To coach or not to coach; that is not the right question

Three years ago, I came across an article written by a high-level executive at a well established company that described their organization's efforts to have leaders coach their subordinates. 

To my surprise, the executive openly admitted, the program was not working.

The article elaborated, that after getting feedback from leadership and staff, there were three key elements that surfaced for the failure.

First, some staff members resisted being coached. 

Next, if and when done, the coaching was inconsistent without proper frameworks resulting in large variances on how each leader conducted the sessions. 

Lastly, many of the leaders stated they simply did not have time to spend on coaching.

In my own reality at the time, there was a lot of discussion on this topic which prompted me to take a great deal of time and think on this topic.

I will share my perspectives on this topic with you in this short post.

First, it took me a long time to realize that the step 1 to coaching was not actually training the leadership on how to conduct coaching sessions.

After hearing some direct feedback from some staff members, I realized that the step 1 might actually have to start with getting to know some basics of the person and to understand a bit more about coaching in general.

At the time, a colleague had presented to me a manual they received during a training on how to conduct coaching sessions that went straight to the sit-down meeting with the staff and a precise script to use. This training was meant to act as the step 1.

Yet, once again, this made be think that maybe step 1 needs to be something different.

Moreover, one sentence from a staff member stuck with me. It went something along these lines, “my supervisors says they will need to work on coaching me more, but they don’t even know anything about me.”

Would it surprise you if this person might resist being coached by someone who knows very little about them as a person?

Next, I came to realize that not everyone makes for a good coach. Even a great superstar employee might not make a great coach.

I took a deep dive and looked at some elements that make a superstar employee that I will quickly list below.

You might be a superstar if:

You take risks and break rules and take on challenges head-on without fear.

You are competitive, driven and direct, eager and always act quickly.

You like applause and appreciate and even seek that validation.

You look for forgiveness before looking for permission.

You prefer instant and quick results and get them consistently.

You like to lead by suggestions and do things the way you propose.

You talk first, listen later.

You know you are a superstar and others might not be at your same level and you have data and testimonials that can support this.

Yet consider that the best athletes don’t always make for the best coaches. 

Conversely, what if the staff being coached is a superstar, might this also cause them to resist being coached by someone whom they believe is not at their performance level?

I also did the same exercise to see what elements might make for a good coach.

You might be a good coach if:

You are a good listener.

You are tactful yet direct.

You are observant of your surroundings, process wise and people wise.

You look at their success before your success but know that their success is in fact your success.

You have empathy and know where to draw the line of sympathy.

You know how to get buy-in for new ideas or initiatives.

You are an open and honest communicator.

You are patient.

You don’t overanalyze to the point of being a perfectionist.

You use the Front-Page Test and remind people of it.

You look to understand the reason a person is doing or saying something.

You understand that you might not be able to solve all the problem of the person or the organization.

You have a solid understanding of the job if not have done it yourself before.

You see people around you as your peers.

Lastly, I looked at my own career and depending on where I was, I recognized that I did not always need the same type of coaching.

There are different reasons a person might need coaching and based on that, the approach might need to be different as well. A cookie-cutter approach might not work at all given the list below. There could also be a disconnected between the reason a leader wants to coach and what the staff member needs.

Reasons a staff might need coaching:

They have a specific need or goal they want your help to achieve.

The organization has a specific need or goal for them to achieve.

Something significant has changed in the work environment.

Nothing significant has changed in the work environment in a very long time.

They have expressed an interest to grow and improve their performance.

They will need to engage and coach their subordinates themselves.

So the supervisor can do less work and they can be more independent.

They need to have measurable successes and new experiences.

Given all of this, perhaps what I listed above is a more appropriate place to start for an open discussion on coaching.

I truly believe in more staff engagement and one-on-one coaching moments. Not just formal, yet, informal and impromtu also.

So what are the questions that should be asked before endeavoring on coaching?

To start, ask yourself, are you a superstar or dealing with a superstar? 

Do you think you would make a good coach?

Do you know a little something about the person you are about to try and coach?

Can you identify what that person might need from you as a coach?

As always, food for thought.