadlines
- High pressure problem resolution environment
- Executive demand pressures
- Threat of contract cancellation or other client threats
What structures can you use to get the best of your team in these situations?
Management/Executive coaches will work with managers who at times forget the impact of their actions in the heat of the moment and focus on short term results rather than growing the capability and skills of their team. The coach’s role in this situation is to shift the perspective of the client to understand and gain awareness of the impact their behaviour on their team while still achieving the results required by the business. Finding balance between “My Way” based on resolving problems through your past experience and approaches and “Your Way”, helping the team bring their own strengths, experience and creativity to develop new and improved ways of solving problems is key. It leads to a more inclusive and collaborative work environment. The resulting solutions benefit from wider input and team members have an opportunity for development through the contribution of everyone’s experience and skills to problem solving.
Some possible coaching questions to use with your client in these situations are:
- How could your “take charge” behaviour impact your team?
- Does your behaviour empower or disempower you team? Why?
- Can you think of situation in the past where your manager “took charge”? What was your reaction to this?
- How could you have coached your team in the situation you were facing?
- Think of a situation where you were in a leadership role and maybe under pressure. You felt you had to take “control” of a situation and did things your way. How did you feel before you decided to “take charge” of the situation?
- How did you feel after you took control?
- How did your co-workers react to you taking over? Was anything said? What changes did you notice in the dynamics or energy level of the group?
- Can you recall a situation where your manager took control of a situation or problem you were attempting to resolve?
- How did you react and feel about having control taking over from you?
- How did this event empower or disempower you? Why?
- How might you coach a client who has a “My way” vs. “Your way” approach?
- As a coach, how would you manage you own need to be in control?