Coach, Don't Command
October 4, 2016
"I don't have time to teach them, I just need it fixed." Those were the words that fell out of a manager's mouth while we were discussing the performance of an individual on their team. Actually there was an expletive or two used but I have omitted those. Who hasn't felt like that before? I completely understand where the manager is coming from; he's under pressure from his superiors and himself to improve the performance of the team and in doing so deliver better results. The manager is working toward a deadline and he simply doesn't have the patience, the energy or mental capacity to make the investment in inspiring greater performance. He would prefer to simply offer corrective instruction and set actions. He needs to just get it done.
There are many problems with the manager's approach; it's the short term band aid but not the long term solution. For the manager, always having to issue commands is fatiguing; it's exhausting having to be there every step of the way monitoring progress and handing out orders. It's also a never ending process as you're not growing the skill-set or capabilities of your team by giving directives; it's like being on a perpetual hamster's wheel. The only thing this approach has going for it is speed (in the moment). Taking a commanding approach often sees competitors eventually overtake you through innovation - your team simply aren't creating new ideas because they are following the rigid rules and commands. You, as the manager, have no time beyond being operational to consider new ideas either. How can you? You have to be watching everything and rushing in to fix the problems. It's the business equivalent of whack-a-mole... a problem pops up and you knock it down!
The approach is also flawed for the individuals on the team. It's not motivating to receive marching orders. It doesn't make you feel part of the process; there's no inclusion when you feel like a replaceable cog in a larger machine. Employees want to grow and they can only do that by learning; through the process of trial and error. People need to have their minds opened to the possibilities of what could be achieved vs being told how it should be. People need to feel included, consulted, supported and championed. They want to feel valued, and you can only feel valued when you believe you are offering something of value. We all know that by simply following orders we're not adding value we're just doing the minimum that is required. We are robotic and it doesn't matter why we do things, just how we do them.
When times are tough - as managers - we opt to focus on what isn't working - the things that we can correct. We are hard wired to emphasize the dangers we perceive. Anything that is a potential threat to our wellbeing sets off mental alarm bells and we are quick to leap into action. This is called the negativity bias. We see the downside not the upside. We need to shift our thinking away from our management bias of 'commanding' and shift to 'coaching'.
Coaching requires us to act differently; to slow down and make time to explore situations, behaviors, thoughts and feelings. Coaching means partnering together to find a solution. Most importantly coaching requires us to focus on the positive. It doesn't mean ignoring the issues or obstacles that are presenting themselves but it encourages us to explore what's happening now (in this moment) that is causing our roadblock and then focus on the future (the solution). Positive coaching is about focusing on what we can do to move forward. It's about finding ways to keep moving. Coaching is about optimism. It's about inspiring and motivating ourselves to find a path toward our own success.
It is all too easy to be that manager that 'fixes the problems' but you aren't developing your team. Your team - and business - will prosper in the long term if you take the time to coach rather than command. You will grow as a people manager. It's inspiring to work with others who care about helping you grow, that allow you to experiment and to find ways to deliver your best. Every individual has the capability to do whatever they want to (as long as they actually want to); coaching is an approach that allows you to tap into this desire. It's about co-authoring an individual's playbook instead of handing one that has already been written.
Coaching is focused on conversation. It's about exploring what the challenge or obstacle is for someone and then supporting that person as they brainstorm potential solutions. Your role is to help facilitate that conversation (to initiative the dialogue), and help the individual lean on their personal strengths to move forward. You are also there to hold them accountable to the steps they commit to taking. What coaching isn't, is telling people what to do. However, tempting that may be.
The most powerful thing about coaching is that it is motivating. What isn't there to be inspired about when you are given the freedom to co-design your own performance? All of us want to set our own path for success. It's empowering to have your manager give you the space and time to solve problems in your own way. It's important to underline that coaching is not about leaving people to figure it out for themselves but rather to ask questions, challenge assumptions and act as a guide to their personal development. As a manager it's equally as empowering to know that you don't have to have the answers; you aren't responsible for solving the problems. Your role is to help people identify the problems and find their path forward. Your job is to ask questions - and the right question asked at the right time can change the world!
With coaching you're not worried about the past. You're only interested in the present and the future. The now and what next. Commanding individuals is focused on the past, it's demotivating as it requires you to relive what's not working (often over and over again); and it's really not motivating to have someone tell you what you should be doing. That makes all of us feel incompetent and redundant.
Next time you are faced with an employee that isn't performing the way you need them to perform think about taking a coach approach. Consider having a conversation and asking questions like this...
- What are we trying to achieve?
- How will you know when you've achieved that? How will you know the problem or issue has been resolved?
- What is happening now? What is the effect of this?
- What is interfering with your progress? What isn't working right now? Where's the tension?
- What could you do now? What else could you do?
- What would change if x constraint was removed?
- What might you need to stop doing in order to move forward?
- What are your prepared to do? What are you willing to do differently?
- What may stop you moving forward? How can you overcome this?
- How are you going to keep yourself motivated?
- How will you review your progress? How will you check your on course?
- What support or assistance may you need? From who?
Coaching can be applied to any situation. Sometimes the situation is simple and the conversation will involve a few questions and take little time, other times the subject maybe complex and take a longer period of discussion and discovery. Regardless the process will be positive and inspiring for both of you!
Coaching creates opportunity. Commanding creates conformity. Coaching leads to discovery and innovation. Commanding leads to symmetry and status quo. Commanding may be easier to default to in the moment, but in the long term it will close more doors than it will open for the team, the business and you.
Coaching is the way forward. Literarily.