Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, MCC
Training Director for the Healthcare Coaching Institute
I teach coaching skills to leaders around the world. In class, they agree that they need to coach their employees more often. Then when I have following group coaching sessions to support their growth, most give the same old excuses for not practicing.
Sometimes they admit that after trying once and feeling awkward, they haven’t tried again. At least when they allow themselves to be vulnerable and talk about their fears, I can facilitate the group to coach each other to move forward.
Sometimes they admit they enjoy being “the one who knows” and fall into giving advice instead of coaching. Again, this revelation provides a coaching opportunity that leads to actions they can take to let go and coach.
The more difficult excuses to work with are those embedded in the leader’s belief system, especially when their beliefs match cultural views on expectations of leader/follower behavior. I often share the following myths with the leaders in my classes at the beginning of the training program so they don’t show up as “reasons not to coach” later[i]:
“My employees don’t want me to ask questions. They just want me to give them answers so they can get back to work.”
This is a myth of convenience. It takes time to develop employees to think for themselves. Even people who have always gone to their bosses for answers come to enjoy learning and improving once they experience being trusted by their leaders and allowed to learn from their mistakes. According to research compiled by Daniel Pink, two of the three major motivators of high performance are autonomy and mastery. Leaders get the best results when they continuously coach their employees to improve and work on their own.
“I’ll coach them when they ask for it. If they don’t understand something, they will ask for help.”
Employees often feel uncomfortable letting their managers know they can’t figure something out. They might have a history of other bosses, parents, and teachers belittling them for not knowing everything. High achievers are even more prone to hiding their inadequacies. Employees appreciate a leader who asks, “What challenges are you facing?” or “What would be the best thing I could do to support you right now?” Regular coaching conversations make it safe to bring up difficulties while saving face.
“No one is complaining, so everything is fine.”
Leaders who don’t spend time sitting with their people and asking questions about how things are going are out of touch with the challenges their people are facing. Coaching gives leaders the ability to keep their fingers on the pulse of their teams. When they ask individuals and the group to share their challenges, opinions, and concerns, they uncover issues before they become major problems.
“If a good person does something bad, it won’t happen again. They will self-correct.”
This is the most common rationalization for avoiding what could be a difficult conversation. The sooner a person knows he or she has broken a rule or their actions have had an undesirable impact, the better. If the leader then asks if the person is willing to look at ways to improve or get a more effective outcome, the conversation can transition to coaching.
“The best employees want to be left alone to do their work.”
High achievers want recognition for their good work. They want a steady stream of interesting projects with indicators of success. And they want their leaders to challenge their thinking so they can continuously grow. Without coaching, leaders risk losing their best people.
When teaching coaching skills to leaders, share this list and talk about each item. You might see a greater return on investment for your clients if you do.
[i] The 5 myths were adapted from the book, The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs by Marcia Reynolds. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014. Pages 16-18.