I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to some of the world’s foremost authorities on coaching others for business success. I’ve been able to see firsthand the results effective coaching has in organizations from all over the world. Despite this, when I think back to my first management position at a world-renown advertising agency, I realize that I wasn’t as effective coach and leader as I should have been. At the time, I was young, inexperienced, and most importantly, without any advice from senior leadership on how to be a great leader. My promotion to a manager was based on being technically skilled at the job. I had many shortcomings leading and coaching others for success and I know now my leadership deficiency likely caused some problems with my co-workers and team. If I could go back in time, I would do some things differently.
Just a few weeks ago, I recognized one of those major deficiencies while standing in the checkout line at a home improvement store. The store wasn’t too busy, but I was eager to give my money away and get home to my project list. I watched the three people in line ahead of me with great anticipation. The woman at the front of the line was purchasing various plants and other outdoor home improvement goods. The first problem occurred when the bar codes on the plants didn’t scan correctly. Then, the cash register system started malfunctioning. The checker, who must have been a relatively new employee, quickly became frazzled. Because he didn’t know how to solve the problem on his own, he called for his manager. The manager, looking saintly and important, strolled over to the register and gently nudged the checker out of the way. He pushed a few keys on the register to fix the issue and everything was as good as new. The manager then quietly exited without saying a word. The checker gave a polite thank you and the manager, without turning around, gave a wave of acknowledgment. The checker finished with the first customer and moved to the next man in line. He experienced the same problem with this customer. Sure enough, the register started malfunctioning, and the checker had to call his manager to solve the problem. This time when the manager strolled back, he pushed a few buttons, turned the key on and off, and said “that should solve it.” I watched the manager closely as he went on his merry way. He seemed satisfied with the speed of his performance.
A couple of hours later, I was back at the home improvement store to purchase a few items that I forgot earlier in the day. I happened to return to the same checkout line and checker and so I asked the checker if his boss had shown him how to troubleshoot the register. He laughed and said “I was told to call my manager over if I have a problem, and it is his job to solve problems how he best sees fit.”
The gap of coaching in this organization became clear. When the manager failed to share his basic knowledge of the register and help the checker troubleshoot problems when they arose, he created dependency. The checker was not empowered to learn, nor did he want to solve any problem on his own. It was painful to realize that I used to be that kind of manager. It was clear that it created trouble for me and my entire team. Whenever something went wrong, I would swoop in to save the day. I used my knowledge and problem solving skills to become an expert and increase my reputation as a “go-to” person. However, I missed many coaching opportunities to share my knowledge with my team. After a while, I was just solving problem; not leading the team and coaching its members to excellence.
I have noticed that the best coaches in the workplace do more than just help or fix problems. They constantly provide guidance, look for opportunities to collaborate, and offer timely advice and assistance for developing others. When a coach looks to enhance growth and performance, promotes individual responsibility, and encourages accountability, you see true magic take place. The great thing about coaching is anyone can learn to do it.
One tip I would recommend to managers and leaders is to get to know your people. Take an interest and have a personal stake in their development. Find ways to encourage learning and communicate your desires to your people on a regular basis. For additional tips check our blog on a regular basis or give us a call to speak with us in person.