#408  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 6          June 1999

How to Manage Like a Coach, Not a Cop
by Wolf J. Rinke, Ph.D., CSP

Dr. Rinke is a management consultant, professional speaker, and editor of The Winning Manager newsletter and 12 books including Winning Management:  6 Fail-Safe Strategies for Building High-Performance Organizations  (Achievement Publishers, Clarksville, MD, 1997), from which this article was excerpted. He can be reached at 410-531-9280, e-mail wolfrinke@aol.com or on the web at www.wolfrinke.com.

Rapid changes demand that managers and leaders learn to leverage themselves by learning how to coach their team members.  Unfortunately, many have not mastered this art because they’re unwilling to give their power away, primarily because they perceive that granting power to their team members will reduce their own power. My own experience, and that of my clients, has demonstrated just the opposite. Giving power to others not only multiplies your power, it also (in the long run) enhances your ability to be a highly effective manager, whose team members tend to be:

           Results-oriented instead of activity-focused

           Less concerned about doing something wrong, or making mistakes

           Less dependent on supervisory approval to make decisions

           Willing to take calculated risks and achieve innovative results

           Able to communicate effectively because they can express their needs and
desires

           Able to build effective networks and partnerships

           Able to influence others and get the job done

            Opportunity focused, looking beyond their own area of responsibility to make
contributions that add value to customers, team members, and the entire
organization

Given the alternatives, it’s clear that empowerment is a critical strategy that demands your attention. Of course, if you’re currently an effective delegator, you might assume that you are already empowering your employees. Although I partially agree, coaching and empowerment go beyond delegating because they represent an entirely different way of managing people. Instead of playing cop, you will be expected to assume the role of coach, facilitator, and team leader. And that role can best be fulfilled if you master the art of unconditionally accepting others for who they are, instead of who they ought to be.  In this age of teams and project management, mastering these roles represents a survival strategy.  So what is coaching?

Coaching: A Definition

Coaching is a system that “grows” people by enabling them to learn through guided discovery and hands-on experience. The important element in this definition is that learning occurs through guided discovery, not by showing or telling people what to do.   I’m fond of suggesting to managers, that “telling is not coaching!”  Rather, coaching assumes that team members learn by doing. Implicit in that definition is that effective coaches have three major responsibilities:

            • Guiding people to discover the tools they need to get the job done

            • Building confidence

            • Motivating team members to be the best they can be

Building confidence and keeping team members motivated is an important aspect of your job.  Some people will take on additional responsibilities with open arms. No problem there. But what about those who are always running away from additional responsibility? Well, you must make very clear what’s in it for them and then reward any degree of success. (Remember, all of us listen to our favorite radio station, WIIFM--what’s in it for me.)

Some employees are afraid of taking on anything new because they’re not sure of their own capabilities. Here you must engage them in incremental learning, by letting them experience success through the completion of easily attainable “baby-steps.”  In addition, you should point out where and when they have succeeded in the past. Then you must express confidence in their capabilities by saying, for example, “I know you can provide leadership to this team. Remember how well you did last month, when you headed up the compensation review project?” In other cases, you may have to provide team members with informal or formal training before they are ready to assume the additional responsibility.

How to Coach Like a Pro

Stage 1: Agree on the Project

This is where you and your team member sit down and agree on the specific project that she is going to be responsible for. These stages, by the way, assume that it’s a major project and that you’re communicating face to face with your team member. It is also assumed that this project represents an area of strength for you and an area of weakness for your team member-- something that would enhance your team member’s competence and, once mastered by your team member, would take a load off your shoulders. Of course, traditional managers hesitate to provide this type of coaching because, according to them, they lack the time. Deep down they are really afraid that they will coach themselves right out of a job. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

Stage 2: Mutually Identify the Goals and Outcomes Expected

I like to call this defining a good job. So often, things don’t go the way you expect because your team member didn’t really understand the outcomes you wanted to achieve in the first place. When you’re done with this stage, both of you should be very clear about the when, where, what, who and how. Let me emphasize that you should always set high expectations because that will help determine how successful your team members will become. The reason is that, in the long run, you get the type and quality of performance you expect and accept. Furthermore, research tells us that most people are performing well below their maximum potential at work.

