Every week I listen to senior executives telling me that their mid-level managers need to become better coaches. “If they would just spend more time coaching front line supervisors and front line employees better, then we would not have the current problems that we have.” While this line of thinking is interesting, it makes some basic assumptions that are wrong. First, it assumes that mid-level managers have experienced good coaching themselves, which is rarely the case. Second, it assumes that they have the capacity to do good coaching which also is rarely the case. To expect middle managers to coach better means we need to help them become better coaches, not just expect them to be better coaches.
The first step in this process is to help middle managers understand the difference between transactive coaching and transformational coaching. The former focuses on the transferring of competencies, skills and/or techniques from one person to another. As a fine leader told me years ago, “they don’t know what they don’t know.” The later, transformational coaching, focuses on shifting people's view about themselves, their work, their values and their sense of purpose plus their view of the world around them. The combination of both methods of coaching and being conscious when you are doing each one and why transforms coaching from a random act of problem solving into a focus and structured exercise.
However, the major problem I often discover when brought in to solve a coaching problem is that few people are actually working with SMART Goals, i.e. ones that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. While this may seem like such a minor point, it is nevertheless a critical one because the goal of coaching is to help someone to achieve continual outstanding performance.
K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely in their wonderful article called “The Making of an Expert” in the July-August 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review note that expert coaches “accelerate your learning in an organized manner,” “give constructive feedback that challenges them to excel to the next level of their expertise,” and “help you become more and more independent so you are able to set your own development plans.” In essence, “good coaches help their students learn how to rely on an ‘inner coach’.”
The goal of coaching is always improved performance. The key is to figure out where to begin. Is it mind set or skill set? Answer the question and you have begun the journey in the right direction.