Five Ways to Transform Managers into Coaches

By Michael Noble Aug 8, 2011
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"Knowledge is not enough to get desired results. You must have the more elusive ability to teach and to motivate. This defines a leader; if you can't teach and you can't motivate, you can't lead."

--John Wooden, Sports Illustrated “Coach of the 20th Century”

The days of command-and-control leadership as a standard way of managing people are long gone. Coaching and collaboration have taken over as the most effective way for managers to lead. If managers do not become skilled at coaching their employees, it is unlikely that they will be able to achieve sustainable long-term positive results for themselves or their organizations.

Coaching requires skill and time. But before one applies either of these, managers should understand what coaching is and why it is important.

In its simplest form, coaching is the act of helping others to perform better. Sometimes it is focused on helping to correct poor performance or improve skills. At other times, it’s targeted at developing new skills. Whichever the case, it is important because good coaching by managers will accelerate the development of employees and lift their organizations to higher levels of achievement.

So why don’t all managers coach? Most likely it’s because of one of three major reasons:

  • They don’t understand the value or importance of coaching.
  • They don’t possess the skills to coach others.
  • Even if they understand the importance and have the skills, they don’t have the time to coach.

There are five things organizations can do to overcome these barriers and transform their managers into coaches:

Build the personal case for coaching. You can’t force coaching responsibilities on managers who don’t see its relevance. While most managers have a strong sense of loyalty to their organization, that might not be enough to motivate them to develop their coaching skills. There is still an element of WIIFM—or what’s in it for me—that must be addressed in building the case with most managers.

Pointing out the fact that the strongest leaders and most successful executives in their organization and/or discipline are excellent coaches (this is almost always the case) might make them more inclined to seize the opportunity to learn how to become an effective coach. Once managers understand that they can get more done and achieve stronger results through the efforts of others, they will want to learn how coaching—not a command-and-control management style, will help them to better leverage the talents of their employees. Whether they are just trying to do a better job for their employer or are seeking to promote their own careers, managers will embrace coaching as an effective means to a mutually beneficial result.

Establish some firm expectations. Making it clear that coaching is a primary responsibility of each manager in the organization is a prerequisite to creating a coaching organization. If firm expectations around coaching aren’t established, then achieving desired results is unlikely. Coaching should be a key element in every organization’s culture and part of every manager’s job description. And giving managers the opportunity to develop the skills and allocating the time for them to learn and apply their skills should be incorporated into every organization’s operating model. It should be a topic of discussion at every performance management evaluation and highlighted when managers are promoted or assigned to new roles.

Teach coaching skills and put them to practice. Core coaching skills—such as listening, questioning, observing, building rapport, offering constructive analysis and feedback—can be enhanced or taught in a variety of formats. So can empathy, providing supportive encouragement and holding others accountable. Whether it is in workshops, mentoring relationships or simply modeling those who are strong coaches, managers can improve their knowledge and understanding of coaching skills.

But they need to be able to put the skills to use in real-time situations. This means allocating the time to practice these skills when coachable moments occur. It also means creating coachable moments or situations. When managers delegate tasks or responsibilities to direct reports, they create coaching opportunities by default. Delegation is a powerful management tool and a powerful vehicle for practicing and developing one’s coaching skills.

Give a manager a coach. There is no more effective means for learning than hands-on experience. Therefore, if you want to transform a manager into a coach, it’s a good idea to give them the opportunity to experience coaching firsthand. Having a manager coached by another executive in the organization will accomplish two things: It will enable the manager to experience the benefits of coaching and to become more committed to coaching as a method for developing others. In addition, it will provide a model of how to provide coaching for others. Companies that don’t have skilled coaches should consider hiring third-party coaches to work with key managers.

Reward the best coaches with the best jobs. This should not be a stretch. The managers who demonstrate the strongest coaching skills are likely to be the strongest performers. As such, they should be candidates for the most important manager and executive roles in the organization. Placing these managers in the most important roles and crediting these assignments, at least in part, to their excellent coaching skills will send a strong message to the rest of the organization that coaching is a critical skill for all managers.

These are just five steps that can accelerate the transformation of managers into coaches and turn companies into coaching organizations. The benefits will accrue to the managers in terms of their career advancement and to the overall organization in terms of the enhanced collaboration and stronger performance.

Michael Noble is a managing partner at Camden Consulting Group, which provides leadership development, executive coaching and training services to organizations and their employees.

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