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No one person has every leadership attribute because different seasons call for different skills. One of the most overlooked leadership skills is coaching.
Early in my career, I sought advice and mentorship to help learn the ropes and gain perspective. I was often met with objectively bad advice. At times I wondered if those I reached out to were intentionally trying to harm me — maybe they generally just gave bad advice or perhaps they just didn’t know.
I was yearning for development and growth but it was difficult to come by. Despite the bad advice I received early on, over my career, I was also blessed to work with some exceptional managers who poured into me. Their coaching, mentorship, and friendship have been invaluable as I’ve climbed the corporate ladder.
When I moved into tech from politics, I noticed that leadership is heralded but not so much the coaching aspect. A term that’s thrown around often is “we want a player-coach” and it’s clear where the priority is based in the word order — coaching seems to be secondary if not tertiary, yet there is a constant demand for high-performing teams. Therein lies the problem: We want all-star players but clearly undervalue the importance of coaching.
Great coaching can have a profound and lasting impact, and I’d argue that once someone ascends to higher levels of leadership, the emphasis should be more coach than player. As a leader, the team requires guidance and the leader sets the strategy and aligns the team to deliver. Some of the leading is the doing, but more so coaching, enabling, and empowering.
Here are the three habits required to coach more effectively:
1. Invest in performance
Championship teams do not happen overnight, and they come together when talent and coaches click. That requires prioritizing the time to coach and learn — I’ve known managers who don’t regularly meet with their team, and the team performance suffers as a result. Direct coaching with the team allows for course correction and greater performance.
When managers don’t take the time to coach and offer guidance, employees’ performance may suffer. Leadership is checking in; it’s guiding and treating the time with your team as an investment that gives your employee the know-how to develop precision and expand their agency. The investment you make as a coach then allows your employee to be productive, gain confidence, and in the process, it frees you up to ideate, strategize, and build.
2. Make it a daily habit
Coaching is an ongoing, interactive process, and it should be done often. I once did a site visit for a vendor selection process and one of the practices I observed was 20 minutes of managerial feedback a day with their employees. It was effectively daily quality assurance and it was impactful because it helped the employee gain insights in a timely way, where adjustments could be made toward improving performance. Most importantly, it made feedback a habit.
With my own team, I make our weekly stand-ups not only a time for updates on progress but also for coaching. It helps them develop and build skills, and it fosters ongoing learning.
As a coach and effective manager, you can improve strengths and bolster weaknesses by just asking questions to learn more about your teammates. Too often, when we onboard talent, we leave them to their own devices, which doesn’t set them up for success. A successful coach guides, demonstrates their support, and makes time for the development of their team for the entirety of the journey. That means making feedback a habit and having set times to give and receive feedback. This back-and-forth not only creates solid feedback hygiene, it also cultivates psychological safety.
3. Invest early and often
When you invest in people, the interest compounds over time. I’m a big believer in the power of coaching — if the person has the will, the skill, and a growth mindset, coaching can be an incredible unlock as it relates to performance and development overall.
There’s even something called the Pygmalion effect that refers to situations where high expectations lead to improved performance and low expectations lead to poorer performance. As a coach, it’s critical to convey to your team your belief they have the capacity to achieve, as it imbues confidence and can become self-fulfilling.
In my own career, I can recall that when prior managers believed in me, I was more confident as a result and my performance potential transformed into actuality.
It’s key to understand one’s team as well as what you’re solving for — are you coaching purely for performance or for development? They are two different but important discussions and they aren’t always mutually exclusive. By asking questions, you can figure out what’s needed and what to optimize for.
Coaching is relational — understanding the motivation and then helping that person in their own self-discovery. The depth of understanding helps not only guide the person but also helps unearth pathways to growth.
The most important voice.
Don’t forget to include the voice of your customers. They will be quick to tell you if your growth plans are working. We provide that service for you by measuring your typical customer’s experience as they interact with your associates. Can we help you focus your customer feedback to make it more actionable. Give us a call, we’d be happy to help you.
BY BERNARD COLEMAN AND CARL PHILLIPS