Business executives wear many hats. Just a few of their roles include strategist, financial manager, process improvement engineer and team leader. Many executives will agree that much of their time is devoted to people. The management guru, Peter Drucker, made the point that as one progresses up the organizational hierarchy, the more important people skills become and the less important specific functional skills are.
Executives need to be leaders and this requires articulating a vision and defining a strategy. One of the next roles, however, is to serve as a coach to help subordinates to fulfill objectives and to develop to take on bigger challenges and consequently to make more significant contributions to the company.
“The problem is that executives are educated in business functions and only acquire coaching skills on an experiential, trial-by-error basis,” says Kirk O’Hara, PsyD, vice president consulting services at Executive Career Services. “Knowing something of coaching skills, roles and procedures can provide the executive with the necessary framework for helping their subordinates develop.”
Smart Business spoke to O’Hara for more on how to improve coaching skills and empower your best employees in the process.
What is the benefit of becoming a better coach?
Let’s begin by taking a look at the benefits of coaching. In a recent study by The Work Foundation (a UK research group) the most common reason for coaching, given by 52 percent of respondents, was to motivate the employee. In a similar vein, respondents indicated that coaching was helpful in showing interest and investment in an employee and also fully leveraging a high potential’s skills and abilities. Interestingly, the study showed that coaching for poor performance was a relatively infrequent reason (garnering a ‘yes’ from only 24 percent). One of the lessons in this study is to keep in mind the two key elements of performance: motivation and skill. If motivation appears to be the issue, then coaching is in order. Skill deficiencies are better addressed through training and development initiatives.
What are the most important elements of being a good coach?
As previously mentioned, business executives typically have skills for management and leadership; they may need to complement this set with coaching skills. First and foremost is relationship building and, in particular, creating trust. Would anyone respond positively to a coach he or she doesn’t trust? Probably not. It is ill-advised to begin any sort of coaching initiative without first establishing a level of trust so that the person to be coached knows you have their best interest in mind.
A second important coaching skill is listening, which is unfortunately not often in the repertoire of many executives. Business leaders are typically verbally expressive and not often patient enough to listen to what others have to say. Unless the person being coached feels they have been heard, they are unlikely to put forth the effort to change. Remember the Covey Principle: seek first to understand before being understood. I encourage executives to actively listen — to what the underlying message is, what isn’t being said and what the person’s body language is conveying about the verbal message.
Another vital coaching skill is proper questioning. While one doesn’t need to be as artful as Socrates, questions can help the coachee to find solutions for themselves. Questions can help the individual explore options as well as understand the motivation and consequences of their behavior. Questioning can be used to put the behavior of concern ‘on the person’s radar screen,’ and as a result foster ownership and commitment to change.
Once the topic of concern has been explored, the coach/leader will want to shift into a goal setting mode. This is the positive and creative phase of coaching where both parties collaborate in identifying new behaviors to develop alternative problem-solving approaches, or enhanced communication techniques. Goal setting works when the goals are challenging, but not unrealistic.
Make your goals SMART. Smart is an acronym to help you remember that behavioral goals should be Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic and Time bound. Make sure that you gain commitment, or recommitment as the case may be at the end of each coaching meeting.
How can executives help to ensure a successful coaching initiative?
A final, capstone skill for coaching is the ability to provide feedback and support. How hard is it to change? Very! Nothing will extinguish new behavior quicker than ignoring it. The leader/coach needs to be mindful of recognizing new behavior and providing encouragement. Be specific; vague feedback is not usually very helpful developmentally. Your feedback should also be non-judgmental. Remember, the adage to praise in public and criticize in private. Behavioral psychology has demonstrated that all of us respond to positive encouragement in making a change far better than we respond to punishment.
Also consider the behavior change from a system’s perspective. Who are the other coworkers and colleagues who interact with the individual? How is their behavior influencing the person? Conducting a stakeholder analysis to understand how the environment supports or interferes with the attempted behavior change should not be underestimated.
