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A manager needs to be a coach; here's how to become a winner

In the midst of such turmoil in the media, in politics and in many business sectors, it may be relaxing and also desirable to look at a management topic — coaching — which in and of itself is heating up.


This spring I was a student in a one-day session conducted by experienced trainers whom I had never met. Wow, did I receive some good advice that should be shared with all managers.

The trainers, Rick Tate and Dr. Julie White, were real pros at working together; if one couldn’t get you excited, the other would. I want to share with you their ideas.

Question: How do you know when you are doing a good job? If your response is, “I am not being yelled at,” then you are pretty normal. This is sad, because we all need some recognition for good work. Do you recognize your employees? How would they answer that question?

Follow-up question: How do you know when you are doing a bad job? But equally important is: What do you do when your employee does a bad job? The key issue in both of these situations is the quality of the dialogue. This quality of dialogue is critical to enjoying the work environment and to doing better work. Psychologists suggest it also is a key to success in marriage and in life. Regretfully, I have found such dialogue to be only fair-to-poor in so many settings. What is it in your work setting?

Rick worked with Ken Blanchard as he was writing the best seller, “The One Minute Manager.” Rick suggests the book’s message, while quite simple, is true for employee-manager dialogue. There are three secrets to quality in life, marriage and work: Set goals that are clear, understandable and even agreed upon in advance. When people do good work, tell them so in your own unique way. Finally, when the work isn’t good, never humiliate the person.

A major role of the manager is to lead employees to become energized, engaged and productive performers. A tool increasingly used to achieve this goal is coaching. Coaching is not just something we see on the football field or the basketball court. We need to see more of it in the workplace. Here are some of the tidbits I picked up from Rick and Julie:

1. Coaching is an influencing process used for both developing talent and for dealing with performance management. Consider how you may already use coaching for each of these goals. Which do you find the most difficult?

2. Perception, not reality, is what evokes behavior in others. I may see myself doing well and will need someone I regard highly to show me my perception is incorrect. Never use humiliation in your dealing with performance management (behavior) problems. Former college basketball coach Bob Knight has been a winner, but hasn’t  been able to control his anger and humiliation tactics. This is not the role model for the workplace.

3. The outcome we want from coaching is both results and relationships. Just as the football coach wants to see improved blocking or better connection between passer and receiver, so does the workplace coach (you) want to see work done in a more productive and quality-oriented manner — a correction from the past. However, the manner in which we seek to change behavior may have the desired impact of building a relationship of trust and respect or one of anger and virtual hatred. Look at your approach. What relationships do you build with employees? Shall we ask them to see?

Why don’t people always do what is expected of them? The most common answer is they have no clear direction or no clear expectation, or they’re not sure what their manager really expects.

We, as managers, often are so busy we fail to share with our staff the essential ingredient in our leadership effort: What do we expect?

4. Before anyone can make improvements, he or she must identify what it is that needs changing. Refer to No. 2 above. This is a coaching duty. Identify the action/behavior/performance area that needs to change. The underachiever must concur with the coach’s look at reality and take it as his or her own. The humiliation coach cannot succeed here. You can, however. This must be done with each staff member individually and, yes, it will take time. However, this time will be a great investment, especially in this dire period of employee high anxiety.

Performance deficiencies must be diagnosed with care before any coaching and change can be expected. You need to diagnose and develop your own ideas as to why the deficiency exists and how to correct it before a coaching session with the employee. Then seek the employee’s perception of reality about the deficiency and let the coaching begin.

Caution: Normally top performers (or persons on a high-performance track) will choose to focus on specific vital behaviors that they see as advancing their professional careers. In this instance, the coach/manager will need to act in a collaborative manner and not in a directive manner. The needed changes may not appear to be ones for professional growth in the eyes of the usual top-performing employee. You will need to work as a true coach and not a boss.

Employees usually will need to focus on one behavior at a time and will need managerial assistance in that behavioral-change identification.

Helping an employee change to a more desirable behavior can be a motivator that will pay off in better work.

We all left the workshop with a desire that it should have been a two-day session instead of one, quite a compliment to the trainers as well as to the organization leader who chose the topic. 
What should your organization focus on in your next management development program?

For more about Rick Tate and Dr. Julie White, contact Leo Klepinger at The Impact Achievement Group at (425) 885-5940.

This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue.



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