Boss or Team Coach?

Say the word “coach” and virtually everyone will form a mental picture. It may conjure up an image of little league, your days as a high school athlete, the debate team or even the trainer you hired to help you get into shape. Most of us have been coached at some point in our lives with varying degrees of success.

In recent years, many of the concepts coaches use to develop winning teams are being translated from the playing field to the workplace. Coaching techniques are being employed as another tool employers can use to build a winning workforce and maintain a competitive edge in a tightening global labor market.

When working with an athlete to achieve peak performance coaches know they must find the right balance between challenging and nurturing individuals, often as they simultaneously attempt to create a winning team from disparate talents and personalities. The most successful coaches somehow manage to make that delicate balance look effortless. The workplace provides a similar set of challenges. For some managers coaching is an instinctive personal style that they fine tune through practice and experience. For many managers the concept of coaching will require a shift in how they view the management role and perhaps an adaptation of their instinctive personal style.

How do the skills coaches employ translate into the workplace? Coaches begin by first assessing the talents and skills of an individual and how those skills and talents fit into the big picture whether it is a team or an individual sport. Great coaches never stop there, they continue to evaluate, assess and review that initial picture as the individual matures and the needs of the team change. And a great coach recognizes and acknowledges the value of each member of the team whether they are the star quarterback or in a supporting role.

But can coaching skills work in the business world? Yes, but first you may need to shift your perspective. In a coaching focused work environment the old top down command and control view of management is passe.

The manager in a coaching work environment is not required or expected to play the role of the all knowing wizard, controlling every aspect of when, where and how the work gets accomplished. Freed from the need to control and fix everything that happens in the business, managers can focus on creating a more collaborative work environment. Well coached employees begin to assume greater responsibility for how their work contributes to the overall goals of the organization and are encouraged and expected to think and work more independently. When the approach is effectively applied the end result will be a more engaged, happier and productive workforce.

Sounds good but how to make it happen?

First, that shift in perspective. Start looking at your employees in a new way. Not as people who need constant management and control but as members of a team who are ready, willing and able to do a good job. Look in the mirror and ask yourself if your need to be in control has more to do with your own insecurities than employee lack of skill or willingness to do a good job. Remember, coaches know that once the players are on the field it is their skill and determination that determine the outcome and your job is to stand on the sidelines as head of the support team.

Look at each individual, not just what you want to accomplish. Every employee has strengths and weaknesses. It is the coach’s job to figure out how to capitalize on the strengths to the benefit of the organization and what training or development needs to happen to improve weaknesses. Coaches learn to look for natural talents and capitalize on them. Sometimes players get shifted around the field. At first glance your may see a poor performing employee but you may just have a terrific employee in the wrong position. A natural sales talent stuck behind a computer alone all day is not a winning strategy for the employee or the business.

Coaches know when and how to cut someone from the team. If the positions you have available just are not a good match for the individual and keeping them on the playing field is just too costly then let them go. Just because someone isn’t a star gymnast doesn’t mean they might not be a star tennis player. Give them the opportunity to move forward and shine in a different place. Be sure you do everything possible to maintain their dignity in the process.

People make mistakes. Good coaches recognize a failure can be the best possible teaching experience. People given the opportunity to make mistakes without fear of being berated or belittled are more likely to push themselves to grow and take on new challenges. Coaching means helping employees figure out how to fix things that go wrong so they can prevent making the same error again.

Give them the ball and make them run with it. Coaches know they cannot fix everything and cannot provide all the solutions. Watching someone struggle to master throwing the perfect pass takes lots of patience but if you grab the ball away each time a player falters then they will never develop the skill or confidence do themselves. If you create a work environment where you never let employees run with the ball then you will find yourself overwhelmed by the demands on your time by the very people you hired to relieve your workload. If there is constantly a line-up of employees outside your office door who are afraid to act without your direct input then it is time to look at the direct or indirect messages you are sending to your team. Stop making all the decisions and rushing to provide solutions to every problem for them. If you hired good people chances are you are surrounded by good ideas just waiting to be heard.

Which leads to yet another under appreciated coaching skill, listening. Coaches who listen to their players on small issues are less likely to find themselves with major issues that interfere with the goals of the team. Coaches know they need to listen to good and bad news and that shooting the messenger will guarantee no one wants to tell them the truth. Always remember your team is on the playing field where the action is. Your skilled and experienced players are looking at the game from the playing field perspective and just may have ideas and solutions you never thought of.

Make your feedback constructive. Coaches don’t just scream at their players that they are doing everything wrong and then walk off the field. At least not if their intent is to win the game. Be specific, offer suggestions and guidance and then give your players the opportunity to practice. What if the tennis coach said to a player that they swing the racket all wrong and then walked away? Nothing would be accomplished because without any feedback about what needs to change to improve the player’s swing and no opportunity to practice new techniques nothing changes. The result? Two frustrated people and no progress toward achieving the mutually desired result, winning.

If you have never considered a coaching leadership approach in place of your current management style you may want to give it some thought. Making a commitment to coaching can shift the tone of the organization. Think back to any experiences in your life when you were coached and then contrast that to times when you were being managed or bossed. Which was most successful? If you have the opportunity to observe a good coach in action consider how those same techniques may improve your organization. Of course, growing up as the daughter of a coach it made me a believer that good coaching skills build more effective teams, sports or business. Thanks Dad!

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