Athletes and actors have long hired coaches to help prepare for a specific competition or role. But they aren't the only ones who can benefit from expert advice. Coaches are available to help people in any field improve their "game."
If you think leaders don't need coaches because they are already at the top, think again. Professional coach Daniel Pendley says that executives need coaches for the same reasons that high-performing individuals rely on them: "We cannot see our own mistakes, and if we are not getting better, we are getting worse."
Let me add a third reason why leaders need coaches: They are setting examples for and coaching their employees. Leaders need solid professional skills and superior people skills to establish their credibility and position themselves to move their organizations forward.
That puts leaders in a sandwich role: needing help to develop their leadership skills while coaching those whom they manage to develop in their own roles. We are all leaders, if you think about it. We lead families, teams and organizations. Experience has taught me that being a respected leader or manager has little to do with relying on titles and everything to do with listening to people.
People love or leave their jobs for many reasons. Volumes of research have been conducted to help companies increase their retention rates. It all seems to boil down to one simple question: How important do people feel in their work?
Leaders who understand that they have a great responsibility in coaching should be able to answer that question easily. Here are some follow-up questions: When was the last time you, as a leader, made it possible for people to be proud of their work and achievements? What are you as a leader doing to make work satisfying, challenging and interesting?
Robert Townsend, former CEO of Avis Rent-A-Car, summarized his view on leadership: "The real essence of leadership is to care about your people, to help them get as much as they can out of the business environment, and to have as much fun as they can. Anybody who can do that -- and really mean it -- is a leader."
Leaders and managers have a tremendous responsibility helping employees develop and learn. This challenge calls for coaching that is active and involved. Let me offer some proven advice to help you, as a leader, perfect your coaching skills.
-- Delivery is as important as the message. Before you offer up some constructive feedback, assess whether your attitude is oriented toward problem-solving or punishment. Make sure you are giving feedback that produces positive results, not demoralizing employees.
-- Tailor your coaching to the individual's style. Understand that people learn in a variety of ways: hands-on experience, visual learning or team projects. Keep in mind the individual's level of experience as well. This approach may require a little more effort, but the results will pay off.
-- Coaching takes time and patience. When you are busy with pressing matters, it's tempting to take the easy way out by deferring concerns or questions. But that tactic may backfire. Employees begin to suspect that you don't care and stop sharing valuable information that could prevent future problems. Keep lines of communication open, even during crunch times. Establish specific times when you can be available or designate someone who can act on your behalf, if necessary.
-- Explore options with your employees. While it may be simpler just to provide solutions, your goal is to teach employees how to handle similar issues in the future. Help them explore possibilities and analyze problems so they can arrive at solutions. That approach teaches critical thinking, awareness of consequences, creativity and cost-benefit analysis. A great coach doesn't just solve problems, but instead guides employees to develop their own abilities.
-- Emulate the best coaches you know. We have all had help along the way, and that's a great place to start. Find good coaches inside your own industry as well as in other businesses. Learn from their successes.
-- Practice what you preach. Set a great example, and remind those you are managing that they have the same responsibility to those whom they manage. Look for ways to be a coach in staff meetings, workplace conversations, even email and voicemail. The standards and examples you set will speak louder than any statements you make.
Mackay's Moral: If you want to build a great team, be a great coach.