Ask 150 people if they have good common sense, and more than 95% will tell you they do. Ask them if they are good coaches, and almost as many will say yes. Executives we talk to assume that if they’re good managers, then being a good coach is instinctive.
This would be good news, if it were so, since more and more Companies are expecting managers to coach their subordinates.
What’s more, employee surveys conducted over the past decade show that subordinates want coaching. My own experience demonstrates that effective coaching raises employee commitment and engagement, productivity, retention rates, customer loyalty, and subordinates’ perception of the strength of upper-level leadership.
Unfortunately, coaching is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Nor is it a skill that is automatically acquired in the course of learning to manage. And done poorly, it can cause a lot of harm.
What’s more, before they can be taught coaching skills, leaders need to possess some fundamental attributes, many of which are not common managerial strengths. Indeed, some run counter to the behaviors and attributes that get people promoted to managerial positions in the first place. Here are a few of the attributes that can be measured to determine what might predict who would make the most effective coaches. You’ll quickly see the conflict between traditional management practices and good coaching traits:
Being directive versus being collaborative. Good managers give direction to the groups they manage, of course, and the willingness to exert leadership is often why they get promoted. But the most effective managers who are also effective coaches learn to be selective about giving direction. Rather than use their conversations as an opportunity to exert a strong influence, make recommendations, and provide unambiguous direction, they take a step back, and try to draw out the views of their talented, experienced staff.
A desire to give advice or to aid in discovery. Subordinates frequently ask managers questions about how they should handle various issues or resolve specific problems. And managers are often promoted to their positions because they are exceptionally good at solving problems. So no one should be surprised to find that many are quick to give advice, rather than taking time to help colleagues or subordinates discover the best solution from within themselves. The best coaches do a little of both.
An inclination to act as the expert or as an equal. We’ve all seen instances when the person with the most technical expertise has been promoted to a supervisory or managerial position. Organizations want leaders to understand their technology. So, naturally, when coaching others, some managers behave as if they possess far greater wisdom than the person being coached. But in assuming the role of guru, the well-meaning manager may treat the person being coached as a novice, or even a child. Still, the excellent coach does not behave as a complete equal, with no special role, valued perspective, or responsibility in the conversation.
Leaders can learn to be more collaborative as opposed to always being directive. They can learn the skill of helping people to discover solutions rather than always first offering advice. They can learn how satisfying it is to treat others with consummate respect and raise employee commitment through two way collaborative communication.