Are You Managing or Coaching?

As a manager, you are supposed to be coaching your employees. So why should you consider an external coach?

Prior to becoming a professional coach, I managed large teams and truly thought I was “coaching” them. I was giving them advice, guidance, and teaching them methods to be successful in their roles. I suggested ways they could grow their careers and gave them ideas for how to be happier at work.

Once, I even taught an employee how to respond to a customer concern by having her watch and learn as I crafted the communication. I believed this would teach her, by example, how to handle these situations in the future.

Back then, I was a really good manager - but a really bad coach.

Coaching is widely misunderstood. I certainly misunderstood it until I spent a year in coach training and built my own practice. For the uninitiated, here are some basics about coaching:

Coaching is Not Advice

Let’s continue with my example of helping an employee craft a customer communication. A manager (or mentor) gives someone advice based on what works for them. My communication style with customers had been successful, so I was training my employee in my style of communication. There is great value in this - it's critical, in fact - but it's not coaching.

A coach draws out a person’s potential and motivates them to act in new ways. The coach asks powerful questions, removes roadblocks, and helps the person design a new way forward for themselves.

In our customer communication example, a coach may have asked:

1.      What’s really happening here? Is this really about the situation at hand, or do we need to look at the customer relationship as a whole?

2.      What’s the opportunity in this difficult situation? How might we create value and trust with this customer that goes beyond the current situation? 

3.      Where do you get stopped when communicating with this customer? Where can we create a breakthrough here?

4.      How can we create a win-win with this customer?

This process works because you reach a much higher-level solution. Plus, the person is more motivated to execute on their own brain-child than someone else's instructions.

Coaches Ask “Why” First

If an employee comes to their manager with a problem, the manager’s first response is often “okay, how do we solve this?” and they get to work on a solution. A coach takes a step back and asks, “why solve this problem in the first place, and why did this problem arise?” This gets us out of the reactive, tactical state and looking at the bigger picture.

I’ve seen it time and time again: By simply asking “why solve this problem?” we get to the real deal, the bigger goal, the deeper problem – and we design a better, more intentional solution.

 Coaching is a Safe Space

So, all this can be taught to managers, right? Yes, it can. All my clients in leadership pick up these coaching skills by virtue of being coached. They report “Lauren moments” back to me, as they’ve empowered instead of advised their teams.

However, you can’t change the fact that employees have bosses who control their assignments, and ultimately, their paychecks. People may have things they are not comfortable saying to their boss: That a personal issue is affecting their work, that they are not passionate about their current assignment, even that they don’t agree with their boss on some topic.

Coaching is a safe, confidential space to work through issues with a neutral third party. External coaches are not influenced by company culture or history. Because they don’t carry these biases, they can ask powerful, uncommon questions that challenge the status quo and create breakthroughs. We even empower our clients to broach those difficult topics with their managers!

Coaching Boosts Management

Want to be a better manager? Hire a coach for yourself and your team. Coaching does not replace or compete with management. Rather, it increases the effectiveness of management by bringing a different set of tools to the table. Managers often have to back-burner personal development due to the tactical demands of work. Hiring a coach guarantees consistent focus on goals, engagement, and growth week after week - which creates a dramatic impact on the team's results.

If you are interested in up-leveling yourself or your team, reach out to lauren@thewidrickgroup to schedule a consultation.