Business executives have a lot on their plate, so adding one more concern can be treacherous. On the other hand, watching for coaching opportunities, adopting mentees and developing high potentials are all ways to leverage your own skills and free up time for more strategic pursuits. Helping others to change — to eliminate counter-productive behaviors or better utilize skills — is not usually easy, but it isn’t rocket science either. It requires basic human understanding, a caring attitude and a willingness to invest yourself in helping someone else become a better employee and a better person.
Kirk O’Hara, PsyD, is vice president consulting services at Executive Career Services. Reach him at KirkOhara@ecscpi.com.
Insights Human Capital Solutions is brought to you by Executive Career Services
It amazes me that corporate America still hasn’t learned not to manage people. That’s just one practice blocking the path to effective leadership.
Why are so many managers afraid to hire people who are smarter than they are? I suppose it’s human nature to be afraid of the comparison, and fearful of being seen as less astute, less creative, less experienced and less … managerial.
In reality, shouldn’t your job be to hire people smarter than you are? Isn’t it easier to supervise people who don’t need a lot of managing?
Think of it this way: If the owner of the company hires managers less smart than he or she is, and each of those managers does the same, pretty soon you have a pretty “dumb” company. I call it “dumbing down” the organization.
Does your organization have a culture of “defer-up” when decisions are to be made? If you are making way too many decisions in your organization, even having the last word on smaller decisions that mid-level managers and employees themselves could be making, something’s wrong with the culture in your workplace.
A “defer-up” culture absolves people of making decisions ? and keeps them from getting results. The people that will be dealing with the issue should absolutely have the most say in solving the matter.
Build your dream team
A more evolved idea is to hire the smartest people you can find. In fact, build your dream team ? with the folks that have the strengths you may lack, and have each manager do that down the line.
So if you or anyone in management gets hit by a bus, the organization will be just fine.
Verne Harnish, an author I enjoy, said it best. “A business is simply people doing activities. You lead people and manage their activities. You don’t manage people.”
Most bosses don’t really get this simple rationale behind effective leadership.
As I said earlier, it astounds me that corporate America still hasn’t learned not to manage people. One manages his or her environment, manages equipment maintenance, or manages a budget, but one cannot effectively or realistically manage people.
Why don’t bosses get it?
Maybe it’s because we label so many positions as “managers.” These “managers” frequently resort to bossing, pushing or the worst offense, managing by intimidation.
People don’t like to be managed. Just as teenagers bristled under parental management, as adults, they hate it more.
Instead of thinking of managing people, consider improving equipment, processes, work environment, benefits, human resource programs, etc. Then hire great people. The rest will take care of itself.
Herb Kelleher, the famous CEO of Southwest Airlines once said, “I’d rather have a company bound by love than by fear.” He’s absolutely right.
And then mentor …
There’s nothing like being a mentor or a coach to your employees. I think it’s the icing on the leadership cake.
When you help an employee achieve a goal or coach them to be better, you are giving far more than your time or experience. You are paying your time and experience forward and establishing trust and personal connection. I have found employees appreciate this above almost everything and anything else you can do as a manager.
For example, an employee came to me a couple of years ago, embarrassed that she had never had a checking account. She was a single mother with three kids. Impressed with her frankness and desire to learn, I took her to the nearest bank where she opened a checking account. While we were there, we also talked about establishing credit, and she decided to take the additional step of applying for a credit card.
I’m excited to say in the last few years she bought her first car and then her first home. I can’t tell you how rewarding this process was to watch unfold and knowing you played a small part in it.
Mentoring can most certainly extend to helping someone achieve their career goals, even if that means they end up leaving your organization.
David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com.
Not too long ago, companies could show up at a career fair at a local college once or twice a year and the effort would produce a line of great talent predisposed to start work upon graduation. Today, great talent is still graduating all the time, but this talent is proving to have very different motivations and perspectives on how they want to position themselves in the workforce.
