This article was based on episode 044 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.
Managers play many roles throughout their day: leader, task-master, visionary, advisor, facilitator, cheerleader, etc. One of the most important roles any manager plays is that of coach. When a manager puts on their metaphorical coaching hat, they’re shifting out of the role of telling people what to do and into one of encouraging team members to discover their own answers.
This week’s guest, Amy Born, has spent most of her professional career in the field of organizational development and organizational psychology. Amy and I talk about strategies and approaches to help managers become great coaches for their team members.
COACHES DON’T GIVE THE ANSWERS
It’s a hard habit to break, but coaches excel at asking questions, not giving answers. So often team members come to us with questions and we’ve got ideas, instructions or advice to share. Yet, it’s not our job to have all the answers all the time. (Phew! What a relief!)
Instead, consider a manager’s job as one of helping to find the answers. This both eliminates the pressure to always be right, and empowers the team to share their thinking which ultimately leads to better answers.
The next time a colleague comes to you with a question, before launching into your response, try asking one of these:
What are your thoughts about this?
How do you think we should approach it?
What have you considered thus far?
Do you have any thoughts on how we might go forward?
Once they’ve had a chance to share, you can enhance their thinking by adding your own. But don’t take over the conversation. Strive for an 80-20 balance: You’re listening for 80% of the time and speaking for only 20%. That’s because with coaching, the other person is discovering the answers as they talk it through.
BECOMING A COACH IS A PROCESS
Anytime you make a behavioral change, the people around you may be surprised. Until this point you’ve acted one way, giving directions and providing answers. Now suddenly you’re asking for their opinion. They may wonder why you’re doing it or if you have a hidden agenda.
If it feels right to you, let your colleagues know you’re working on developing your management skills. It may help to let the know you’re not expecting them to have all the answers either. Try saying, “I have some ideas about this that I'd love to share with you, but first I'd love to hear yours.”
Even that can still be a bit much. To avoid putting people on the spot, try saying something like “why don't you spend a day thinking about solutions and I'll do the same, and come to me tomorrow and we can brainstorm together.” This is especially powerful for introverts and people new to coaching who may not be prepared to share their thinking right away.
KNOW WHEN TO COACH AND WHEN TO DIRECT
As amazing as coaching is, Amy notes that it’s not appropriate for every situation. It’s important for managers to have a number of leadership styles under their belt. The best managers are the ones who can seamlessly switch between different modes and styles of leadership, depending on the situation and the person they’re talking with.
Here are a few leadership styles and situations to help you determine when to use a coaching approach.
Visioning: You’ve painted a picture of success and defined parameters. The team member is empowered to make decisions and take actions to achieve the goal. If the team member runs into challenges and turns to you for help, a coaching approach is often appropriate.
Directing: When a team member asks clarifying questions, a direct approach is usually warranted. If you know the answers definitively or there is a standard approach to follow, share them. If the answers are discoverable elsewhere, point the individual to the right place and encourage them to find the answers on their own.
Growing: When the employee is pushing at the edge of their comfort zone, they are often ready for a coaching approach. You believe the have the ability to solve their own problems or discover their own answers. They may need a little help to find them or encouragement to trust their thinking.
Teaching: When a team member is seeking help with something farther beyond their readiness, or they are new to the role, a more explanatory approach may be better. In this case, share your suggested approach and explain why you’ve come to that conclusion. Help the individual learn from your expertise and experiences.
COACHING REQUIRES ONGOING COMMUNICATION
Once you’ve empowered your colleagues to discover their own answers, they may reduce the number of times they connect with you about the direction of the work. This can unintentionally lead a manager to become completely disconnected from the work. When this happens, it can lead to lack of alignment or worse, the derailment of a project.
To avoid individuals or projects wandering in the wrong direction, establish a regular check-in. During these brief meetings, connect around expectations and progress to make sure the coaching you’ve done is leading the individual in an appropriate direction.
During these check-ins, give your team members the space and the attention needed to ask their “doorknob questions.” Doctors often report that patients ask their most intimate or pressing question when the doctor's hand is on the doorknob. Maybe it’s because the patient is scared to ask, or they haven't been given the space to ask it. But right before the doctor is about to leave is when the really important stuff comes up.
Instead of asking, “do you have any questions” try asking “what questions do you have?” This simple adjustment shifts from an expectation that they shouldn’t have questions to one in which they should.
It’s important to encourage your team members to come to you with questions and not mistake your coaching approach for a lack of support. You’re still there to help answer questions even if your role in that process has shifted.
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This article was based on episode 044 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.
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