Stage 3: Facilitate Self-Discovery

This is the stage that distinguishes coaching from delegating. It is probably the most difficult stage for most managers, especially those who are used to telling others what to do.

You can best facilitate self-discovery by:

            Listening actively--listen for the meaning, not just the words. This requires you to make your own mind quiet. It also requires you to talk far less than you’re used to. Remember, there must be a reason that you were born with two ears and only one mouth. Maybe you were meant to listen twice as much as you talk, especially when coaching others. 

           Helping your team members think through the process and consequences of their proposed actions--this means that they do the thinking. To ensure that this happens, you might ask: “What would be the consequences of you taking this action?” Remember, your role is to facilitate their thought processes, not think for them!   Similarly if a team member comes to you and asks you to make a decision, ask him: “What do you think?” Then let him go with that decision unless it will inflict harm to customers, goes against the organizational philosophy, or costs more than you can afford.

           Sharing your good and bad experiences--your team members will learn from both. Most managers hesitate to share how they have messed up. They feel they must maintain a facade of perfection. However, sharing what hasn’t worked for you, especially your really bad goofs, is particularly helpful here. It makes you more human, gets you off the pedestal, and gives your team members’ permission to be less than perfect--which is what both of you are anyway!  Remember:  it is very hard to get off your high horse gracefully.

Stage 4: Agree on the Boundaries

If you have identified and implemented a widely shared organizational philosophy-- your mission, vision, and core values, most of stage 4 is already done.  (If you don’t have a philosophy, it’s time to hire an external facilitator and get one fast!)  After all your philosophy represents the mutually accepted parameters and boundaries in your organization. They are, what I call, the “gold standard,” for everyone on your team. Of course, you may need to verbally supplement them so that your team members know where your comfort zone is and where the danger zone begins. You may also want to define when you want to be briefed and what type of feedback you want; for example, whether you want it in writing or in person.

Stage 5: Authorize and Empower

To get the job done, team members must have authorization. I refer to this as giving your team members “rope.” That includes the appropriate spending authority to get the job done. And please don’t be timid here. After all, if housekeepers at Ritz Carlton hotels have the ability to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer service problems, what’s your excuse? To make this work, you must also master the art of letting go. I mean really letting go, and giving away not just your money but also your power. You see, it’s virtually impossible to learn by doing if your team members have to check with you every time they need to make a decision or a change. They would spend all their time running after you, instead of taking care of business. In other words, you must tell your team members how far they can go without coming to you, and then you must stay out of their way and let them do their thing.

This has been particularly difficult for managers who are afflicted with that dreaded disease I call “perfectionitis.”  When they see something wrong, they instinctively want to correct it right away. The better way is to let the team members learn from their own mistakes. “But,” you protest, “let them make a mistake, and not say anything?”  Yes, that’s what I mean. “All the time, regardless of the consequences?” No, that’s why being a highly effective manager is an art first and a science second. You must do a risk/benefit analysis. That’s what physicians are taught to do anytime they prescribe medication. They weigh the benefits of the medication against the risks associated with it. You must do the same thing when making a decision about how much rope you should give your team members.

Stage 6: Summarize and Reality Test

The purpose of this stage is to enhance communication accuracy. If the project is critical, I would do some reality testing by having the team member state in her own words what, specifically, the two of you have agreed to. A good way to accomplish this is to say to your team member: “As you well know, Jane, this is a critical project for us. Please be kind enough to summarize for me what it is that you’re going to do between now and the next time we meet.” Assuming that at this point you are both singing from the same sheet of music, you’ll be ready to move to the final stage.

Stage 7: Track and Follow-through

This stage is designed to make sure that nothing falls between the cracks. It is especially critical if you’re coaching someone for the first time. In that case, you will want to be sure to put a note on your calendar or computerized tickler file that will remind you of the date and time your team member promised to provide you with a report, update, or any other kind of feedback. Once that’s achieved, stand back--yes, really stand back--and what ever you do, don’t--let me say it again, don’t--interfere! Now, watch your team members grow, and watch the dramatic improvements in performance, productivity and profitability. 

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