Hitting the target

Most people go to work each day with good intentions. But for many organizations and businesses, simply doing a good job won’t cut it. In a fiercely competitive, volatile, ever-changing world, organizations need people who are highly engaged, creative, and continuously improving. They need people who will take ownership for their work and be strategically minded. It’s not just about keeping up with expectations that are constantly rising, it’s about getting ahead of them.

The Constant Need For Coaching

Clearly, no one is perfect; everyone has opportunities to stretch, grow, and contribute more value to their internal or external customers. Situations of all kinds require leaders who understand the importance of talking with people about their performance in a way that motivates them to take action:

  • A new colleague trying to move up the learning curve
  • A veteran employee who is off his or her game
  • An excellent performer who has to adapt to changing customer requirements or new strategic priorities

Regardless of the reason for the coaching, when these conversations are approached in a constructive way, people are motivated to lengthen their stride and exceed traditional expectations.

The Struggles Of CoachingTwo business men meeting and smiling

Many years ago, one of my mentors, Professor Harry Levinson of Harvard Business School said, “Make no mistake about it: coaching is one of the most uncomfortable, mishandled, and avoided of all leadership responsibilities.”

I have thought long and hard about those words, explored this problem in depth, and came to the conclusion that there are many obstacles and barriers that get in the way of coaching others on performance. Time is often an issue for leaders. It could also be a fear of “rocking the boat” or upsetting people who are pretty good at what they do. Other leaders may be uncomfortable with conflict. The list of the reasons why leaders avoid coaching is long. After many years of studying the problem, I ultimately concluded that the number-one reason leaders avoid coaching is a lack of confidence and skill. Most leaders who don’t coach simply don’t know how to engage people in a way that inspires them to do better and be better.

Five Essential Behaviors of Great Coaching

Over the years, we’ve all been bombarded with various coaching frameworks. Many of these have been trendy philosophies based on sports coaching or ideas that were dreamed up and commercialized in very clever ways. By contrast, the CMOE team began formally researching and investigating how great leaders coach people over 40 years ago, and the coaching model I’d like to share with you evolved from the work we’ve done in organizations around the world. There are just five essential behaviors that all great coaches demonstrate. Anyone can develop these skills and gaining mastery of them will make coaching discussions more effective and much easier for the leader and the coachee.

  1. Be supportive.

Our studies suggest that people will never respond to your coaching if you don’t show them that you believe in them. They need to know that you care about them as human beings who deserve respect, acknowledgement, and appreciation for their efforts—even when performance falls short of the mark. This can be especially hard for highly results-focused, demanding leaders because support feels “soft.” You don’t have to go over the top. Use your emotional intelligence, consider the coachee’s needs, and convey support in your own way. It could be as simple as providing some encouragement or resources and tools that will help them reach the next level of performance.

  1. Be clear, honest, and specific about the opportunity for improvement you see.

This is different from giving people blunt, unfiltered feedback, which can feel harsh, accusatory, or judgmental. Great coaches work hard to make their statements matter-of-fact instead of personal. For example, you could say, “Mary, I have some ideas about your weekly reports that might be really useful. Can I share my thoughts now or is later today a better time for you?”

  1. Help your coachees step back and see the big picture.

People need to understand why the coaching topic really matters to their success, your success, and the success of the team. Great coaches draw attention to the impact (positive and negative) of the coachee’s approach, behaviors, or decisions. In other words, they help people recognize that their current path or methods aren’t helping them achieve their desired outcome. Top-notch coaches help others see the gap: that their behaviors and intentions don’t match. This unleashes people’s intrinsic or internal motivation. As a result, they are more likely to improve performance because they think it is everyone’s best interest to do so (including their own).

  1. Work with the coachee create a plan or find a solution for moving forward.

This is a crucial shift in the dialogue. Most of what has been discussed in the coaching conversation up to this point is in the past. This is where things are set in motion for the future. You don’t need to prescribe a solution unless the other person is completely missing the boat. All you need to say is, “I would really like to hear your ideas and suggestions first.” After they have offered their thoughts, carefully expand the options for moving forward by offering your own thoughts and parameters for a successful plan. The goal is to instill in the coachee a sense of ownership for the plan and a commitment to act.

  1. Wrap up your conversation and set a simple sustainability strategy in motion.

At this point in the process, you need to help people see two scenarios. The first encompasses the positive scenarios that focus on winning. If the plan is adopted and the coachee commits to seeing it through, how will the coachee and key stakeholders benefit? Conversely, what are the adverse implications for all parties if the plan doesn’t pan out? Finally, decide when and how you will reconnect and check in on the progress being made. This is critical.

That’s it. Coaching for better performance and results doesn’t have to be complicated. Please connect with CMOE online or reach out to us any time if you want to learn more about CMOE’s approach to coaching, Coaching TIPS². And for even greater insight into the skills we’ve discussed in this 3-part blog series, don’t forget to look for our latest book, Coaching for Results: The 5 TIPS That Drive Performance.

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About the Author
Steven Stowell, Ph.D.
Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth.

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