Companies that understand the nuances of the younger generations of talent can position themselves better to create opportunities to attract this talent and maximize their productivity. As the baby boomers continue to retire, companies must identify strategies that connect them with local colleges, their faculty and their programs to ensure an effective transition of talent to their business. This more strategic investment of time creates opportunities to attract talent and to mold that talent to better fit positions with their business long before graduation.
Recently, I had the chance to interview Deborah (Deb) Mills-Scofield, who is a strategy and innovation consultant, a partner with Glengary LLC and a Growth Partner with Baldwin-Wallace’s Center for Innovation & Growth (CIG). Deb shared experiences, insight and advice on ways her clients engage with local colleges and create programs to benefit from younger talent entering their businesses.
Q: Why do you continue to work with college students, and what benefits have you received from these efforts?
A: As I reflect on my career, I was mentored every step of the way – through college, Bell Labs and AT&T. I wouldn’t be where I am without it. So I feel that mentoring is important. I do that several ways: through the Brown University Women’s Launchpad for senior women, informal mentoring of startups from Brown, and through BW’s Center for Innovation & Growth (CIG). Frequently I’ll have the student fellows at the CIG get involved with my clients and at the VC firm, Glengary LLC, in which I’m a partner. At the VC firm, the students help us with due diligence. Their work has been very impressive and thorough, providing insights that we wouldn’t have thought of because of their age and different experiences. I will also have students help my clients as we do planning and innovation – doing some primary and secondary market research and analysis.
Q: What are the tangible benefits to having students involved in your work?
A: By involving students with my clients and Glengary on real projects, these companies get access to some of the best students in Northeast Ohio. These firms are able to assess how well the students fit into their environment and get an inside track to hire them after graduation. The students get exposure to how things are done in businesses, learn about corporate cultures and networking, and they receive practical, useable experience. This helps them get a better feel for what they may or may not want to do – including their own startup – and better evaluate their opportunities. And, let’s face it, this looks great on the resume.
Q: What are some of differences you see in Gen Y versus baby boomer and Gen X talent?
A: The 21st century has really shaken up the world – and the business world in particular. One of the major shocks to companies is Gen Y’s attitude to work, often misunderstood as selfishness or lack of commitment. The boomers and Gen Xers have worked hard, did as they were told, didn’t challenge the status quo, and punched the industrial clock. Gen Yers don’t buy in to this, for some very good reasons. They have grown up with absentee parents caught up in the corporate ladder-climbing rat race and experienced the lack of loyalty companies had to their parents in downturns. Gen Y’s loyalty must be earned over and over again (as should any employee’s). They are willing to work very hard, just not in vain, and they’re not eager to accept the same traditional rewards and recognitions their parents have (e.g., 2 weeks of vacation, 9-5, etc.)
Q: How do you think Gen Y talent will change business?
A: Well, I keep trying to get my clients to realize that Gen Y will have a very large impact on 21st century capitalism. The 20th century’s view of profits as the ‘ends’ versus the ‘means’ is not sustainable, as our financial crisis blatantly illustrates. Gen Y wants to be part of an organization that makes meaning, not just money. If they are going to give their time, energy and talent, it better be for more than just corporate profits. Gen Y gets it right – profits are an output; making a difference in customers’ lives is an outcome. Profits are a means to the end of making a difference, not the end in itself. As these ‘kids’ enter into business, creating their own ventures and working in existing ones, they will transform business into something much more meaningful and impactful. And that is a very, very good thing. Companies that allow Gen Y to make a difference will have a powerful advantage over those that don’t.
If you would like to learn more about Deb Scofield or the Baldwin-Wallace CIG Program, you can visit her company website at www.mills-scofield.com for more information.
This article was brought to you by Chris Carmon, president of The Carmon Group. You can find out more about The Carmon Group at www.carmongroup.com