If we’ve learned one thing about coaching in a professional environment, it’s that performance problems rarely get better on their own. To make progress, someone has to step up and intervene in some fashion. If this intervention is approached in a constructive and healthy way, there is a good probability that people will respond positively. In a business context, coaching is the act of helping someone improve their performance and develop their capabilities and judgement. A coach is the person taking that action—and it doesn’t have to be the boss.
Soar With Your Strengths
Some people adhere to a philosophy called “soar with your strengths.” This notion appeals to many people because it suggests that the key to unlocking better individual performance is identifying your strengths, assets, and talents and simply leveraging them to a greater extent; when you do, the team will supposedly get to a better place. We believe a two-pronged approach to coaching is twice as good.
While we agree that people should play to their strengths and continue to build on them, there’s no escaping the fact that limitations, blind spots, and weaknesses will eventually derail a person’s plans, goals, and effectiveness. A good coach can contain these issues, elevate performance, and eliminate or minimize the potentially damaging effects of counterproductive behaviors, decisions, or attitudes. Finding a short-term fix for a problem isn’t enough.
Addressing and neutralizing gaps in performance will allow one’s strengths to take flight, produce better results, and ensure long-term, sustained success. We all have room for improvement in one area or another: our skills, level of motivation, relationships with others, or something else. We all make mistakes, fail, and disappoint ourselves and others now and again. The key is to learn from these situations.
In business, people have to discover and counterbalance (or prevent) a few critical shortcomings through self-awareness and continuous improvement. We can’t begin to tell you how many people have encountered one or two performance problems that had a long-term negative impact on their careers and contribution to the business.
Characteristics of a True Coach
A true coach is someone who will step up and help us create strategies for leveraging our strengths—and who will also help us see our opportunities for improvement and help us make course corrections when necessary. Their goal is to help us be more effective and contribute more value to the organization. But the big problem is this: many leaders lack courage when it comes to coaching others on performance problems. We hear the excuses constantly:
- “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”
- “Eventually they’ll figure out the problems on their own”
- “Maybe I can just give them subtle hints.”
- “I don’t want to create problems by speaking up and sounding judgmental.”
Some people avoid coaching because they think it will take too much of their time or they don’t want to disrupt the team’s harmony. Good coaches get over this fear and mindset and establish their expectations with people at the beginning of the relationship. They make it clear to their team members that they will always be honest, tell the truth as they see it, strive to maintain two-way dialogue, and work to create solutions together. We refer to this as “a contract to coach” or a “coaching license.”
Good coaches know they need to invest in others and hone their coaching skills over time. With practice, coaching becomes part of who they are and how they approach solutions throughout the day. It shows up in their interactions but also in the way they operate and in little actions, subtle behaviors, and their choice of words. They know that some people will be easy to coach and some will be defensive, argumentative, and resistant—but they don’t take it personally. They know that these reactions are due to people needing to make changes that may be uncomfortable or gain new ways to see their performance and results, especially when it’s short of the mark.
More on Coaching for Results
In our next blog, we will introduce a simple but effective coaching methodology we have developed and used over many years in coaching discussions of all types, including discussions of performance problems like those described in Part 1 of this blog series. The 5 skills we’ll explore are present in all highly effective coaching conversations and the coaching approach we’ll describe is clear, direct, honest, and time-efficient—all important considerations for busy coaches (and the people they coach).
If you’d like to learn more about CMOE’s proven and time-tested coaching approach, please reach out to us any time or find us on the web. And for even more insight into this topic, look for our new book, Coaching for Results: The 5 TIPS That Drive Performance.