When it comes to coaching, most of our efforts are spent with those that report directly to us. This begs the question; what needs to be done when you need to coach your boss on a particular issue? Can you achieve the results you desire and can it really be done effectively? Interestingly enough, sometimes the person who needs coaching the most is your boss, and there are ways you can coach your boss without feeling too much pressure.
We have to admit that in the business world today there are still a few managers who are less receptive to coaching and it may seem like the smart thing to throw in the towel and focus your efforts in other places. These few managers have narrow vision and see just one way to accomplish anything; their way. However, there are many bosses and leaders out there that are very receptive to coaching, feedback, and are willing to listen to other ideas that improve workplace performance. Great leaders recognize that someone else may know something they don’t, or something they could benefit from, and are more willing and open to suggestions from people who are willing to take a risk to coach their boss.
Coaching a boss or leader might not be so different from when you coach a direct report, but how can you effectively and transparently send your message up the chain of command? Carefully, and in a professional and tactful way is a simple answer. Also, it may take a little more effort to get the point across. The key here is to be sure you deliver the message in a way that your manager will be open to. When done successfully, it can really open up future dialogue and improve coaching conversations between you and your manager.
Here are a few tips in delivering the message: Plan your conversation. Decide what your topic is and walk through the key points of the conversation. You may actually want to practice it in your mind and when available find someone to rehearse the conversation with you before you go in to the meeting. If your manager agrees with you on many of your ideas, you can present the framework of how you see the future unfolding if no change takes place. Here is a great place to let your manager reflect on the future and how they see it unfolding under current circumstances. You may not have a grasp of the whole picture, so your leader’s ideas and thoughts might be very informative. The great thing about this is that your ideas might be very informative to your boss as well, making it a win-win conversation
After you have discussed what the future might look like (without any changes), let the impact of that statement sit with your boss for a while. Then, propose a plan or a solution to the problem you have brought to your leader’s attention. You may want to have more than one idea to propose and you should solicit ideas from your leader for the solution. By getting input from your boss you actually transfer ownership of the solution from just you to the two of you, creating collaboration, partnering, and synergy in creating solutions to business problems.
After some details to the plan have surfaced it may be time to identify obstacles that would hinder the success of any proposed solutions. This is a great opportunity again to gain some insight and perspective from your manager on what might trip up the plan in the future. Remember, your boss may have a more intimate knowledge of future business goals, plans, and objectives. Listen for those carefully as you may need to re-visit your plans based on your leader’s feedback.
When a solution is agreed upon, this is a perfect opportunity to clearly define what you are willing to do to implement the solution. By showing your commitment to the solution and asking for your leader’s commitment you are cementing the plan and creating the proper action steps for the future. The key here is to show that you are going to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. In addition, it might be helpful to state or recap your point of view and highlight some best probable scenarios for the future if the new plan is implemented? Employees that are willing to bring opportunities to the manager’s attention, collaborate on solutions, and provide a vision of the future are going to be seen as top performers.
When you are coaching up, you are taking a proactive approach to point out opportunities to improve the organization. Coach up when it’s appropriate.
Eric is A Senior Vice President for CMOE and specializes in custom learning and development solutions, sales and marketing, and performance coaching. His work in organization development has led him to facilitate workshops on Strategic Thinking, Coaching Skills, Building High Performance Teams, Managing Conflict, Personal Effectiveness, and Leadership Principles. Eric’s expertise is in communication, relationship building, management, marketing, and advertising.
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