Updated: Oct 25, 2019
What if the real world of work was more like The Voice television show where contestants have the luxury of picking their coach? They know everything knowable about their potential coaches and pick the one they think can help them the most. As a manager, would your direct reports pick you? Why? Why not?
There Is No Mystery
One of the key skills of coaching is listening. And your direct reports know all they need to know about how good of a listener you are. Managers can’t credibly present themselves as a coach in an area where their everyday performance shows that they either don’t have or don’t care to use this critical skill.
You can present yourself as ‘the manager’ and simply order people to follow your directions, despite your personal lack of skill. This sounds draconian but sadly, it is very common. Almost no one ever uses those words, but the message comes through loudly and clearly through actions.
Choosing to Coach
The research is overwhelming: today’s workforce, especially millennials, prefer to be coached rather than ordered about. And frankly, coaching requires a lot more skill and insight than does managing. It also takes more time.
But there is a big payoff. Author and researcher Daniel Goleman states in his classic Harvard Business Review article, “Leadership That Gets Results,” that effective leaders get measurably better results on the working atmosphere AND on financial performance. Effective leaders use a combination of six different leadership styles and they understand which ones to use at the right time. One of those styles is coaching.
If you would rather coach than order people around, approach this universal need of listening honestly and openly as an area you are willing to work to improve. Be aware of your own shortcomings. When you set expectations for the performance of others, share your expectations of yourself. Take a bold step beyond that and ask your direct reports for their expectations of you. This may be well out of the ordinary for a lot of people, but I can assure you that it works. This establishes an agreement that people see as a measure of fairness. And keeping your agreements is critical to building trust. Organizations thrive on trust and collapse with mistrust. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Listen to Learn, Then Coach Listening Skills
Coaching in your organization is no different. It starts with listening to determine the skill development needs of your team. Help people understand and practice the listening skills and behaviors they need for success. Then, establish expectations that work. Give them immediate information about how they are doing and the impact of their efforts. People want to see that they are important to you and that their work matters.
Provide this feedback frequently, in small chunks, and at least 3 times as much positive feedback as corrective feedback. Be sure they can do the activities with the skill level required before you put them on the firing line. Your objective is to help them consistently listen well, to make all the skills and behaviors of listening into habits.