Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug

Dear Dave: I took a leadership course recently and we briefly talked about the fact that leaders need to be good coaches. As a new manager, I want to do things right and fully develop my team. Can you write about coaching and how it is a leadership priority? Specifically, can you address what managers must know to be good coaches? -- D

Dear D: Like you, I believe the best leaders are also great coaches. Employees need what good coaching provides –- strong and useful feedback, ideas and suggestions for job improvement, and praise and recognition for doing good work. Just like good coaches, good leaders guide the learning and development of necessary skills, and help employees feel good about their progress.

Good coaches assess [feedback] what people are doing, they then know what needs to be done, they teach people how to improve, and they evaluate whether or not performance has improved. Gone are the days –- though some managers still cling to this –- of just telling employees what to do and then checking on them to see if they did it. Now, good managers are good coaches and have gotten rid of this “command and control” style of supervision. Employees crave to have their work become more simplified and more effective. And this is when the “leader-coach” steps in.

The coaching manager employs a model in which they give support and guidance rather than spitting out instructions –- and, dare I say, harsh demands. Coached employees learn how to read and adapt to situations and changing environments and are able to employ strong energy, innovation, purpose, and commitment in their work. Coaching managers bring out the best in their employees, instead of making them feel like failures.

Leading employees is often a very tough job, because unique demands keep coming and the employees must be prepared to meet them. As much as managers want to grow and develop their staff, they may not have enough time, resources, or even the knowledge to become strong coaches. However, good managers research and learn as much as they can about the work to be done and how to do it better, so they -– in turn –- can educate their employees. Good managers accept the fact that employee education and training is a must and that they must become a mentor and a teacher –- not someone who just barks orders.

I believe good coaching adds to the creation of a true Learning Organization (LO) – an organization of people that shares knowledge in an unbridled sense, teaches and learns from each other, and believes that accurate and truthful communication is at the heart of their well-being and effectiveness. The creation of a LO is accomplished by managers that engage in dialogue with all of their staff as often as possible. It is not done by pouncing on employees for making mistakes; it is done through persuasive and constructive conversations between the manager and his or her staff.

Coaching as a process

An effective, coaching manager leads with questions instead of just providing answers. They inspire and support employees instead of judging them harshly. The best way for people to learn is to first believe they need to learn and that they are capable of learning. Managers can “draw out” learning needs through constructive conversations about performance; rather, than the manager telling the employee “shape up or you are outta here!”

The best coaching managers realize that knowledge-sharing has two core parts: conveying knowledge and helping their employees discover it themselves. Employees will have more buy-in to the coaching needed if they have a hand in its design. Simply, we like what we have a part in, and good coaching managers allow this ownership to emerge. The more the employee participates in the coaching process, the more they will make it their own.

Some managers have told me they don’t have time for coaching sessions, and they will get better results in confronting performance problems by only telling employees they messed up. And some may also think that a coaching approach is too fluffy and unrealistic –- because it deprives them of using their most tried and true management tool: establishing their authority. I beg to differ. I believe the coaching manager will gain even more authority –- and respect –- by helping employees become the best they can be.

With the right knowledge and mindset, almost every manager can become a better coach. However, there may be times when all team members are doing quite well and productively and efficiently doing their work, and the right approach to managing them is to leave them alone -– but still keep a watchful eye for needed help.

Managers, if you want your staff to embrace coaching, you first need to embrace it yourself. As coaches your role is to draw out energy, creativity, and learning from your staff. They will thank you for it.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu. Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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