February 21, 2011

Most managers I know share similar goals. They want to:

  • Grow and maintain quality staff and products
  • Do less “fixing” of unsatisfactory work
  • Delegate decision-making to others, with confidence
  • Be attentive, accessible and involved, without micromanaging

You’ll improve your chances of reaching these goals by building a key skill: Coaching.

It’s such an important skill that I regularly include it in my leadership teaching — and it’s often among the most highly rated topics in our seminar evaluations.

Here are 7 questions and answers about coaching.

1. What exactly is coaching?

I think of coaching as guided discovery.

2. How does it work?

Acting in partnership, a coach helps an individual make a decision, solve a problem, or improve a skill.

3. Why is coaching effective?

Coaches don’t simply tell people what to do – or do it for them. They help them realize how to bridge the gap between where they are and where they want — or need — to be.

4. Who can be a coach?

Any person who takes the time to learn and practice can be a coach. While it is a useful skill for anyone, it is a critical competence for managers who want to become great bosses.

5. What’s a coach’s most important tool?

The question.

6. You mean a coach never gives direct advice?

It’s an option, but usually not the first option. Skilled coaches know exactly when direct advice is needed, usually when a situation is urgent or speed is essential, or the other person clearly desires and would benefit from an opinion, recommendation, or absolute direction.

7. So, exactly what does a coach do?

  • Asks questions throughout the process
  • Listens actively — which means repeating or reflecting — as in “Here’s what I’m hearing you say … Is that correct?”
  • Thinks analytically, mentally examining the subject at hand to identify missing information and broaden the perspective: “I’ve heard you say this is a resource issue. Might there be other options, like work flow or timing? What do we know about that?”
  • Clarifies: “Is it possible there’s another way of seeing this?”
  • Focuses: “Would the key issues be…?”
  • Identifies steps toward solutions: “What have we uncovered here? What actions can you begin to take? How can I help?”
  • Establishes coaching language — shared descriptions (nicknames or metaphors), for issues or solutions that become common shorthand for the coach, employee and other staffers: “The compound, complex sentences in your writing become ‘speed bumps’ to the reader — slowing down the pace of the story. How could you re-craft that sentence to smooth out the ‘speed bump’?”
  • Tracks the next steps the other person takes
  • Provides constructive feedback

At first blush, coaching can seem challenging. It’s a new skill set and you have to practice to get good at it. As a manager who once routinely “fixed” work rather than coached employees to improve it themselves, I can tell you it is worth the effort to learn.

You’ll improve quality, turn more responsibility over to your staff, reclaim time for other important managerial duties and take a big step toward becoming a great boss.

Let me add, though, that to become a really good coach, you have to overcome four dangerous desires. I’ll reveal them in today’s podcast:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

You can download the complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U.

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Jill Geisler is the inaugural Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity, a position designed to connect Loyola’s School of Communication with the needs…
Jill Geisler

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