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You are a good leader who strives to hire more good leaders. That’s admirable, but you can still end up with a toxic work environment or demotivated team members. Even good leaders can have bad habits that affect everything from company culture to sales. As an executive coach and now a partner in a global services company, I have seen the same story play out countless times in my corporate career. The pattern is staggering for leaders – and it’s high time we broke the pattern.
Take, for example, the way leaders interact with their team members. Your engagement decisions can influence the team morale and productivity by 70 percent, according to Gallup. Unfortunately, far too many misunderstand the development of their employees. They instinctively want to help and coach. But they make mistakes, such as waiting for the annual reviews to provide guidance, or simply telling people what to do rather than encouraging them to find answers.
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This is of course nothing new. But it’s unfair to simply label misguided leaders as “bad” bosses. Many merely repeat what they experienced as they rose through the ranks. For example, a leader might have learned from a previous leader who was moody but seemed to get results. Well, this leader’s stress response is to react rather than reflect.
Learning excellent coaching techniques and strategies (and breaking bad habits) is essential for leaders today. Many of them know it too: Research from the Singapore Management University suggests that about a third of the middle managers surveyed knew them had connection problems with their teams.
Considering the many benefits that great leaders who are also great coaches can bring to an organization, coaching skills are well worth the investment of time and focus. One benefit is knowing that you have people in your organization who are more likely to thrive personally and professionally because of a empowering coaching approach. Enabling innovation – even if it leads to failure or setbacks – is another. A third benefit is instilling resilience in a new generation of leaders, so they can recover in the face of the unexpected and coach their own team members to do the same in the future. Essentially, great coaching creates an invaluable ripple effect.
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Not quite sure how or where to start on your journey to becoming a better coach? Whether you’ve been running your business for decades or just launched your dream startup, take the following steps. Over time, you should see a big difference in the attitudes and actions of your team members.
1. Shift from a “fix it” mindset
First things first: Stop offering solutions from this point. When people come to you, ask questions before giving answers. Listen as they find their own solutions. If you’ve been like most executives, this will feel counterintuitive and possibly awkward. It might feel slower than solving it for them, at least in the short term. Stay the course, however, and you’ll be surprised at what can happen when you stop fixing everything for everyone.
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Case in point: A few years ago, our team worked with a plant manager who was keen to be the person who “fixed” the problem. Not surprisingly, he recorded long hours and got stressed. He knew something had to change, so he decided to become a coach. We have helped him change his leadership style to the point where he can easily empower others as part of his coaching. Instead of shying away from problems, his team members rose to the occasion and began solving problems on their own. What was the icing on that coaching cake? He didn’t have to work as hard, and his department still won a productivity award.
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2. Make an effort to meet your employees where they are
You may be dying to start coaching and reap the benefits of working with people who don’t have to do all the heavy lifting for you. You just need to know that you cannot create a coaching culture until you realize where each employee stands when it comes to understanding, accepting and embracing you as a coach.
As a leader, make sure you address any concerns or hesitations through open and transparent communication. Being vulnerable allows you to level the playing field and meet your employees where they are.
For example, make your intentions clear: “I really want to empower people. I know that I need to work on my coaching style for this, so I will try different approaches to achieve this change in myself. Are you willing for me to try working differently with you while I learn how?”
In more than 20 years of working in this area, I have never had a supervisor tell me that an employee is not on board. Sure, some people might assume you want to start one-on-one coaching meetings for punitive reasons. In fact, Gallup results show that four out of five people will start look for new work when a leader gives them negative feedback. But being open about your intentions can help fight it. Keep team members from jumping to negative conclusions by sharing how you meet them where they are and grow with them.
Then prove your growth along the way. For example, in a previous role at Facebook, Asana co-founder Justin Rosenstein realized he wasn’t well received by peers. He analyzed their feedback, identified issues, and then changed his behavior. Six months later, his colleagues were much happier working with him. People will appreciate your commitment to progress.
3. Prepare other leaders to be future coaches
Once you see positive results from strong coaching, you can expand that impact. In essence, coaching should drive your approach to talent development the same way day-to-day leadership does.
You might want to delve deeper into coaching individuals in key roles for major change, infrequent roles where employee retention is essential, or roles with significant reporting line spans. You may even want to build a network effect and deeper emotional connection that is possible within one residential workshop Accelerate the transfer of coaching experience for these key cohorts of leaders. It’s far easier to nurture, retain talent and engage people from within when you know for sure that someone has learned to coach as part of a group of leaders driving change.
The experience should not only show models and frameworks, but also topics such as empowering employees, giving open feedback and building team trust. It is also important to ensure that this practice does not become “standardised”. General coaching programs are mundane, so make sure your approach is relevant to your organization and easy to apply in the workflow. Coaching shouldn’t feel like just another box to check. Instead, leaders and team members should see it as critical to leadership and company growth. When leaders are facilitators, mentors, and role models, they set the domino effect in motion.
Coaching may not come naturally to you, and it may not have been an expectation of what outstanding leadership looks like in your early days. Put on your coach cap anyway. You might be content with the results and freedom that come with changing your leadership style.